2013 Nissan NV Driving Impressions

As a tow vehicle, the Nissan NV3500 is impeccable. We towed a racecar and equipment weighing 4000 pounds inside a 22-foot enclosed trailer weighing 3500 pounds, and it couldn't have been smoother or steadier. We towed the trailer empty and hit 80 mph, still rock steady. The NV3500 is rated to tow 9500 pounds, more than the Mercedes Sprinter 3500.

The 5.6-liter V8 makes 317 horsepower and 385 foot-pounds of torque at 3400 rpm, and that was ample for our load. The five-speed automatic transmission is programmed wisely, shifting in all the right places. With that 3.54 final drive ratio, balancing good torque on freeway hills and good fuel mileage (the V6 has 3.36), we got 11.9 mpg with our load, running hard on the freeway. Without the trailer it was more like 16. We set the cruise control at 62 mph on the level, and got 20. Quite impressive, given the aerodynamic exposure of the tall roof. There's a 28-gallon fuel tank, so you don't have to suffer the shock of $100 fillups too often.

The 4.0-liter V6 makes 261 horsepower and 317 foot-pounds of torque. We didn't drive one, but that sounds good for the half-ton 1500 and three-quarter-ton 2500 models. But the V6 torque peaks up at 5200 rpm, so we wonder about towing.

The NV uses the powertrain of the Titan pickup truck, but it has its own frame. A new super beefy ladder frame was built for the NV, signaling how serious Nissan is about bringing a challenger for not only the Sprinter, but Ford and Chevy vans too.

We were surprised that a van of this size could handle so well. The steering is slow, unsurprisingly, but it's light for parking-lot turning. Although if you're parallel parking, lock-to-lock, you're turning the wheel 4.6 times, time for a naked-lady spinner knob (truck drivers from the '50s will remember). And don't try making a U-turn in any space less than 45.2 feet wide.

The good response on the road likely comes from the new boxed-in frame, and the rigidity its nine cross members brings to the 146.1 inch wheelbase, which is 2 inches more than the Sprinter (which offers an extended model with a 170-inch wheelbase). And there are 12 body-on-frame mounts. The front suspension is independent double wishbone with twin tube shocks, the rear is a solid axle with leaf springs, twin tubes, and stabilizer bar.

The brakes are excellent, with four-wheel discs having rotors just over 14 inches. Our van wasn't equipped with a trailer brake unit, so a lot was asked of the discs, with four tons back there wanting to push the NV over a cliff. We paid attention to our driving, always thinking ahead. There was never a moment where the brakes didn't do their overtime job.

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