Good, but good enough?

Good, but good enough?

Competition in the local light van arena is hotting up! Nissan has just launched its competitor – the NV200. Is it worthy of the crown carried by its European counterparts? GAVIN MYERS loads up to find out.

South Africa, as we know, is not van country. Unlike Europe, we generally prefer our goods-carrying vehicles of the open load, rugged, go anywhere, often Japanese variety. Yes, many manufacturers have been selling closed vans for a good number of years now, and they do sell – albeit in (far) smaller volumes than any bakkie manufacturer would ever like.

This is not to say that the two vehicle types are mutually exclusive to those areas. But, of the nine previous van sellers in South Africa, only one has been from the Land of the Rising Sun; the rest all being from Europe – until now.

Nissan has just entered this market segment with two new entrants – the Toyota Quantum-sized NV300 and the smaller, VW Caddy-sized, NV200. With their introduction, the brand hopes to now offer a light commercial vehicle (LCV) to meet all needs.

The cabin is relatively tight on space, but comfortable.The subject of this first Nissan van test is the entry-level NV200 1,6i Visia. This petrol-powered model (also available as a 1,5-litre diesel) produces 81 kW at 6 000 r/min and 153 Nm at 4 400 r/min. It’s a smooth power unit, coupled to a five-speed gearbox with a short final drive, which makes easy work of zipping around town – load in tow or not. The short final drive does, however, leave the motor buzzing hurriedly at highway speeds – the revs hovering around the 4 000 r/min mark at the national limit.

Despite this, Nissan claims a combined cycle fuel consumption figure of 7,2 l/100 km. We managed a respectable 9,4 l/100 km through very mixed driving conditions in our brand-new test vehicle that was a mere 138 km old. With a run-in vehicle we would expect the fuel consumption figure to be closer to the manufacturer’s claim. CO2 emissions are rated at 166 g/km.

In and around town though, the little Nissan is a joy to pilot. It is comfortable and has a strong anti-lock braking system that is also equipped with electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD).

We do have some gripes, though. First, although one sits high, visibility afforded by the panel van is not too good. The driver and passenger side windows do not stretch back far enough and the driver is often left to rely solely on his side mirrors when moving through traffic. The side mirrors themselves also do not seem to be magnified correctly. All this leaves the driver feeling that the van is a lot larger than it actually is.

The cabin, albeit neat and functional, is also small and relatively low on stowage space. There is minimal space behind the seats and no parcel shelf fitted to the ceiling as one might expect. Storage space for smaller items is, however, good; featuring a large open cubby, an innovative central cubby, a sliding tray under the driver’s seat, a dash-top storage bin and four cup holders. The passenger seat does not slide back and forth, but the seatback does fold flat to reveal a work tray.

With the seat folded flat, one can also open a hatch in the “cage” bulkhead separating the occupants and load bay. With this hooked in place, longer items of up to 2,8 m can be loaded. The load bay itself is spacious and accessible via two sliding side doors and split rear doors that can open up to 180°. It offers loading dimensions of 2 040 (l) x 1 500 (w) x 1 358 mm (h) (1 220 mm between the wheel arches) and a gross vehicle mass of 2 000 kg. With a tare mass of just 1 217 kg, a payload of 783 kg is available. Six tie-down hooks are fitted to the floor.

A 783 kg payload is easily accessed by two sliding doors and split rear doors.Also fitted for the occupants’ convenience and safety are air-conditioning, remote central locking and immobiliser, driver and passenger airbags, electronic stability programme (ESP), anti-bacterial shift knob and steering wheel, a gear shift indicator and full on-board computer – the control button for which is very inconveniently placed in the instrument binnacle.

The placement of this little button (which can lead to distraction), along with the rev counter and on-board computer sharing a small 2,8-inch LCD display, is perhaps the NV200’s biggest ergonomic flaw. And, although the interior seems to be made of good quality materials, there were rattles around the cabin and constant squeaks from the right-hand sliding door – disappointing for a brand new vehicle.

One might expect that with all these gripes we would suggest that the NV200 is not quite up to “European” standard. But, many of these foibles are relatively minor. It is a nice vehicle to use on the daily grind and it does offer well-sized (if not class-leading) load capacity.

At R187 000 it’s not priced out of contention either and comes with a three-year/100 000 km warranty and three-year/unlimited mileage anti-corrosion warranty. At the price, the inclusion of a service plan might be welcome, though. Nevertheless, it’s a worthy addition to the segment.

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