We know the 2014 Nissan NV200 is great for lugging art projects, the occasional motorcycle, or enough pizzas to feed a soccer league. But how long can it support human life before its occupant goes completely insane? (Spoiler: Not that long.)
What and why?
For reasons I can no longer remember, I had to get from Virginia Beach, VA to an (apparent) hub of golf and coal mining called Beckley, WV. Since nobody's ever had that problem before, public transportation was sort of a non-starter. I needed a truck, motorcycle, magic carpet, or comparable car.
You'd think someone in my line of work would have no problem procuring a vehicle, but after burning through most of my car-fleet contacts the best I'd managed to get was "You're where? No, we can't help you."
That is, until I got in touch with my dear friends at Nissan. "Lemme see... yeah, we got something we could send from DC. You're taking it how far? Well... how desperate are you?"
I few hours later I was touching down at the Norf0lk airport and swapping my signature for a set of keys to a gleaming 2014 Nissan NV200. I mean, most of it was gleaming. Not the front bumper– apparently the last punter to have their hands on the van had banged into something and tried to hide their tracks with a can of blue Rustoleum.
Just happy to be motorized, I heaved the door open like I was throwing the stone door off a medieval treasure horde and tossed my rolly-bag in the cavernous cargo compartment.
The first impression was tough; it smelled like the Best Buy box-mascot and Geoffrey the Giraffe had used the van for some kind of filthy plastic-orgy as as my luggage disappeared in the sea of black nothingness.
But I made friends with the van fast... XM radio and a cup holder was all I really needed to stay sane for the first few miles at least.
It's comfortable 'til it isn't.
About three hours, one Starbucks stop, one refuel, and a hit of Bo'Jangles fried chicken n' biscuits. That's as long as you'll be able to spend in the NV200's driver seat before you can no longer ignore it's rigid as a Buckingham Palace guard with the texture of a stress ball.
On this particular trip, that was also the same time I got a ring from my contact in West Virginia. "The event is in Beckley. But we need you to meet us in Charleston." So I'd been sentenced to another 80 miles of NV, and the same again in a coach bus or cab or who knows what. Time to take a break.
Several choices for sleeping surfaces. You'll hate the roof the most.
There was enough floor space in the empty cargo bay for me to lay at full-stretch. Pretty much.
A simple air mattress would have turned that space into quarters good as most New York studio apartments, but of course I hadn't thought of that 'til I was tuckered out at a gas station between Nowhere and Even Further.
My next thought was to just sit in the seat and pull the recliner for a few minutes of shut-eye. Well, it drops all the way flat from the Capital L driving position, but the aforementioned cushion situation made the micrometer of floor padding seem like a better option.
But I barely had time to fluff my sweatshirt into the pillow it'd been many times before the rains came.
What started sounding like a smattering of rubber bands being flicked onto the roof quickly evolved into an incredible machine-gun assault impression. Weight savings for maximum payload means there is "minimal sound deadening" in the NV200. In fact, there's nothing between you and the roof aft of the seats.
You're not getting any sleep done under these conditions unless you're comfortable in combat situations. Like, "pass out with one hand in a bag of potato chips" comfortable.
The interior feels like Star Trek: a twenty year-old future.
The main gauges couldn't be simpler, and everything else you need is tucked into a little LCD you'll recognize if you bought a clock from Office Max in the 90's. The steering wheel has an interesting squishiness to it, and while the double-DIN infotainment/radio looks a little unrefined the interface is actually refreshingly user friendly.
"Work" features; like a passenger seat that folds forward-flat into a table (your dining room!) and a secret lockable storage bin (your safe!) come in handy whether you're a delivery guy or a nomadic van-dweller.
How's it handle the twisties?
I actually found the NV's handling to be nothing short of spectacular. Not for canyon carving, that makes the last sail of the Edmund Fitzgerald look flat as a Bonneville run. But the NV is so maneuverable it could squeeze its way through the isles of a grocery store or a drive-thru meant for Hot Wheels cars if you asked it to.
Is it fast or efficient?
The balance of performance-to-fuel economy puts a fat kid on a see-saw, and the scales do not tip in favor of gut-sucking acceleration. But I didn't really need to come up with a hilarious analogy for you to work that out did I?
Economy was borderline outstanding though... after almost 1,000 miles of hilly highways and a few angry merges the trip computer claimed I was churning out something like 27 MPG. The EPA says the 2.0 I4 tops out at 25 but I sure did pass a lot of gas in the NV200, both as a result of the excellent fuel economy and the destructive diet I maintained of fried chicken and gas station coffee while I called it home.
It's a beast off-road.
But that beast is asleep and will only be moved if ten men throw lines around it and heave like they're holding down Gulliver the Giant.
How's it compare to a Chevy G20, sold south of New York as the Mustache Ride Express?
You pretty much have to steer clear of playgrounds in any car without windows, but the Nissan doesn't have the aggressive creepiness inherent in good old fashioned American vans.
The NV can't touch a G20 for cruising comfort or burnouts though. That's just a price you pay for efficiency.
How's it compare to a first-gen Ford TransitConnect?
I was somewhat surprised to see the Nissan is comparatively bigger than I would have thought. They certainly made better use of the overall length by shortening the hood. The Nissan's not as cute, but then again, what is? Ford nailed it with that lil' hauler. Didn't they! [pinches cheek].
Verdict: Does the Nissan NV200 make a decent house or what?
If you're going to live in a van in an urban environment, the first equation you're going to want to work out is how much interior space do you get out of your vehicle's overall footprint. The NV knocks it out of the park here with exceptional spacial efficiency.
The NV is also fuel efficient– another win for the invariably budget-conscious van dweller.
It only comes up short in two departments; off-road and long range comfort. You might get a little farther into the woods by swapping the low rolling-resistance tires for something a little meatier, but the some major interior renovations will be required to create comfortable geometry for long-haul driving.
As far interior customization potential; roof's the limit. And that roof is pretty high.
Images: Andrew P. Collins