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2017 Nissan NV3500 HD High Roof

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 10/4/2017 TONY MARKOVICH

2017 Nissan NV3500 Cargo High Roof 2017 Nissan NV3500 Cargo High Roof - Instrumented Test There are fewer and fewer areas in the automotive space where naturally aspirated V-8 engines can be found. Muscle cars, although experimenting with forced induction, remain one holdout, but utility vehicles such as pickups and SUVs are largely responsible for carrying the eight-cylinder torch. It’s even more rare to see that source of power hitched solely to the rear wheels, but that’s exactly the setup found in the Nissan NV3500 HD High Roof cargo van. Unfortunately, it’s not just the source of propulsion but also the driving experience and design of the NV cargo van that are old school. 

Engine Upgrade

The large, Mississippi-built NV vans have been using V-8 power since they debuted for 2012, but Nissan replaced the previous VK56DE engine with the more modern VK56VD Endurance V-8 for the 2017 model year. Although the old 5.6-liter was rated at 317 horsepower and 385 lb-ft of torque, the 3500’s new standard powertrain touts 375 ponies and 387 lb-ft, despite having the same displacement as the unit it replaces.

Whereas the outgoing engine used port fuel injection, the Endurance V-8, which is also found in the Titan pickup and the Armada SUV, employs direct injection. It also features variable valve timing, a new piston design, and a Multi Control Valve that takes the place of a conventional thermostat. The result is an engine with extra power and greater refinement. The new 5.6-liter is the sole engine offering for the NV3500; the NV1500 uses Nissan’s 4.0-liter V-6 with 261 horsepower, while the NV2500 comes standard with the six and offers the V-8 as an option.

2017 Nissan NV3500 HD High Roof© TONY MARKOVICH 2017 Nissan NV3500 HD High Roof

Along with the engine swap, Nissan binned the NV cargo van’s five-speed automatic transmission in favor of a seven-speed unit programmed, surprisingly, for rev-matched downshifts. The updates are most welcome, as a vehicle this large needs all the push it can get. At 6316 pounds, the 3500 HR is hundreds of pounds heavier than its competitors. All that mass takes a toll on fuel economy, as evidenced by our 11-mpg average; also, the NV3500 managed only 15 mpg on our 75-mph highway fuel-economy run. Braking, too, was a sore spot, as the big van required 210 feet to stop from 70 mph—and that’s unladen.

Work vans don’t need to be fast, but they’re less intimidating to drive (and more fun) when they can move quickly. This Nissan smoothly hustled from zero to 60 mph in an impressive 7.5 seconds, accompanied by a rumbling V-8 soundtrack. That’s not quite as quick as the Ford Transit 350 EcoBoost, which managed a sub-seven-second time, but it makes this big van easier to maneuver in fast-moving traffic, with snappy throttle response for easy passing.

It’s still a beast to wield around town, though. Our test example had solid-panel (windowless) rear doors and therefore no rearview mirror, which means your peepers get a workout from constantly darting left and right to check the side-view mirrors. This van would benefit greatly from Nissan’s camera-feed rearview monitor, which is offered on the Armada.

As you might guess from its front-end styling, Nissan’s NV cargo van is based on the previous-generation Titan pickup truck. It uses body-on-frame construction, which is becoming increasingly rare in the cargo-van segment. The only others are the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana twins, although those two do not offer a high-roof option. The Ram ProMaster, Transit, and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter are all unibody designs.

The NV’s ride quality, road manners, and steering trail those competitors, particularly the Transit, which boasts nearly carlike reflexes. The NV uses hydraulically assisted recirculating-ball steering and rides on a control-arm front suspension with coil springs and a leaf-spring live axle with twin-tube dampers in the rear. We didn’t load up the van, but with an empty cargo bay, it sounded and felt like exactly what it is: an empty metal box. The ride is jumpy, especially at the back, and the steering is light and slow, requiring undue attention to precisely guide the van down its intended path. Creaking is ever present, and each kicked-up piece of road confetti is announced in the hollow echo chamber.

