It’s been a while since this reviewer has driven a van but, needs must when you’re moving house and, what better way to tackle the move in something quite unique in the world of vans; the 2014 Nissan e-NV200 – an all-electric delivery van.
Based on the Nissan NV200 van platform, the 80kW drivetrain and 24kWh battery for e-NV200 has been transplanted from cousin Leaf almost unchanged. The only notable difference being that the pack features active cooling in anticipation of its harder, frequent-fast-charging life. The underlying body, unlike the Leaf is also available in a range of traditional power plants – We had the opportunity to speak with an owner of a diesel powered NV200 who commended the basic version of the van for its versatility, performance and overall quality.
Cargo space in the e-NV200 is 4.2 cubic metres (148 cubic feet) up to 770kg/1,700LB. The space is accessed through sliding doors on each side and wide opening rear doors. Inevitably, with this size of van, the wheel wells encroach a little.
Driving the e-NV200 is a van first, EV second experience. The size is comparable to a medium to full-size SUV but with the driver sat upright and far forwards. Lack of a center rear-view mirror is amply compensated for by large folding side mirrors and an effective rear-view reversing camera that features steering angle gridlines and distance markings. No parking sensors was a surprise and we can’t help thinking that this vehicle would be a perfect platform for Nissan’s Around View Monitor® system – a camera pack that simulates a birds-eye view of the vehicle exposing any and all objects around the vehicle whilst maneuvering. Driving controls mimic a traditional drivetrain with artificial transmission creep and limited regenerative breaking on the accelerator. An EV driver friendly “B” driving mode increases the regenerative breaking on the accelerator making driving easier and more comfortable.
Out on the road, the unladen e-NV200 is firm and a little bouncy but that’s to be expected. Once loaded, it quickly hunkers down and becomes more compliant. Handling is surprisingly good with very quick steering, powerful brakes and most of all, effortless take-off. Unladen, the vans is really quick in traffic, 0-40mph is near hot-hatch fun, its extra 50kg/100Lb weight over the Leaf doesn’t seem to show too much. On the highway, it’s stable and predictable and remains punchy through to the legal limit. Where its electric power train really shines is how it behaves when it’s loaded… pretty much exactly the same. Where a traditional power train would need to rev up furiously up to deliver power, the electric drive train retains a serene dignity. Aimed at a very steep 20% grade, we tested a similar van from another manufacturer, unladen, it required second gear and a foot flat to the floor to manage little more than 25mph. The e-NV200 partially loaded flew up the same grade faster and without any of the trauma – nothing at all – windows open, the sound of birds tweeting in the distance – the gulf could not be any wider than the teeth chattering, ear splitting and terrified cattle scattering across the fields experience. The lack of noise pollution was also welcome each morning when we’d be up by 6am executing a tight three-point turn, moving the van from its charging spot to the street, right in the middle of suburbia – not a single net curtained twitched and no one lost a moments sleep.
Range varied by speed more than load. Around town, 70-80 miles was typically the limit, out of town, hitting 60mph stretches, the range fell to the 60’s. Adding heat on a mild day only dented range by 5-10% at most – the heat pump doing its job well. Heated seats and optional heated steering wheel were very welcome and had no practical impact on range. Overall we managed 3.5-4.2 miles/kWh which we think is very respectable.
Charging is also lifted from Leaf with J1772 and CHAdeMO options. The J1772 can be specified with either 3.3kW or 6.6kW onboard charger. Our review vehicle came with CHAdeMO and the beefier 6.6kW charger offering 4hr recharge at home or 30 minute fast charge along the route.
Nissan incorporates Carwings in the e-NV200, its cloud-connected energy monitoring, navigation and plug-in support package. On the face of it, a useful addition absent from other versions of the NV200 however, the real power of the platform comes from the added tracking and recording capabilities it offers the fleet owner. Carwings allows the vehicle owner to monitor and mentor new drivers that might be unfamiliar with getting the best out of an electric vehicles’ range – driving habits and even forgetting to plug in. It could be viewed as an intrusion but, being able to spot which drivers are being most frugal with the company resources – priceless.
Our only criticisms of the e-NV200 in day-to-day use stems from the charge port door. It needs to be released from inside – which we always forget to do – and the hatch doesn’t open up far enough for clear access without having to resort to crouching down. Also, the nose of the vehicle does seem far bolder than it might need to be – this might be a needed in the traditional version but in the electric version, it seemed pretty empty under the hood. These issues are small beer in the grand scheme of things and points to the otherwise striking success of this vehicles’ design.
Who would buy an e-NV200?
In our opinion, any fleet owner that can tolerate the only limitation – range. Even for those, we’d suggest trying to work in the e-NV200 into the fleet as the go-to choice for in-town activities. For drivers with a longer average daily route, where time is precious and delivery essential, longer range trips could pose a business risk – delays in getting access to fast chargers, inoperable units, drivers unfamiliar with the reduced range, etc. so today, we can’t recommend the e-NV200 to every operator. However, the benefits to any business that can work within the range are not insignificant; fuel costs, maintenance costs & time and even corporate image should be weighed up when making the decision. We often find that a close examination of the daily routine reveals far few miles covered than expected – remember, even without intra-day recharging, the e-NV200 can cover over 25,000 miles/year if used to the max every day.
Coming to America?
Everyone wants to know when the e-NV200 will be coming to America. Nissan are tight lipped on this. There have been rumors of a New York taxi version, of waiting for a larger battery version and more but, Nissan are saying nothing today. Judging by the number of requests we’ve received we feel there’s already a market. US pricing would be complete speculation but the UK version is priced on a par with the diesel version.
All in all, we have to give credit to Nissan. Where Tesla and BMW gets the all the attention for the big and flashy, Nissan is quietly stealing the show with the day-to-day. Already, in the UK, companies like British Gas (a national power company) have added the e-NV200 to their fleet and others are following suit, realizing the big energy and maintenance savings to be had. Perhaps soon, reading the electricity meter that charges your i3 or delivering the invitation to that flashy Tesla party might have been quietly executed by an e-NV200 without anyone noticing.
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