by Jay Traugott
Advances in medicine and an ever-increasing birth rate means that there are more of us on this planet than ever before - this might not be so great for our freshwater sources and the general wellbeing of our world, but for large passenger vans such as the Nissan NV Passenger, things couldn't look any brighter. The 2021 Nissan NV, first introduced in 2012, is a great example of a back to basics, no-nonsense human carrier, designed to transport Homo Sapiens from one point of consumption to the next, and while some do it with more style, the NV Passenger Van does it economically and reliably. For 2021, Nissan offers three trim levels and two engine choices. It has most of the tech and safety features you'd expect to see on a modern people carrier, and it does exactly what is asked of it. Not too exciting then, is it? That's precisely why it's so good; it just gets on with it. There are more premium and better driving options on offer in the US market such as the Ford Transit and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, but they can't match the Nissan's low starting price of only $36,860.
The mid-range SV now comes with navigation and a 5.8-inch color touchscreen display. Beyond this, the 2021 Nissan NV Passenger is unchanged.
See trim levels and configurations:
Function most definitely takes preference over form when it comes to the exterior of the 2021 Nissan NV Passenger; what we're trying to say is that the NV is downright ugly, there's no real way around it. But, at least its boxy dimensions wear some hard-wearing and practical features that should make it easier to overlook that front-end. Base model vans come as standard with 17-inch steel wheels, a basic black plastic grille and bumpers, as well as 50/50 split rear cargo doors, a sliding passenger-side door, and halogen headlights with daytime running lights. Higher up in the range, the exterior gains a few more premium-looking features such as a chrome finish for the grille, front and rear bumpers, and dual power side mirrors. Top-of-the-range NV Passenger Vans get a set of fog lights, two front tow hooks, a front sonar system as well as a class four tow hitch receiver, and a seven-pin connector and brake controller pre-wiring, and some more chrome exterior trim.
The NV Passenger Van is a large vehicle and will require a confident driver to navigate its bulbous nose through tight city traffic and parking spaces. The overall length measures 240.6 inches, which is over seven inches longer than the 2021 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Passenger Van when the Merc is equipped with its shorter wheelbase. The maximum body width is 79.9 inches, growing to 99.5 inches when you include the side mirrors. The NV has a height of 84 inches. The large Japanese people carrier rides on a 146.1-inch wheelbase and has a turning circle of 45.2 feet. As can be expected from a fully-furnished rhinoceros on wheels, curb weights are on the heavy side, with the base model weighing in at 6,713 pounds, rising to a hefty 6,980 lbs for the top of the line models.
When it comes to the exterior color options for the 2021 Nissan NV, there's a simple palette of six colors on offer which might seem limited, but makes total sense seeing as the NV is basically just a box on wheels built to transport people from A to B. New owners can choose between the ubiquitous Pearl White TriCoat ($400 extra) or Glacier White or the movie villain Super Black. Arctic Blue Metallic, Cayenne Red Metallic, and Brilliant Silver Metallic are the three most civilian-friendly colors on offer. Arctic Blue is not available for the entry-level S variant. Our choice of color for the 2021 Nissan NV Passenger would have to be Brilliant Silver, as it helps to slim down the bulky exterior and gives the NV more family-friendly appeal as opposed to the black or white blue-collar alternative.
Living with the NV is a tale of two engines. Customers can choose between a naturally aspirated V6 producing 261 horsepower and 281 lb-ft of torque available in the S and SV, and a V8 producing 375 hp and 387 lb-ft of torque in the SL. Both engines are adept at pulling along the twenty-foot rear-wheel-drive van, but in either configuration, the overall experience is the same; you're driving a nearly 7,000-pound van, so progress is mild instead of manic, and you'll have to think carefully before making any major moves out on the road. Around town, there's enough get-up-and-go to stick with traffic, but fully loaded, you'll be better off with the V8 model, which benefits from superior torque specs that you can really feel in the mid-range. Out on the open road the NV gets up to speed with no major complaints and will sit at the speed limit with ease, but overtaking should be carefully considered; acceleration is hampered by the fact that the NV was purpose-built to resist the wind and progress after 60 miles per hour can feel strained. According to Nissan, the V8 NV Passenger Van is able to tow a maximum of 8,700 lbs when fitted with the correct tow hitch receiver, besting all rivals in this regard. Standard bumper towing is limited to 2,000 lbs on all variants.
