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Credit: Nissan

The 2012 Nissan NV lineup includes standard and high roof models.

Big! That's the impression I got walking up to the Nissan NV for the first time. This van is big — in overall length, interior cube, and especially height.

My test drive was in a basic, V6-powered high roof model NV 2500. It truly towers over competitive vans. It's designed from the ground up as a high-cube carrier. (There is also an NV 1500 with a V6 engine and standard roof; the Class 1 truck, and a Class 3 NV3500.) Whether fitted out as a work truck with bins and boxes, as a mobile shop or just a bulk hauler, the 323 cubic feet of cargo space features standing room for a 6-foot 3-inch worker.

Its wheelbase is longer than most vans at 146 inches, with an overall length just shy of 241 inches. That's a full 20 feet plus an inch. Much of it contributes to its cargo space, but some of it is used up front to make this the most comfortable and drivable Class 1, 2, or 3 van on the market.

Most cargo vans have their engines intrude into the passenger and driver compartments. Foot wells are cramped and foot room is limited. Time in the cab is limited by the discomfort their awkward driving positions bring. Not so with the NV.

Nissan based its design on their pickup trucks. There's ample room for the V8 engine without any intrusion into people space. Considering intrusion, there's even more legroom than in the Sprinter, the closest competitor to the NV in terms of capacity and capability.

The biggest difference between the two is that the Sprinter is available only with a 3.0-liter diesel engine and six-speed automatic transmission, while the NV offers a 4.0-liter V6 or a 5.6-liter V8 mated to five-speed automatics. The V6 produces 261 hp; the V8, 317 hp. The price differential between the NV and Sprinter is about $10,000 in favor of the Nissan.

Target markets for the NV generally don't operate enough annual miles to justify the price differential. While I was unable to calculate average miles per gallon, I did drive from Chicago to Louisville for the Mid-America Trucking Show, commuted to the show and press events, and returned using a total of roughly 40 gallons of regular unleaded gas.

Towing capability for the roughly 6,150-pound high roof NV is 9,500 pounds with the V8, and a respectable 7,000 pounds with the V6. There are 54 inches between rear wheel housings, and 122 inches between the back of the console and the rear doors. Those doors open to 243 degrees to allow easy to full access to cargo or for any of the myriad optional racks and compartments available from up-fitters.

Rear doors open to 61.6 inches. Step-in height is 20 inches at the side and rear, with ample hand rail assists. Front step-in height is 18 inches or 19 inches, depending on configuration. Payload ranges up to 3,925 pounds for the NV 3500.

It's been a long time since I'd driven such a basic vehicle (roll-up windows and no power door locks), but the list of standard features was still impressive. Besides the 12-V accessory plugs, every NV has two 120-V, 400 W AC power outlets. There are 57 integrated, reinforced cargo mounting points and six "D-ring" mounting points, each ring rated at 1,124 pounds.

All NVs come with four wheel disc brakes with anti-lock braking system (ABS) and electronic brake force distribution and ABS. There is also a traction control system with vehicle dynamic control, and even a rear sonar system to make backing safer.

Driving a lightly loaded high roof vehicle at highway speeds, I expected a great deal of sensitivity to cross winds, especially in late March on Interstate 65. Surprisingly, at even above 70 mph, sway was at a minimum and wander almost nonexistent. There was a good deal of road noise but not nearly what I had experienced with competitors' vans loaded similarly.

The NV doesn't just add a new competitor to commercial vehicle markets; it leaps ahead by addressing comfort and accessibility in new ways. And, as an added bonus, it has more "Made in the USA" content than any of its competitors.

- Paul Abelson (truckwriter@wowaccess.net) is a former director of the Technology and Maintenance Council (TMC) of the American Trucking Associations, a board member of Truck Writers of North America, and active in the Society of Automotive Engineers. He writes PUBLIC WORKS' monthly 'Fleet management' column.