Check it out, compact-van fans: There's a new game in town. The 2013 Nissan NV200 Compact Cargo has arrived, and it's got the popular Ford Transit Connect in its sights.

The car-like Transit Connect has quietly sold quite well since its 2010 debut, helped by high fuel prices and the fact that not everyone needs a full-size Chevrolet Express to get the job done. Of course, it also helped there was nothing else remotely like the Transit Connect. But Nissan is taking direct aim with the latest NV200, and the new arrival is said to best Ford's finest in key areas. At a recent Nissan event in San Diego, we hopped into an NV200 to see for ourselves.

Nuts and Bolts

Like the Ford, the NV200 toiled overseas for a few years before arriving stateside. Available nearly everywhere from Spain to Indonesia, the NV200 is a truly global product, though key changes were made for its transition to our market. Most notably, Nissan added 7.9 inches to the NV200's overall length, boosting maximum cargo capacity to 122.7 cu ft. That's technically not quite a match for the Transit Connect's 129.6 cu ft, but it should be close enough for most van shoppers. Maximum payload, too, is competitive, checking in at 1,500 pounds versus the Ford's 1,600-lb rating. In the work they're able to do, these two vans are a tossup.

Balance Sheet

The NV200 is the undisputed champ for pricing. Starting at $20,835 with destination, the NV200 undercuts the cheapest Transit Connect by over $2,500. And it's not as though that base model is bereft of features, as standard frills include adjustable driver lumbar support, a fold-flat passenger seat back (for use as a table), power windows, a trip computer and a CD audio system with an auxiliary audio input.

The NV200 also boasts Mobile Office, a multi-function center console with laptop and hanging-file folder storage, a tray for writing implements, a CD holder and dual cup holders. Brand representatives in San Diego told us Transit Connect owners frequently complained about lack of storage in that van's front cabin.

Further up the price ladder, the NV200 offers desirable options such as Bluetooth, satellite radio and NissanConnect navigation with a 5.8-in touchscreen, a rearview camera, limited Google integration and even an automated text-message-reading program. You won't mistake the NV200 for a luxury van, but it has all the features most small businesses would ask for.

Power and MPG

Every NV200 is powered by a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine rated at 131 horsepower and 139 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission is a continuously variable automatic (CVT).

Fuel economy is hybrid-like in its consistency: According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the NV200 returns 24 miles per gallon city/25 mpg hwy and 24 mpg combined. That's excellent all-around efficiency for a cargo van.

How's It Drive?

There's no escaping the NV200's no-nonsense look and feel from the driver seat. The dashboard is a festival of hard plastic, and the controls on non-touchscreen models are about as basic as they get. But when you consider the NV200 is about to take New York City by storm as Gotham's "taxi of tomorrow," it all starts to come into focus: The NV200 is about getting the job done with minimal fuss.

The little 4-cylinder engine isn't exactly bursting with power, but it has enough torque to move out with adequate pace. As for Nissan's CVT, it just keeps getting better, exhibiting little of the notorious "rubber-band" effect during acceleration that we've noted with previous versions. Thanks to the NV200's car-based platform (the Versa economy car is a distant relative), the overall driving experience is about as pleasant as one might expect from such a beast of burden. There's some road noise to deal with, certainly, but we'd say it remains within civilized bounds.

Bottom Line

The 2013 Nissan NV200 brings a lot of versatility and efficiency to the $20,000 price bracket. It's a must-drive if you're considering something like the Transit Connect.

Find a Nissan NV200 for sale

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Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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