First Look: 2013 Nissan NV200

You'd be forgiven for thinking Nissan's little NV200 is only available as a taxi -- but that's hardly the case. As showcased at last year's Chicago auto show, the small van will be sold here in a cargo-friendly form, and Nissan's finally ready to give the full details on its smallest NV model.

Adapted From Abroad

Unlike its larger siblings, the NV1500, NV2500, and NV3500, the NV200 is not a clean-sheet design created expressly for the North American market. In fact, the van has been sold in dozens of countries around the world since 2007.

The NV200 rides upon a modified form of Nissan's subcompact B-platform, which also underpins the likes of the Cube and the last-generation Versa sedan and hatchback. Like those models, the NV uses MacPherson struts up front and a solid rear axle, but the rear coil springs are ditched in favor of heavier-duty leaf springs that help handle payloads up to 1500 pounds, depending on equipment. North American-spec NV200s also differ from other versions in length. Our vans' wheelbases are stretched by 2.6 inches to 115.2 inches, while overall length is increased by 7 inches to 186.3 inches. The extra length helps provide for a load floor that's 82.8 inches long, along with 122.7 cubic feet of cargo space aft of the front seats.

A variety of drivelines are offered in other markets, but in North America, the NV200 will be paired with a single engine/transmission combination. Power comes from a 2.0-liter, DOHC aluminum-block I-4. Nissan rates this engine at 131 hp at 5200 rpm and 139 pound-feet of torque at 6400 rpm. Power is sent to the front wheels via a continuously-variable transmission.

Room To Work

Nissan was lauded for providing drivers ample storage and workspace in its larger NV models, and the NV200 appears to follow that path. The passenger seatback folds forward, providing a flat surface that can either serve as a writing desk or a load surface for extra-long objects. An open cubby in the center console has room for a laptop computer or file folder, while an underseat storage bin and recessed storage area on the upper dash panel provide room for clipboards, binders, or other objects.

Owners/operators seeking a little more pizazz can also step from the base S trim level to the SV. SV models not only add cruise control as standard equipment (it's optional on the S), but give buyers the ability to order body-color front and rear bumpers and door handles, a chrome grille, and a technology package. The latter includes niceties like Sirius/XM satellite radio, a USB audio input, navigation, and a rear-view camera. Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity and windows for the rear doors are optional on both trim levels.

North American NV200s do not offer a one-piece liftgate as in other markets; instead, they utilize a 60/40 split barn door design. Although placing the larger portion on the passenger's side may slightly hinder curb-side loading, Nissan notes the doors swing open 180 degrees, and suggests a shorter door on the driver's side reduces the chance of the panel being struck by passing traffic. Dual sliding doors are standard, and the cargo hold offers integrated mounting points for aftermarket shelving, reducing - if not eliminating - the need to drill into the stock sheetmetal.

By The Numbers

On paper, the NV200 doesn't exactly trump its competition by leaps and bounds. Nissan's van barely bests the present Ford Transit Connect in terms of load space length, but the Ford offers a greater payload rating, and its cargo area is slightly wider and taller than the NV200.

Where the NV200 surpasses both the Transit Connect and Ram C/V is pricing. Nissan says base NV200 S models should retail for $20,890, including $895 in destination (SV models run an extra $1000). That's nearly $2500 less than the present Transit Connect and Ram C/V. For small businesses on a tight budget, that difference may be enough to lure them into Nissan's camp.

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