Road Tests

Moving From Detroit to Los Angeles in a 2016 Nissan NV3500 HD High-Roof

A heavy-duty hauler for light-duty needs

Two years ago, I bisected the U.S. in my packed 2005 Pontiac GTO and an overloaded Lexus crossover, driven by my father, to start writing for Automobile. When it came time to continue that journey to Los Angeles 20 months later, I was down one GTO and up a 1999 Mazda Miata. There isn’t much room in that little roadster, so in preparation for the journey to the land of sun and avocados, I enlisted the help of both my father and an Arctic Blue Metallic high-roof 2017 Nissan NV3500HD.

Parked on a sleepy suburban street in Michigan, the NV is quite the imposing truck. I opted for the full-size high-roof configuration to fit all my assorted junk, so our NV scraped against clouds at a towering 106 inches. Inside, it’s as cavernous as the exterior suggests, with 323 cubic feet of interior volume. This is noticeably smaller than a similarly-outfitted Ford Transit and Ram ProMaster, but the NV makes up for the volume deficit with class-leading towing capacity and, if you stick to the single-axle models, a competitive payload rating.

2016 Nissan NV3500 HD Detroit to LA Front Side 3

It was a good thing I got the big ‘un. After loading my mattress, dresser, desk, and kitchen table, I had to squeeze in eight larger plastic tubs loaded with all my kitsch. An assorted grab-bag of backpacks, boxes, and wrapped frames filled the gaps until the NV’s once-airy cup runneth over. Like all cargo vans worth their salt, the interior was peppered with a wide assortment of tie-down points and crevasses into which I slotted rope hooks. The bulk of the cargo stayed secure and was blissfully quiet during transit. Of course, the rear-view was completely obscured, but the massive semi-truck-sized side mirrors gave me plenty of visibility.

Happily, the NV wasn’t unduly bothered by the new payload. Thanks to Nissan’s tried-and-true 5.6-liter VK56DE V-8 engine, the NV hauled my belongings without a hiccup. The 5.6-liter pushes out 317 hp and 385 lb-ft of torque, sent to the rear wheels through a stout five-speed automatic transmission. Even while cutting through the Rocky Mountains, it was at the ready reliable and smooth power. (Pick up a 2017 model, and power jumps to an even more impressive 375 hp and 387 lb-ft of torque, managed by a new seven-speed automatic transmission.)

The cabin of the NV was all business, complete with liberal use of plastics and rubber. Even if the cabin was totally devoid of metal, leather, and wood trim, all the essentials were there — namely satellite radio, climate control, navigation, and cruise control. There’s staggering number of driver-accessible storage compartments up front, so many that I found myself losing smaller items like walkie-talkies.

At its core, the NV drives like a tall HD pickup truck, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It felt beefy, solid, and industrial-strength. The sturdy chassis and stalwart V-8 were a very reassuring combination even when packed to the gills. Still, this heavy construction does have a few drawbacks, namely in the form of expectedly conspicuous fuel consumption. Over the course of 2,306 miles, I burned a total of 168 gallons, averaged out to an eye-watering 13.7 mpg. It wasn’t thrifty, but the HD capability and ease of hauling made up for the prodigious thirst. Besides, a 28-gallon fuel tank meant my pit stops were relatively infrequent.

2016 Nissan NV3500 HD Detroit to LA Side Door Open

While the NV’s V-8 was happy to chug over mountains and through desert canyons, the little 1.8-liter four-cylinder in my Miata was not. After roughly 2,000 miles following behind the NV, the Miata’s coil pack burst into flames just outside of Needles, California. Spectacular, I know. We loaded the little maniac onto a lightweight UHaul trailer we rented and hitched to the van. Thanks to the NV’s stellar 9,400-lb tow rating, the additional weight of the trailer was barely noticeable and didn’t affect our travel time.

It didn’t matter where we were or how much further we had to go. The NV chugged along, surging through dusty Kansas farmlands and majestic Monument Valley biomes like a freight train. It wasn’t easy leaving Michigan and the friends I’d made, but the Nissan NV3500 did its very best to make the transit as painless as possible. When I arrived in LA and disgorged my junk into my new apartment, the trusty NV became a shell, hollow and resonating on the inside – a bittersweet coda to my journey.

Thanks, Nissan NV3500, for all the trouble-free, reliable, and hard-working miles. I’ll give you a call when it’s once again time to hit the road.

2016 Nissan NV3500 HD Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $37,745 (base)
ENGINE 5.6L DOHC 32-valve V-8/317 hp @ 5,200 rpm, 385 lb-ft @ 3,400 rpm
TRANSMISSION 5-speed automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 2-passenger, front-engine, RWD van
EPA MILEAGE N/A
L X W X H 240.6 x 79.9 x 106.0 in
WHEELBASE 146.1 in
WEIGHT 6,275 lb
0-60 MPH N/A
TOP SPEED N/A

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