Buying a relatively affordable new vehicle with seating for seven people is in itself not a major challenge. After all, a minivan such as the ever-popular Toyota Avanza sells for as little as R180 000. But what to do if those two rear seats are too awkward to get too, or too cramped? And what if you needed the flexibility that greater cargo space provides? That is where a traditional utility van-based passenger “bus”, such as Nissan’s NV200, comes into play. But at a cost…
A spacious box on wheelsAlthough the Nissan NV200 has humble utility van underpinnings, it does manage to look rather interesting. The headlamps are steeply angled and narrow, which combined with the pointy nose but otherwise “blunt” design, endow the NV200 with quite a futuristic appearance. This Visia specification model boasts all-round colour coding, 14-inch alloy wheels and fog lamps to make it look even less workhorse-like.
But let’s be honest, few people are likely to buy the NV200 for its aesthetic qualities. Far more important is what lies underneath… and how much of it. We’re talking about space, of course. Interestingly, despite its visual bulk, the NV200 has the shortest wheelbase in its class. Happily this has not negatively affected cargo and passenger space, primarily because of the more pronounced box-shape of its body (compared with a rival such as the VW Caddy).
Even with all seven seats occupied there is considerably more boot space than in a vehicle such as the aforementioned Avanza, for example. Fold those two rear seats up against the sides of the boot (a la Fortuner style), and some pretty hefty pieces of furniture can already be accommodated. Helping in the loading process is a very low floor and bumper, as well as a completely flat cargo area. Note that, while the rearmost seats can’t just be unclipped and removed, some light spanner work is all that is needed to take them out.
The middle row is split 60/40 and can be individually folded/tumbled to create even more space. With the rear and middle rows of seats out of the way, the loading area is truly cavernous, with items such as mountain bicycles swallowed whole with ease. As a load carrier, then, the NV200 is most definitely a winner. The maximum payload rating for this vehicle is a good 652 kg.
How does it fare as a people carrier? Well…
Is it family friendly?Hop onto the elevated driver’s seat of the NV200, and you are likely to be surprised by the modern, car-like facia. Sure, the gearlever sprouts from the facia in typical van fashion, but the general design and layout wouldn’t look of place in a more conventional passenger vehicle. As is to be expected, the plastics are of the hard-wearing type.
The driving position is excellent, with the steering wheel offering rake adjustment. Because the seat is mounted high and the windows big, visibility out of the vehicle is very good. The steering wheel itself is quite an upmarket item, as it boasts not only remote audio controls, but also buttons for the standard Bluetooth connectivity. Another nice touch is the audio system that includes aux and USB support. We also liked the placement of the drinks holders in front of the ventilation outlets (for cooling) as well as the nifty digital display in the instrument cluster that can provide a wide variety of trip information or even a digital rev counter.
The NV200 also offers a commendable array of safety features, including front and side airbags and the expected ABS/EBD. Perhaps somewhat surprising in this segment are the inclusion of Isofix child seat mountings and ESP (electronic stability programme).
Where the NV200 loses points, however, is in the area of oddments storage, especially towards the rear of the cabin. In front there is an open storage area where you’d normally find a lidded cubby. Between the front seats there is a neat plastic tray with different sized compartments, but it is rather shallow and not really easily accessible to those seated in the middle row. Folks sitting in the middle row actually have nowhere to put their drinks or other items… Another comfort-related problem is that there is no rear window wiper – there is, however, a demister.
Strong performance, good economyThe Nissan NV200 is offered in South Africa with either a 1.6-litre petrol engine or, as is the case of our test vehicle, a 1.5-litre turbodiesel. Interestingly, the petrol outsold the diesel in 2014 even though the price difference is not massive and the service intervals are the same. The rental market, however, seems to prefer the diesel, with the low claimed fuel consumption of 5.3 L/100 km undoubtedly being a key factor. In the real world the figure remained well under 7 L/100 km, which is impressive. Given its size, the 1.5-litre engine does an impressive job. It delivers 66 kW and 200 Nm of torque, the latter figure already available at 1 750 r/min and endowing the NV200 with good responsiveness. Helping in this regard is the low weight of the vehicle (below 1.4 tonnes).
We tested the NV200 on the long road with a family of five and it proved to be up to the job, maintaining a steady 120 km/h with ease, and offering sufficient overtaking power where needed. The only slight concern is the gearing. Cruising along at 120 kph in top gear (fifth), the engine is already spinning at 3 000 r/min, so the resultant drone can become a bit tiresome. Perhaps a sixth gear wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Easy to driveWith its utilitarian underpinnings, including rear leaf springs, the Nissan NV200 can’t match the ride suppleness and control of more sophisticated car-based MPVs. This should not come as a surprise. For what it is, however, the NV200 does a good job. The steering is light and the turning circle small, making it a cinch to manoeuvre around town. The ride only really deteriorates on poor surfaces. And, impressively, it never feels as top heavy as it looks. Of course, given its underpinnings and skinny tyres, the presence of ESP brings some peace of mind.
Said peace of mind did however take somewhat of a knock when we pressed the ESP button and it disappeared into the dashboard…
Conclusion and SummaryAt more than R300 000, the Nissan NV200 does not come cheaply. If you’re looking for primarily a family vehicle, then a traditional MPV such as Mazda’s excellent “5” can be had for similar money and offers better refinement, luxury, performance and safety. However, if you need a working vehicle as much as a people transporter, then the Nissan comes strongly to the fore. Its two main rivals are more expensive, and either less comprehensively specced (Volkswagen) or can’t match the Nissan’s back-up (Fiat).
Nissan NV200 1.5 dCi Visia Price in South AfricaThe Nissan NV200 1.5 dCi Visia costs R308 400 and comes with a three-year/100 000 km warranty and roadside assistance. The price does not include a standard service plan.
While it looks more suited to commercial operations the Nissan NV200 offers plenty of practicality for the private user, especially for a big family. It drives like a car and has a really decent diesel engine that combines adequate performance with good economy. An interesting alternative to the SUV brigade and worth a look. – David Taylor
We Like: Spaciousness, standard Bluetooth, economy
We don’t Like: Lack of second-row storage solutions
Also consider: Volkswagen Caddy Maxi 2.0 TDI Trendline, Fiat Doblo Panorama 1.6 MultiJet Dynamic