Powering the base model and the mid-range NV Passenger is a 4.0L V6 engine producing 261 hp and 281 lb-ft of torque. This engine features continuously variable valve timing, direct fuel injection, and a 650 CCA heavy-duty battery. Power is sent to the rear wheels via an old-school five-speed automatic transmission. The V6 engine offers enough pep for in-town driving but feels underpowered when the NV is fully loaded with people and their stuff. This becomes more evident when you merge onto the freeway. The top of the range SL model comes standard with a more powerful 5.6-liter DOHC V8 engine, which manages to produce a healthy 375 hp and 387 lb-ft of torque, the latter at 4,000 rpm, which gives the NV Passenger Van a much-needed kick in the behind. The V8 engine is mated to a standard seven-speed automatic transmission and is the combination to go for, in our opinion, especially if you're planning on hauling around a large number of people on a daily basis.
The passenger-friendly version on Nissan's full-size cargo van might have the bells and whistles necessary to convince you of its human-moving abilities, but beneath the veneer of soft-touch materials and air conditioning, hides the DNA of a hard-working cargo van, and it's here where the RWD NV Passenger van gets its handling and driving characteristics. Put simply; it drives like the clunky, big van that it is. Steering is light, but don't expect to receive any feedback through the steering wheel, and you might as well forget about razor-sharp center point steering reactions. The NV will head in the direction of your choosing, but how it does so, or where it's actually pointing its tires are a well-kept secret. The NV's front independent double-wishbone and multi-leaf rear suspension with a solid axle is aided by front and rear stabilizer bars to offer a ride quality that feels much more compliant than its van exterior would suggest, but it's not as refined as most modern SUVs.
The EPA doesn't supply fuel economy ratings for vans and trucks over 8,500 GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating), so we can't give you any official numbers, but according to fuel surveys conducted by current owners, you can expect to see a combined average of around 14 mpg for V6 models, while the more powerful V8 will average around 13 mpg. The 2021 NV Passenger Van comes equipped with a 28-gallon fuel tank, which should give it a maximum range of anything between 364 and 392 miles based on the above figures, but like all vans, much of this comes down to how many people you're hauling on a regular basis.
Just because you're transporting people instead of plumbing equipment doesn't mean you get a sleeker interior design; the NV Passenger Van shares its basic dash layout with its more utilitarian sibling. What this means is that you get a very simple instrument panel layout that is angled towards the driver, and includes basic controls for the infotainment system, air conditioning, and power outlets. In base form, the NV feels spartan and is clearly aimed at those who purely need a van to transport people for short distances - but stepping into a higher spec version reveals luxuries such as leather seats. Standard interior features on the base model include air conditioning, remote keyless entry, 12-passenger rear heating and cooling vents, power windows with driver's one-touch auto-down, a tilt steering column, and a single 12-volt DC power outlet. SV models enjoy three standard 12-volt power outlets, six rear-passenger map lights, entry lighting for the driver and front passenger, as well as a multi-functional center console with file and laptop computer storage holder. Top-spec SL vehicles get luxuries such as dual-zone climate control and an auto-dimming rearview mirror with a compass.
The most important aspect of the NV Passenger van is its seating configuration and overall seating space - why else would anyone be interested in one of these, right? What Nissan offers is a 12-person seating capacity that can be configured in an incredible 324 ways. In base form, the driver's seat is manually adjustable in four different ways, as is the front passenger seat, but step up to the SV or SL, and you get an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat with manual lumbar settings. Standard across the range is a fold-down front passenger seat with seatback tray table, as well as removable split seating (65/35 for the second and third rows, 50/50 for the fourth row). Headroom measures in at 42.8/39.6/39.8/39.6 inches in the first/second/third/fourth rows respectively, which means that even taller adults won't struggle for space. Legroom in the front is a generous 42 inches while second-row passengers have to make do with only 33.9. Third and fourth-row passengers get 38.5 inches. The only downside to the NV is that rivals offer a sardine-like 15-seat arrangement absent from the big Nissan.
