The What Van? Road Test: Nissan NV400
Thursday, March 22, 2012
While Nissan may be almost breathlessly eager to insist on the presence of its own DNA in the new NV400, the fact remains that it is a reworked version of Renault’s Master, although that is not a bad thing because the current Master – also marketed by Vauxhall as the Movano, our joint 2011 vans of the year and streets ahead of its predecessor – is a remarkably impressive piece of kit. If Nissan can ride in on the back of its success then it will be doing well.
The way the NV400 has been styled at Nissan Design Europe’s Paddington studio in London – the concept was subsequently engineered into being by Nissan’s European Technical Centre at Cranfield in Bedfordshire – makes it in our eyes the best-looking of the trio: its distinctive front-end treatment helps it to stand out from its partners’ vans.
Covering much the same territory as the Master and the Movano, the NV400 grosses 2.8-4.5t and, like them, is on offer with the choice of either front- or rear-wheel drive. With three different wheelbases, four different lengths and three different heights, it succeeds the Interstar – itself a re-badged version of the old-style Master/Movano – but addresses a much wider area of the market.
Van load volumes range from 8.0m3 to 17m3, and crew vans, tippers, dropsides and box-bodied chassis cabs are available. Power comes courtesy of a 2.3-litre dCi Euro5 diesel engine developing 100hp, 125hp or 150hp. Transversely mounted in front-wheel drive models, the engine is up for grabs with either a six-speed manual transmission or an automated gearbox.
Featuring a high level of equipment, SE trim is the standard offering, with one or two entry-level E-trimmed models listed to attract the budget-conscious.
We opted for a medium-height, medium-wheelbase front-wheel drive 125hp SE 3.5-tonne van: a model likely to be one of the best-sellers in the line-up.
There is no lack of oddment storage space in the well-designed three-seater cab. For your money you get shelves above the windscreen on both the driver and passenger sides with a small shelf between them, which could accommodate a digital tachograph if needs be but otherwise acts as a useful repository for a pair of sunglasses.
There are no less than four bins of varying sizes, one of which has a moulding that will accommodate a big bottle of water, in each of the doors. In addition there are four shelves, also of different sizes, on top of the dashboard along with a small tray and slots for parking meter change.
The lidded, but not lockable, glovebox is deep and roomy and you will find cup-holders at each extremity of the fascia plus cubby holes, with an extra cubby hole on the passenger side. A handy feature is the way in which the centre seat’s back can be folded down and transformed into a desk that can be swivelled towards the driver to make it easier to complete paperwork.
There’s a shelf above the radio/CD player and a two-tier shelf in the middle of the dashboard – the upper tier incorporates two cup-holders – that robs the centre passenger of some knee space. The adjacent moulding projecting from the fascia on which the gear-lever is mounted hinders cross-cab movement.
Both the driver’s seat, which boasts an armrest, and the steering column are height-adjustable and the seat’s occupant enjoys plenty of head and shoulder room.
Access to the 10.8m3 cargo area is by means of twin rear doors and a sliding nearside door. Both the back doors can be swung through 90° or 180° if you unlatch the easy-to-release stays.
Plenty of load tie-down points are provided, including eight mounted on the floor and three on each of the rear door pillars.
Half-height panels provide the sides and doors with some protection from scratches and scrapes, but there is no such defence for the floors or the wheel-boxes. As a consequence, any prospective purchaser should think about investing in a partial or full lining kit. The 12V power point in the load area is a thoughtful touch.
A shelf above the cab is accessible from the load area, which is itself easy to climb into thanks to the step on the rear bumper and the low load-bed height created by the absence of a driveshaft due to the van being front wheel-drive.
Gross payload is 1620kg, and our van could haul a braked trailer grossing at 2500kg.
The load bay is 3083mm long, 1765mm wide, narrowing to 1380mm between the wheel boxes, and 1894mm high. Rear loading height is 562mm and the rear door aperture is 1580mm
wide and 1820mm high. The dimensions for the side door aperture are 1270mm and 1780mm respectively.
Fitted with a fixed-geometry turbocharger – a variable-geometry turbo is installed in the 150hp version – and an intercooler, the NV400’s four-cylinder 16-valve common-rail direct-injection engine generates its peak 125hp at 3500rpm. Top torque of 310Nm bites across a 1250-2500rpm plateau, and our vehicle came with the standard six-speed manual ‘box.
According to the official fuel usage figures, average urban consumption is 28.8mpg improving to 38.2mpg on extra-urban runs with a combined figure of 34.5mpg. We averaged around 33.0mpg. CO2 emissions are set at 218g/km.
