Nissan NV3500 HD: Is This The Ugliest Van on the Road?

Nissan NV3500 HD: Is This The Ugliest Van on the Road?                   

Author: Curtis Bender

 That question may be a little harsh but Nissan’s new NV series cargo van sure won’t be winning any beauty contests, not even amongst its main rivals from GM, Ford and Mercedes. The vehicle in this review is the NV3500 HD “SV” with the 5.6 liter V8 and 5 speed automatic transmission and the high roof option. The “SV” being the upscale version with chrome bumpers and grille, power windows, locks and mirrors, while all the other bells and whistles are optionally available on it such as navigation, XM radio and bluetooth phone connectivity. Our tester, unfortunately, was not equipped with those optional gadgets.

 The design of this new van is based loosely on Nissan’s Titan pickup truck. Sharing a very familiar looking front end treatment, but from there on back the design is all business. The reason given for the long front end is to get the motor forward of the cab and eliminate the interior “dog house” engine cover and increase driver leg room compared to a conventionally styled van. And while there is definitely much better leg room than other vans, there is not much more room in the center. Where those other vans have their dog house, the center of the Nissan lower dash is filled with a large console with cup holders and small item storage.

 Entering the cab, the first thing you notice is how much it feels like a well appointed pickup with bucket seats. The “SV” model comes standard with a 8-way power drivers seat, my first impression of which is that the seat is somewhat narrow and very firm. I do wonder about how well the power adjustment will hold up over time in a fleet environment, being used by multiple drivers in and out of the truck many times a day. This truck also comes standard with a AM/FM/CD/MP3 radio with auxiliary input and four speakers, with radio volume, station preset and mode selection controls on the steering wheel. While I am not an audiophile, I have found this factory radio nothing short of spectacular. It also helps that the interior noise level is lower than any other work van that I have recently driven, so the radio has less road noise to overcome.


A couple of the dash mounted controls and switches did seem oddly placed to me and had me searching for them at first. Number one was the control for the power mirrors. It is mounted low on the extreme left side of the dash and is a little awkward to use and has a very small switch to change between left and right mirrors. Next was the placement of the hazard lights switch, well to the right side, away from the drivers immediate line of sight. Also, I found the switch that operates the information display somewhat difficult to reach and use, being placed at the base of the tachometer in the dash cluster, causing the driver to have to reach around the steering wheel to use it.

 In between the seats is a large center console. At the front of this console are two more cup holders, bringing the total in the cab to four, and there is a slot made to hold a large clip board. The top of the console lid slides forward making for a convenient desk as well as a more comfortable arm rest. There is also a space on the front of the lid to attach a large spring clip to hold your paperwork in place. Inside is a tray for holding small items and below is a large space that can accommodate large items or even hanging files if you choose. Also included inside the console is a 12v power outlet and a 120v power outlet, great for plugging in almost any electric item you could use. The 120v outlet has up to 400 watts of power available so it can handle even high power usage items. 

I picked up the NV3500 HD SV with 1700 miles on the clock. In the cargo area were two pieces of cargo, a crate and a pallet with a total weight of approximately 2700 pounds, just under the available 3000 pound cargo capacity of this particular van. The cargo was secured with straps to the Nissan supplied “D” rings attached to the floor in six locations on either side of the cargo area. This particular van has had a owner installed bulkhead added to protect the driver and passenger from shifting cargo in the event of an accident. The owner also added a diamond plate aluminum floor covering to the cargo area to help protect it. I have a feeling that this floor covering may not stand up to much abuse from careless forklift drivers though.




 The floor length in the cargo area is 120 inches except in the case of this particular van, as it’s front bulkhead reduces this somewhat. What this means, unfortunately, is that you can only load two full size pallets, end to end, on the floor. An extended length cargo area, that is offered by its competitors, is not available currently from Nissan. Height-wise, this unit has the high roof option, allowing me (6’2” tall) to stand fully upright with a slight bit of room to spare.

 My route total for this review was exactly 500 miles, consisting mainly of interstate highways with approximately 20% being secondary roads and surface streets. I started out with a full tank of gas and was down into the audible low fuel warning range by the 288 mile mark where I refilled the tank. At this point the fuel economy readout was showing 12.9 MPG. Checking this by calculating the miles traveled against the gallons used, I came up with a less than stellar actual 11.7 MPG figure. So it seems as though the factory fuel economy readout is a little optimistic. At the end of my trip I again topped the tank off and came up with a slightly better 12.0 MPG calculated figure, the dash readout showing 12.5 MPG, and this was after the cargo had been unloaded at the halfway point of my trip. Some of this van’s low fuel economy can be attributed to it’s high roof design, some to the strong crosswinds blowing as I traveled down the interstate. But even discounting both of those factors, it still lags behind the last van that I spent quite a bit of time in, a ¾ ton Chevy with the 5.3 V8 that returned a much better 15.5 MPG under similar loading and driving conditions.

 Power-wise, the Nissan is a BEAST!!! The V8 5.6 liter, DOHC, 317 HP, 385 TQ powerplant provides plenty of power, barely taxed by the 2700 pounds of cargo loaded in the back. Freeway on-ramps are a breeze and, as a matter of fact, if you are not careful you will find yourself well in excess of the speed limit by the time you are merging onto the roadway. Along with all this power comes a significant V8 growl as the RPM’s rapidly rise as you accelerate. A very powerful sounding engine for sure.

 The transmission in the Nissan NV is a five speed unit that shifts very smoothly and responds very quickly to throttle inputs, downshifting as soon as it is called upon with gear spacing that seems ideal to the application. Also included with this transmission is a manual control shift mechanism that, when engaged, allows for full manual control of the gear selection by way of a up-down selector switch located on the end of the steering column mounted shift handle.

 On the highway the Nissan exhibits a very vague on-center feel in the steering. This, combined with its wind catching height, causes the driver to constantly need to correct the steering to maintain lane position. Also, body roll control seems very soft allowing the van to wallow and sway quite a bit as you travel down the highway. Hopefully, Nissan will continue to improve the suspension tuning in subsequent models to address these issues.

 The ride was very smooth with the 2700 pounds of cargo in place and became slightly choppy after unloading, as would be expected, but was still very comfortable except on particularly rough sections of the road.

 Overall, this new Nissan NV3500 HD “SV” van seems to be a well put together, very powerful workhorse. As always, time will tell if this van is up to the rigors of its intended job, whether it will remain in the long run, as solid a unit as it appears to be.



Lots of power, good ride, solid construction, fantastic radio.


Poor fuel economy, small 28 Gal fuel tank, no extended length option, too firm seating, heavy empty weight, some controls not user friendly, exterior styling.

 I rate the Nissan NV3500 HD at about 6.5 out of 10.


Nissan NV series pricing starts at $24,950,

 Curtis Bender.