Nissan caters to those merely seeking a basic people carrier that will withstand years of daily abuse, all the way through to larger families who appreciate a more premium driving experience. Both S and SV models come with gray cloth seats with reinforced side bolster wear patches, which strike a good balance between cargo van durability and everyday good looks. These cloth seats are covered in a water repellant to help make clean-up easier. Carpeted flooring is only available in SV and SL model vans. Top-of-the-range SLs get a beige leather interior, including a leather-wrapped steering wheel, which adds a touch of class to the otherwise pedestrian interior. Competitors such as the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van offer a more luxurious interior and a wider range of material options. Nissan has kept things simple on the inside, and while there might be a few ugly plastic trim pieces scattered around the interior, both the cloth and leather interiors feel solid and should last the life of the vehicle.
Let's not forget that the NV Passenger van is a glitzy cargo van with seats strapped in the back, so if the need ever arises, you can ditch the seats in favor of a few dirt bikes or a second-hand jacuzzi you found on craigslist. Nissan quotes a total cargo space of 218.9 cubic feet. Still, seeing as the NV Passenger Van will spend most of its life with its passenger seats firmly in place, it would be better to note the cargo bay length measurements of 86.1 inches behind the second row, 51.7 inches behind the third row, and 18.9 inches behind the fourth row. Maximum cargo width is 64.4 inches but narrows down to 52.1 inches at the wheelhouse floor. Maximum cargo height is 51.3 inches. With all four rows of seats in place, the NV offers 28.9 cubic feet of cargo capacity, which is more than enough space for a healthy grocery run, but get rid of them, and things start to look even more promising. The great thing about the NV Passenger Van is the fact that with over 324 seating configurations, you'll always find a good compromise between cargo space and human space.
Small items are gobbled up by a large center locking console storage bin on SV and SL models, a medium-sized glovebox, a small storage compartment in front of the shift knob as well as a driver's seat storage pocket on SV and SL models, a driver's under-seat storage bay, front door map pockets and six cupholders in the base model (SV and SL vehicles get eight).
Nissan has logically spaced the available features on the NV Passenger Van in a way that makes it easy for new owners to select a trim level with their required level of features and get on with the important task of driving people places. In base trim, the NV doesn't offer much, but there's enough to convince you that you're driving something that was built in the last decade or so. Standard features on the base model include cruise control, a rearview camera, air conditioning, power windows with one-touch auto-down as well as remote keyless entry, power door locks with auto-locking, and a single 12-Volt power outlet. SV and SL models get additional power outlets, as well as full interior carpeting, a lockable center console storage bin, and eight cupholders. The top-of-the-line SL model gets standard dual-zone climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with an integrated compass, a leather steering wheel, and an eight-way power driver's seat which it shares with the SV.
The seven-inch touch-screen color display on the base derivative provides access to AM/FM radio with steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, an auxiliary input jack, a single USB port, Bluetooth streaming, a hands-free text messaging assistant, and a four-speaker sound system that sounds tinny and gutless when tasked with filling the cavernous interior space with sound. SV and SL models get an additional two speakers for a grand total of six. The top two trims add several features but make do with a smaller 5.8-inch touchscreen display. On these models, you also get navigation, voice recognition, SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link, an old-school CD player, and another two speakers. Unfortunately, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are absent from the list of infotainment features.
The overall experience is good; the system is responsive enough in most situations, and the menus are easy to navigate. Our only complaint would be the sub-par sound system, which fails to impress with its sound delivery.