Space Case

The other high-roof vans have pretty similar dimensions to the NV3500, with its 240.6-inch length, 79.9-inch width, and 106.0-inch height. The Transit’s high roof is a little taller, at 110.1 inches; Ford also offers a 100.7-inch medium-roof option. The Ram sits lower than the rest of the vans, so its load-floor height is the best of the bunch at only 21.0 inches off the ground, while the NV’s cargo floor sits at 28.5 inches and its bumper step at 20.9 inches. The upside for the NV, however, is SUV-like ground clearance of 8.1 inches.

But the real test for cargo vans is, of course, cargo capacity, and the NV doesn’t fare too well against its competitors. Keep in mind that these vans all have extended-length versions for more space, but the NV comes in on the low end at 323 cubic feet.

The NV’s interior is functional but not superior in any way. It’s a stark environment full of hard surfaces. But it is a work vehicle, so we can’t harp on it too much for not having anything nice on the inside. Hard surfaces are easy to clean and are more resistant to wear. There are large roof-mounted cubby compartments above the cabin; the locking center console has a flat, clipboard-sized top that can slide forward; the inside of the console is equipped for a hanging filing system and has a power outlet; there’s a sliding storage tray under the driver’s seat; and the folding passenger seat can collapse to create an additional flat workspace. The cargo area includes 12 mounting points on the floor and 24 on the body sides for customization, while the floor also has six D-ring hooks for easily strapping things down.

Dollars and Cents

The NV3500 HD High Roof is available in three trim levels: the $35,475 S, the $36,465 SV, and the $37,845 SL. All are reasonable price points for a vehicle this big that packs a powerful V-8. The cheapest equivalent version of the Transit 350 cargo van starts at $40,200 and is powered by a 275-hp 3.7-liter V-6, while the cheapest high-roof Sprinter 3500 of comparable size has a 188-hp diesel V-6 and starts at $41,490. The only high-roof cargo van that approaches the Nissan’s price is the $36,890 Ram ProMaster 3500.

Our SL test truck carried only $1195 worth of options, for a total price tag of $39,040. All-season floor mats were $95, while the $1100 Technology package brought only the most basic of gizmos into the dated interior: a 5.8-inch touchscreen, navigation, Bluetooth, voice recognition, satellite radio, and a rearview camera.

The NV3500 serves one specific function but represents a fusion of ideologies. It’s a Japanese take on an American van that adapts the European high-roof profile. Beyond touting the most cylinders, it’s not the best at anything, but it does everything well enough for an attractive price. We wonder, however, how much longer Nissan—and, for that matter, General Motors—can soldier on with this architecture, and engine type, before it follows along with a more competitive, unibody full-size van.

Specifications

VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger, 2-door van

PRICE AS TESTED: $39,040 (base price: $35,475)

ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 32-valve V-8, aluminum block and heads, direct fuel injection

Displacement: 339 cu in, 5552 cc

Power: 375 hp @ 5800 rpm

Torque: 387 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm

TRANSMISSION: 7-speed automatic with manual shifting mode

DIMENSIONS:

Wheelbase: 146.1 in

Length: 240.6 in

Width: 79.9 in Height: 106.0 in

Passenger volume: 101 cu ft

Cargo volume: 323 cu ft

Curb weight: 6316 lb

C/D TEST RESULTS:

Zero to 60 mph: 7.5 sec

Zero to 100 mph: 21.1 sec

Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 7.8 sec

Top gear, 30–50 mph: 3.5 sec

Top gear, 50–70 mph: 5.1 sec

Standing ¼-mile: 15.9 sec @ 89 mph

Top speed (governor limited): 102 mph

Braking, 70–0 mph: 210 ft

Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad*: 0.70 g

*stability-control-inhibited

C/D FUEL ECONOMY:

Observed: 11 mpg

75-mph highway driving: 15 mpg

Highway range: 420 miles

EPA FUEL ECONOMY:

Combined/city/highway: N/A

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