Sometimes, you just need a big, honkin' van.
For example: A trip to visit relatives over a holiday weekend. The plan started simply enough. Family would fly in to Los Angeles, and then we'd all pile into two vehicles, and cruise four hours north from Los Angeles to Fresno. But, parked outside in the back parking lot of Automotive.com's world headquarters was the 2013 Nissan NV Passenger Van, fresh from its Truck of the Year competition conducted by our sister publication, Motor Trend. Massive, black, and with seating for 12 people, it seemed like the perfect alternative to taking two cars. After all, it's not like we were going different places.
A few phone calls later, and the NV returned just in time for departure. But would this big monster of a van really suit our needs? Or would it simply be too big for its britches? A few hundred miles behind the wheel would let us know for certain.
Model and PriceOur 2013 Nissan NV Passenger Van was a top-line SL model, decked out in Super Black. The base price on it was $38,685, including the $995 destination charge. Options included a $460 towing package, a $850 technology package that added a rear view camera and navigation system, and that was it. That comes to $39,995 for a V-8 powered, leather-lined, 12 passenger hauler. That sounds like a lot, but if you break it down to a per-passenger cost--a silly thing to do, but let's do it anyhow--it's around $3,333 per person, less than a similarly equipped minivan or midsize sedan.
Safety and Key FeaturesSince this is basically a passenger version of a commercial vehicle, there isn't a lot in the way of crash tests to go by. The NHTSA simply says that it does poorly on rollover tests, earning just two stars; the rest of the NHTSA and IIHS tests are absent. Still, there's stability control, traction control, front and side airbags for the front passengers, and a curtain airbag for all four rows. Everyone also gets a three-point seatbelt, and there are four LATCH points for child seats.
But it's those four rows of passenger space that you'll really appreciate: the driver and front passenger; two rows of three seats each; then the fourth row for four more. It's a lot of space, and surprisingly comfortable for the long haul, despite the lack of adjustability in the three rear rows; the front two are the kind of multi-adjustable thrones you'll find in any car. The passenger hauling is the primary feature of the NV Passenger, and frankly, about the only reason you'd be considering a vehicle like this.
Family Friendliness and UtilityIf you need to haul large quantities of people here and there, you can do a lot worse than this van. At full passenger capacity, everyone gets a decent seat, although smaller kids will need a little help climbing inside. The belts were all easy to reach though, and child booster seats fit just fine. The front, however, is where the real fun is. The cabin is huge, obviously, and virtually every possible space has been turned into a shelf, nook, cubby, drawer, door, or other storage compartment. There are literally enough storage compartments to lose things; I spent a good 15 minutes looking for a phone charger, only to find it at the very bottom of the deep, deep center console storage bin.
However, if you need to haul 12 people and their stuff, it's tougher. There's not a lot of space behind the fourth row despite the impressive-sounding 28.9 cu.-ft. of space, and the seats don't fold down at all. We had to remove one half of the fourth row just to accommodate luggage for 10 on a three-night stay. The seat is huge and heavy; since it doesn't fold at all, it's irritatingly bulky; and the NV's high floor means it's almost mandatory to have a friend help you. Even with the seat removed, mastery of luggage-Tetris was needed to fit everything. On the other hand, the barn doors open wide, and even fold against the sides of the van to make loading and unloading easier.
Comfort and QualityIf you're expecting the NV Passenger Van to be a high-luxury cocoon in which to haul your magnificently sized brood, take a step back here. While certainly comfortable for a vehicle of this type, and offering decent amenities for a vehicle of this type, keep in mind that a vehicle of this type is meant to be durable over the long haul. That means there are zero soft-touch surfaces on the dash and center console, and that most everything inside errs on the side of being long-lasting. It's not a slam against the van, just a reality of what these are made for. Think about it; when was the last time you saw an airport shuttle van with a stitched leather dash? The surfaces and materials all feel sturdy though, and with the exception of an occasional rattle from the big sliding side door, the NV Passenger was as tight as a gigantic drum.
How it DrivesFundamentally, this is a full-size, heavy-duty truck, so don't expect to sail over bumps without noticing. It has a solid axle suspended by leaf springs in back, not a combination known for its pleasurable ride. But it still acquitted itself surprisingly well. As long as the pavement wasn't too broken up, the ride was more than acceptable. The steering was quick and light, and despite its dimensions--the NV Passenger was 20 feet long, 6.5 feet wide, and 7 feet tall--it was surprisingly agile. The rear view camera and bumper-mounted sensors made it easy to park, and after an acclimation period, it wasn't even all that hard to get it into a standard-sized parking place. It's really not much bigger than a pickup truck, just more imposing from the outside; get past that, and it's easy to drive. The 5.6-liter, 317-horsepower engine pulled the big van with ease, too, although the fuel economy--at a calculated 11.5 mpg during our time--was pretty dismal.
SummaryWe were actually glad that our 2013 Nissan NV Passenger was the sinister black color it was; had it been white, we may have been compelled to sing church hymns during our entire trip. But it filled the role of a mega-people hauler admirably, and everyone--drivers and passengers alike--admitted that despite looks only a mother could love, the NV was one heck of a vehicle.
But after we were home, and everyone had been dropped off, and the passenger seats were all reinstalled, a funny thing happened. I didn't want to drive it anymore. The hugeness of it was simply too much, and the van's overall bulkiness--not to mention miserable fuel economy--were too much to bear. In the end, its utility no longer needed, it got parked.
The moral of the story, if there is one, is choose wisely. If you're prolifically reproductive, then a big van like this is just the ticket, and the NV is definitely one of the better choices out there. However, if you don't need that much capacity all the time, this big black box quickly loses its charm.
Spec BoxPrice-as-tested: $39,995
EPA City: N/A
EPA Highway: N/A
EPA Combined: N/A
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Below Average