A strong platform, basic gas-powered engines, and simple engineering in general means the Nissan NV Passenger Van should stand up to a ton of abuse without breaking a sweat. The NHTSA records that the NV was last recalled in 2019 for an issue with the back-up camera, but other than that, the ugly duckling has proven to be a reliable workhorse. To sweeten the deal even further, Nissan offers a highly competitive five-year/100,000-mile basic warranty which includes a 100,000-mile powertrain warranty as well as roadside assistance for 100,000 miles or five years.
Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive or new Nissan NV Passenger safety review available. The van hasn't been comprehensively tested by either the NHTSA or the IIHS, which is rather worrisome considering its people-carrying purpose, although the NV3500 did score a poor two stars for the rollover test in 2020. Nissan has ensured that there are ample airbags and additional electronic assistance features to keep things relatively safe in case of a serious accident. Unlike its cargo-carrying counterpart, the NV Passenger Van takes rear passengers into account with additional rear passenger protection included in the overall design of the safety plan.
Every NV Passenger Van model gets a standard airbag system with dual-stage front and side-impact airbags, and roof-mounted curtain side-impact airbags with rollover sensors for all outboard passengers. There are pipe-style steel side-door guard beams in place to keep things secure in case of a serious side impact, and you also get front and rear crumple zones with hood-buckling creases and safety stops. Brake-away engine mounts, a slide-away brake pedal assembly, and tire-pressure monitoring system all help add to the overall safety of the NV. SV and SL models come equipped with an immobilizer security system. Driver assistance features include standard cruise control, a rearview monitor, and electronic traction control. Both SV and SL variants get a rear sonar system, but only SL models get the same in the front. Nissan also offers an optional vehicle tracking and recovery system for $500. Unfortunately, more advanced driver aids like adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning aren't offered at all.
There is no doubt that the Nissan NV Passenger Van is a compromised vehicle; it was designed as a cargo van but has ended up with the task of carrying 12 people and their stuff around in some semblance of comfort. The first thing you'll have to come to terms with is its unavoidable cargo van DNA, which makes it difficult to navigate in tight spaces, makes it drive and handle like a 1940s school bus (okay, maybe not that bad), and affords it the visual appeal of a light industrial complex on the wrong side of town.
There are, however, a few upsides to its van roots; you get tons of space, over 320 different ways to configure the seating arrangement, and a sturdy platform that will stand up to years of hard abuse. Both the naturally aspirated six and eight-cylinder engine options get the job done without complaint, but the V8 is by far the easier engine to live with on a daily basis. Features such as dual-zone climate control and satellite radio are considered luxuries in the NV but manage your expectations (and your budget), and the NV Passenger Van will surprise you with how comfortable it can be. The Nissan doesn't pretend to be anything other than an honest-to-goodness passenger van built to take people places without having to shout about it, and if you manage to look past that disaster zone of a front-end, you'll find a genuine, hardworking van that's eager to please.
The price of the Nissan NV Passenger has seen a slight increase for 2021 in the USA but the big passenger van still offers one of the best value for money packages in its class. The base model starts off with an MSRP of $36,860, which excludes handling charges, tax, title, license, options, and a destination and handling fee of $1,495. The mid-range SV will set you back $2,450 more than the base model for a total of $39,310. The range-topping SL goes for an MSRP of $43,610. The Nissan's value becomes obvious when you compare its $36,860 starting price with that of the 2021 Ford Transit Passenger Van, which starts at $41,695, or the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter which starts at over 43 grand. Due to its limited optional extras, you can't really get into much trouble when adding extra features to the NV either: the SL will top out well under $50,000.
Nissan offers its spacious 12-seater passenger van in three different trim levels, starting with the base model S, followed by the mid-range SV, and finally the range-topping SL. However, rivals do offer more configurations as the Nissan comes with just one wheelbase and one roof height.
The base model of the range is powered by a 4.0-liter 24-valve V6 engine mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. Inside, you get enough seating for 12 adults and up to 324 seating configurations. Standard exterior features on the S include halogen headlights with daytime running lights and a basic black finish for the grille and bumpers. Inside, you can expect to find standard air conditioning, front/side/curtain airbags, remote keyless entry, as well as a seven-inch infotainment system with a four-speaker sound system, Bluetooth streaming, and a single USB port.
