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Review: 2013 Nissan NV200 cargo van a heavy hitter

Compact delivery van chases growing segment

Size matters! That?s always been the case in tightly-packed cities overseas, where compact trucklets make up the bulk of light-duty delivery and work vehicles.

Over here, until recently, such tasks were usually handled by vans or pickup trucks that were often much larger than necessary. The only lighter-duty models were reworked passenger vehicles with blocked windows and the seats removed, such as Ram?s Grand-Caravan-based C/V Tradesman, or the defunct hatchback-based Chevrolet HHR Panel.

Ford revolutionized the segment when it imported its compact Transit Connect for 2010. Now Nissan, having established a commercial division by bringing in its full-size NV to battle such large-van contenders as the Mercedes-Benz (formerly Dodge) Sprinter, targets the light-duty segment with its new NV200.

My tester was the cargo van, with two seats and no rearward windows (the hinged back doors can be optioned with windows if desired). There will also be a wagon version, with second-row seats and full windows. It?s already been selected as New York City?s next official taxi.

There?s another version planned for the fall of 2014: Nissan will build the NV200 for General Motors, where it will have a Chevy front end and be called the City Express.

The NV200 uses a 2.0-L four-cylinder engine, hooked to an automatic continuously variable transmission.

Two trim lines are available. The base S starts at $21,998, and includes air conditioning, heated mirrors, cruise control, and integrated mounting points for those who want to upfit with custom shelving inside.

My tester, the SV, is $23,398 and adds such things as a chrome grille, Bluetooth, six cargo tie-down rings, rear cargo floor cover, and power locks over the base model.

I also had the Technology Package, for $700, which added touch-screen navigation, satellite radio, USB port, and a much-appreciated rearview camera, plus an additional $135 for metallic paint.

It?s a splendid little hauler. It accelerates well, and, while some CVTs can have an unpleasant rubbery feel to them, Nissan has nailed this one ? it?s quiet and smooth.

The whole truck is surprisingly quiet on the road, given that it?s essentially a big tin can. It handles nicely, and has a tight turning circle that makes it simple to spin around in tight quarters.

Two sliding side doors are standard, as are the 60/40 hinged rear doors, which can be opened as far as 180 degrees.

Other than the fixed steering wheel, which doesn?t tilt, the interior is well laid out and functional. The floor console has an open bin that can hold a clipboard or laptop, and there?s a cubby on the dash above the radio for papers or small objects, along with deep door pockets.

The passenger seat folds down, via a lever accessible from the driver?s seat, forming a work tray or lunch table, or to accommodate some types of longer cargo. The seats are also far more comfortable and supportive than I?d expect to find in a work truck.

I like the Transit Connect, but compared to the current 2013 Ford version, I think the Nissan is the better vehicle.

The NV200 has slightly less horsepower, but more torque; it has better published fuel economy, and I prefer its driving performance.

The Ford has a heavier payload capacity ? 1,600 lb. (726 kg) to the Nissan?s 1,500 lb. (680 kg) ? and 195 litres more interior cargo volume. But the Ford is more expensive, with a list price of $27,599 before incentives.

The stakes may change later this year, when Ford unveils an all-new Transit Connect (along with a full-size Transit to battle Nissan?s full-size NV).

Complete specifications and pricing are yet to be announced, but the Transit Connect will come in two wheelbase lengths, with choice of rear doors or liftgate, and two available engines, one of them a turbocharged EcoBoost version. Along with the cargo work model, Ford will also introduce a three-row passenger version to compete in the minivan segment.

It might be hard to imagine an all-out battle in this small-van slice of the market, but it?s becoming an increasingly important segment, as rising fuel and operating costs make these little labourers far more enticing for fleet operators and tradespeople who don?t need full-size capacity.

Everything may possibly switch when the new Transit Connect rolls out, but right now, I think the smart money?s on Nissan.

2013 Nissan NV200

Price: $21,998 to $23,398, $24,233 as tested

Engine: 2.0-L four-cylinder

Power/torque: 131 hp/139 lb.-ft.

Fuel consumption L/100 km: 8.7 city, 7.1 hwy., 9.6 as tested

Competition: Ford Transit Connect, Ram C/V Tradesman

What?s best: Driving performance, comfortable seats.

What?s worst: No tilt wheel, Ford has more capacity.

What?s interesting: It?s made in Mexico.

  • Review: 2013 Nissan NV200 cargo van a heavy hitter 2013 Nissan NV200 in SV trim - photo by Jil McIntosh - for Wheels
  • Review: 2013 Nissan NV200 cargo van a heavy hitter 2013 Nissan NV200 in SV trim - photo by Jil McIntosh - for Wheels
  • Review: 2013 Nissan NV200 cargo van a heavy hitter 2013 Nissan NV200 in SV trim - photo by Jil McIntosh - for Wheels
  • Review: 2013 Nissan NV200 cargo van a heavy hitter 2013 Nissan NV200 in SV trim - photo by Jil McIntosh - for Wheels