Chassis and steering
With MacPherson strut-type independent suspension installed at the front and single-leaf steel suspension at the back, our demonstrator sat on 16-inch steel wheels with smart-looking covers and shod with Goodyear Cargo Marathon 225/65 R16 C tyres.
Hydraulically assisted rack-and-pinion power steering is installed across the range, in this case offering a 14.1m wall-to-wall turning circle. It shrinks to 13.6m kerb-to-kerb.
Usefully manoeuvrable at low speeds, one of the front-wheel drive NV400’s biggest plus-points is the quality of its handling. Ample feedback through the steering allows you to push it hard along twisting B-roads without having to worry too much that you are going to come unstuck.
Most Euro5 van engines are remarkably quiet, and the NV400’s 2.3-litre is no exception. Our test van was a little slow away from rest, but accelerated briskly through the gears thereafter and allowed us to sprint down the motorway regardless of the foul weather.
A smooth gear change helped our progress and we had few quarrels with the ride bar some bumping and thumping from the suspension. However, we were concerned about the amount of rattling and creaking generated by the body. That is not what you would expect from a new van and certainly not what you would expect from a Nissan, although the NV400 is, of course, assembled by its sister company Renault.
A decent standard of equipment distinguishes SE NV400s, with Bluetooth connectivity, electric windows, electrically adjustable exterior mirrors, an aux-in socket and cruise control included in the deal. We had the benefit of a Comfort Pack for an additional £750 – all prices quoted here exclude VAT – which embraces pollen filtration, front fog lamps and air-conditioning.
Drivers will appreciate the fact that the heating and ventilation system, which warms up the cab quickly on cold winter days, features chunky, easy-to-use heating and ventilation controls.
The stereo display is housed in a swivelling unit positioned where the interior rear view mirror would normally be, although such a mirror would, of course, be redundant given
the presence of a full-height solid steel bulkhead complete with three coat hooks. The display is used by the satnav too: our van’s Nissan Connect package featured TomTom navigation with Google local search for £650. Switch off the radio/CD player – there are remote controls on the steering column – as well as the satnav, and the display becomes a clock.
The buttons for the hazard warning lights and the central locking system – remote central locking is provided too, and all the doors lock automatically once you reach 5mph – are positioned close to it, just above the windscreen.
Buying and running
The NV400 comes with a three-year/100,000-mile warranty with service intervals set at two years/25,000 miles.
It’s good to see that side rubbing strips are fitted to protect the body, and in our case its metallic silver paintwork (an extra £350), from minor dents and scratches, but it is a shame that there is no protection for the wheel-arches. Rear parking sensors should help minimise the risk of damage to the back of the vehicle and injury to unlucky pedestrians when the driver is reversing.
We are delighted to see that Nissan has had the great good sense to make ESP – Electronic Stability Programme – a standard feature on front-wheel drive SE models in the same way as it is on all rear-wheel drive NV400s. While Renault and Vauxhall make it standard on rear-wheel drive Masters and Movanos, you have to pay more for it on front-wheel drive variants. It seems a shame, though, that it is not standard on E specification front-wheel drive NV400s too.
ABS and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution were standard on our test van too, along with disc brakes all round (302mm diameter at the front, 305mm diameter at the back) and a driver’s airbag. Finally, the big, exterior rear-view mirrors feature a separate, lower, wide-angle section that helps eliminate blind spots.
And it all began with a joint-venture…
Nissan’s NV400 has its roots in a joint venture between Renault, Nissan’s sister company, and General Motors, Vauxhall’s parent, that goes back to the 1990s. It created the economies of scale that among other things allowed Renault to obtain a successor to its then resolutely Gallic Master and GM a long-awaited successor to the often underrated Bedford CF.
The fruits of this cooperation included an all-new Master and Vauxhall’s Movano, in effect a re-badged version of the Renault. They debuted in 1998/9 with facelifted versions appearing in 2003.
At the same time Nissan was attempting to develop a comprehensive line-up that would appeal to UK and European customers. Its lack of a Western-style heavy-duty panel van and the creation of the Renault-Nissan Alliance resulted in the launch of the Interstar: a re-badged Master.
The introduction of a completely redesigned Master/Movano in 2010 has now resulted in Nissan launching its own variant in the shape of the NV400.
Though likely to be eclipsed by the Master and Movano, the NV400 is well worth a second look. Nissan’s dealer network will have a major influence on how much headway it makes in the market.