Car Report: Nissan NV200 cargo van is an efficient small-scale hauler

The NV200 isn't sexy, but it makes good sense for small business owners. (WTOP/Mike Parris)
You can get some eight-foot boards into the NV200 and still close the back doors. (WTOP/Mike Parris)
The navigation is easy to use, and the rear-view monitor keeps the van dent-free when backing up. (WTOP/Mike Parris)
The interior isn't fancy, but the seats are comfortable for a day of city driving. (WTOP/Mike Parris)
The side doors slide easily, and the rear doors won't open past the vehicle unless you flip a lever - a nice safety feature for loading on a street next to traffic. (WTOP/Mike Parris)
The NV200 won't win too many stop-light pickup contests, but it's powerful enough, and fuel-efficient. (WTOP/Mike Parris)

WASHINGTON — A small cargo van isn’t as sexy as the new Lamborghini or the new latest and greatest from Germany, but for a small business owner, the Nissan NV200 SV could be a cost-effective way to upgrade the fleet.

Some companies just don’t need large cargo vans, but until recently that’s about all that was available, especially since the demise of the Baltimore-built Chevrolet Astro Van in 2005. But lately, a few manufacturers have started selling smaller 4-cylinder cargo vans perfect for light-duty work, and doing it in a fuel- efficient way.

I spent a week with a $23,645 Nissan NV200 SV cargo van. It came as loaded as a cargo van can be. No, there’s no leather on the seats, but a sturdy cloth with some vinyl on the seat bolsters help prevent wear. Still, the options on top of a base price of $21,000 are worthwhile. They include navigation that’s easy to use, and the important rear-view monitor, which keeps the van dent-free when backing up for that delivery. I didn’t know they still made 15-inch wheels, but they come standard on the NV200.

The NV200 is around six feet tall, so fitting into most city garages is a snap, and its smaller width means you can park in a regular parking spot instead of hunting for a plus-sized space and use the drive-thru without hitting the curbs on those sharp turns on the way to the pick-up window. I was able to haul some eight- foot boards with enough room to close the rear doors.

The van also motivated me to outfit a spare bedroom with a new bed and save on the delivery charge. A queen mattress just fits, but the box spring didn’t and it rode tied to the roof. So the NV200 won’t be delivering a California King Mattress for a living. But this will work for companies that need some space and some cargo hauling ability up to 1400 pounds.

The Nissan NV200 isn’t going to break the bank at the gas pump. It’s rated at 24 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. I managed 23.9 mpg city in 102 miles of driving. (I’m sure riding around with a box spring tied to the roof tends to hurt fuel economy.)

The Nissan was easy to drive, but with just 131 hp from its 4-cylinder engine it isn’t going to win many stop light races. I had some light loads in the back and it never felt like it was under-powered, but when it’s loaded to capacity that might be a different story. The CVT transmission seems to keep the engine at the right place but it can get buzzy.

The brakes worked well, and the large side mirrors made lane changes easy, with a good field of vision. The seats are fine for all day stop-and-go driving, and the passenger seat back folds into a table — good for a laptop or paperwork. The sliding side doors open and close without much effort, and the rear doors won’t open past the vehicle unless you flip a lever – a nice safety feature for loading on a street next to traffic.

The Nissan NV200 isn’t as exciting as a new Ferrari, but it’s just what some business owners or fleet managers are looking for. A smaller cargo van that’s easy to use in the city and doesn’t cost much to run could be just the ticket to help meet ever-tightening budgets.

Mike Parris is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association. The vehicles are provided by STI ,FMI or Event solutions for the purpose of this review.

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