SV models are powered by the same V6 engine as found in the base model, but receive a number of notable exterior and interior features. On the outside, the SV comes standard with a chrome grille, bumpers and door handles, chrome outside mirrors, and 17-inch chrome-clad wheels as opposed to the 17-inch steel wheels found on the S. Inside, the SV gets six rear passenger area map lights, a lockable center console storage bin, eight cupholders, carpeted flooring, and an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat. The infotainment system on the SV sees the addition of two extra speakers, a smaller 5.8-inch touchscreen, and navigation.
The SL gets a big 5.6-liter DOHC V8 engine and seven-speed automatic transmission. On the outside, the SL features exclusive fog lights, two front tow hooks as well as power heated chrome extendable tow mirrors. Inside, you get dual-zone climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, as well as beige leather upholstery with heated front seats, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Nissan has kept the options list short which makes it easy to pick the model you want purely based on standard features, but they do offer a few optional accessories and package deals. Nissan offers a vehicle tracking and recovery system for $500. A frameless rearview mirror with a universal remote will set you back $110, or you can go for a set of telescopic tow mirrors at the cost of $1,164 on S and SV models.
With only three trim levels and a price difference of $6,750 separating the base model from the range-topping SL, there's little to no chance of choosing the wrong NV. The base model of the NV Passenger range is an entirely capable people mover: its robust V6 engine and basic interior make it perfect for businesses or large, young, and active families who need something hard-wearing. Shuttle transport companies will love the base model, but for personal use, it might seem spartan to some. The SV adds worthwhile convenient features such as a power-adjustable driver's seat, an improved sound system, and dual power side mirrors, but is stuck with the V6 engine. Left up to us, the range-topping SL model would be the one to go for; its 5.6-liter V8 engine has enough power to haul the NV along with convincing enthusiasm and is a critical element if you plan on driving around a large number of people on a daily basis. The standard leather interior and dual-zone climate control system make it the most comfortable of the NV line of passenger vans to live with.
The Ford Transit is an American icon and plays a pretty major role in the logistics and transport industry. Powering the 2021 Transit is your choice of a 3.5 naturally aspirated V6 producing 275 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque or an impressive twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 producing 310 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. With the non-turbo motor equipped, the Transit should see a fuel consumption figure of 15/19/17 mpg city/highway/combined. The Transit is a physically smaller van and rides on a 130-inch wheelbase in standard guise, over 16 inches shorter than the NV. However, Ford offers two extra wheelbase options, three roof heights, and an extra-long body length. By comparison, the Nissan only has one standard roof. The Transit can be specced to seat up to 15 which makes it the only choice if you need to transport extra passengers. The Ford shows off superior interior material quality and a fresher design language that makes the NV seem ancient by comparison. The Transit also drives better and feels more SUV-like on the road, and the available SYNC 3 infotainment system blows Nissan's out of the water. If you prioritize comfort and features over value for money, the Ford should be the one to go for - but it comes at a price.
There's no doubt that the Sprinter Passenger Van is aimed at those who're looking for a more premium people-carrying experience, and it's clear to see from the outset that the German offers a comprehensively more luxurious package. Power is provided by a choice of 2.0-liter turbo inline four-cylinder gas or 3.0-liter V6 turbodiesel power. In either case, the Sprinter offers good low-down power, which is missing in the naturally aspirated options available for the Nissan NV. The Sprinter in standard wheelbase spec is a smaller vehicle and rolls on a 144-inch wheelbase, 2.1-inches shorter than the NV, but offers the same 12-seat capacity. The Sprinter drives like a large SUV and surprises with its road-holding capability. Standard features include cruise control, navigation, and blind-spot assistance. If you're looking for a more premium package, there simply is no other alternative.
The most popular competitors of 2021 Nissan NV Passenger: