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Car Review

2012 Nissan NV 3500HD: Real World Review

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author photo by Joni Gray

Nissan only recently entered the commercial van market with its 2012 Nissan NV. Offered in several configurations, primarily for small business use, this utility van competes against just a few other players for a fairly small market that includes the Chevrolet Express, Ford's new larger Transit Connect and Mercedes-Benz/Dodge Sprinter.

We recently had the opportunity to take the shiny black utility van on the ultimate small business test drive, transporting an 8-piece band on a round trip from Southern California to a biker rally near Four Corners, Colo., over Labor Day weekend to play a Bob Seger tribute. The 12-hour trip, covering over 1,400 miles of the Southwest, gave us ample seat time to put the Nissan NV through its paces.

Our band is unique in that there are two journalists in the group: me, automotive writer and vocalist, and drummer Bart Robley, who writes for Classic Drummer Magazine and is also an automotive enthusiast and logistics coordinator for Sam Morrison Band's road trips. Bart and I traded driving responsibilities, and we both have some impressions on the hardworking van that took us to the Sugar Pine Rally in Mancos, Colo.


The amount of gear needed to pull off a show can seem overwhelming when it's on stage, but the NV, with its tall roof, proved to be more than adequate to haul the load. That load included cases of music equipment, including amps and a large drum set, a 12-foot lighting truss, luggage for eight people and three coolers.

Access to the back of the van comes via an ample 40-inch sliding side door, and the rear doors have the ability to swing all the way open flush to the van's sides, where they are held open with two magnetized rubber bumpers. This attention to detail proved very helpful in holding the doors open while the van was facing uphill, and made loading and unloading a breeze.

The Long Haul

Even fully loaded with close to a ton of equipment, the suspension never sagged, and the NV stood up to the long haul challenge ahead. The band's road trip took the van through the scorching summer heat of California and Arizona deserts, onto Interstate 40 to US-89, US-160 Navajo Trail and finally onto US-168, where the Four Corners of Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico meet.

The powerful 5.6-liter V8 has plenty of low-end torque with more than enough power to get the fully loaded ride easily up to speed even on freeway ramps. The NV is equipped with auxiliary transmission and engine coolers, which were helpful in keeping the van going in the desert heat. The 5-speed automatic transmission stayed smooth and handled the steep uphill grades with ease. We used the manual downshift button to keep the speed under control on downhill grades, giving some relief to the brakes.

Creature Comforts

The Nissan NV is as comfortable as any high-end truck on the market. The large, bolstered seats made the 12-hour drive pleasant. The large gauges were easy on our road-weary eyes, and an on-board GPS with real-time traffic updates and satellite radio kept us entertained and informed for the long trip.

Part of the comfort in driving the NV is feeling safe and secure in driving a large, tall vehicle. With rear sonar and a rearview monitor, navigating tight parking spots was completely stress-free.

Bling on Wheels

Our blinged-out black Nissan NV with chrome wheels and tinted windows created a lot of attention at stops through the desert, including a Cracker Barrel in Flagstaff and the Elephant Feet formations in Navajo Nation. Rolling up to the Pine Ranch Rally, motorcycle enthusiasts (i.e., bikers) had plenty of questions about the NV and what was under the hood. Load-in and load-out went extremely well with the easy access to our gear. If you're considering a van like this, be sure the door openings are large. A van with a spacious interior but narrow or oddly shaped door openings is probably more trouble than it's worth.

The Sam Morrison Band appreciates the opportunity to test the skills of Nissan's utility superstar. It did its job well and looked great doing it--the benchmark of any true rock 'n' roll machine.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.