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Nissan S-Cargo: Performance Tests and Driving Review

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author photo by Doug DeMuro January 2017

As many of you know, I own a 1989 Nissan S-Cargo, which is sort of a cross between a cargo van and a Lego project. I love my little S-Cargo, and I take it all over town to run a wide variety of errands -- but it recently occurred to me that I've never actually told you people what it's like to drive this thing. So today, I'm going do to that.

But I'm not going to do it quite yet. Because first, I have something even more special for you: Nissan S-Cargo performance tests.

Now, before I get into these tests, a little refresher on my S-Cargo. It's a tiny, front-wheel-drive Japanese cargo van -- with a hatchback -- made in small numbers from 1989 to 1991. All of them were white, and mine was supposedly used by a door-to-door DVD delivery service before it was imported for me by Japanese Classics in Richmond, Virginia. The S-Cargo has a carbureted 1.5-liter 4-cylinder with just 75 horsepower and -- most depressingly of all -- a 3-speed automatic transmission. It was designed for low-speed, around-town, heavy-traffic inner-city use. So I decided to see how fast it would go on the highway.

From the beginning, I knew it wouldn't break 100 miles per hour. Not based on some math problem or an advanced calculation, but because the speedometer only goes up to 160 kilometers per hour, which is 99.4 mph. So we wouldn't be entering into really unsafe territory here.

And so, on a wide-open stretch of I-95 here in Pennsylvania, I let it rip. I dropped the hammer on the S-Cargo and let it accelerate, and accelerate and accelerate some more -- and, you know, I waited for a little while -- and then the chime sounded to let me know I was over 60 mph. Eventually, I started to hear some troubling sounds coming from the driver's door, as though far too much wind was finding its way inside the cabin, and I started to think about the fact that the S-Cargo has like 12-inch wheels and embarrassingly small tires, and I wondered if I would die, and then it happened: My S-Cargo topped out just over 140 kph, which is approximately 87 mph. As I celebrated my high-speed victory, I was passed by a Nissan Murano.

So I decided to try a different type of performance test: the 0-to-60 run. This is a tremendously important test, pursued by automotive journalists for decades, and I thought it would provide an excellent measure of the S-Cargo's acceleration capabilities. So I lined it up on a highway on-ramp, pressed the start button on my stopwatch and stomped the gas pedal, and... eventually... after a while... at some point... one day... it hit 60 miles per hour. This feat took more than 17 seconds to achieve.

So the Nissan S-Cargo isn't a very good performance car. Of course, we already knew this would be the case. But here's something I wasn't expecting: I really love driving this thing all around town.

Although I haven't done many updates with the S-Cargo -- largely because I've been busy traveling around and driving cool exotic vehicles, fun sports cars and also a Yugo -- you might be surprised to find out that I use my S-Cargo quite a bit. I live in Philadelphia, which is a very crowded city with narrow roads and scarce parking, and the S-Cargo is just the perfect in-town runabout. I use it for virtually every inner-city errand I have to run.

There are a few reasons for this. One is, obviously, its size. The S-Cargo is only 137 inches long, which places it somewhere between a smart fortwo and a MINI Cooper. This means I can park it virtually anywhere -- including at the end of a row of parallel-parking spaces, where you can't fit a normal vehicle. I also like running errands with it because of its styling: It may be weird, odd and unusual, but its giant white slab sides make it blend in enough as a cargo van to sit unnoticed in commercial vehicle loading zones. Whenever I get a notice on my door stating that a package couldn't be delivered and I have to go pick it up at the post office, I drive the S-Cargo -- and I leave it in the post office loading zone. Nobody seems to mind.

The S-Cargo also has some other benefits that make it great for driving in the city. For example, its enormous windshield allows for great visibility in every direction, much more than you'd get from a normal cargo van. And it's only 63 inches wide -- a full foot narrower than my Range Rover -- which means it can squeeze down narrow streets with ease.

On the highway, however, the S-Cargo's situation is a little different. It struggles to climb above 60 mph -- and when it gets there, you're forced to listen to the chime, mandated by the Japanese government, that lets you know you're committing the crazy, dangerous practice of going over 60 mph. Driving on the highway is also a bit unsettling because you're sharing the road with huge tractor-trailer trucks that could wipe out your little S-Cargo and its 25-year-old engineering in a matter of seconds.

In the end, though, I love this thing. I think I'm going to sell it pretty soon, largely because I don't have the space to keep it -- but I really think it makes the perfect city car. Based on the incredibly positive reaction I always get from onlookers, pedestrians and other drivers, I think most people agree.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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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.
Nissan S-Cargo: Performance Tests and Driving Review - Autotrader