When not stuck behind my computer writing copy or answering e-mails, I can either be found drumming, cycling or motor racing. And these are activities that are attached to an inordinate amount of gear: objects and things and accessories that regularly need to be moved from point A to point B. And of course none of my cars is up to the task.
My Toyota MR2 Spyder weeps at the sight of a laptop bag — and its dented garage-mate, an old Opel Corsa Lite, barely has enough space for a dismantled mountain bike. It’s frustrating. Which is why I got all excited when Nissan recently dropped off a NV200 Combi at our offices. Designed to straddle the gap between work and play, this handsome van couldn’t have arrived at a better time. My pop band, The Near Misses, was gearing up for its first official gig, so most of our evenings had been reserved for last-minute jam sessions. Which meant that I needed to schlep cymbals and drums and hardware to and from our practice venues. Normally this would be a source of intense irritation, but in the Nisan NV200 it proved to be nothing short of a pleasure. After folding up the third row of seats (two chairs that take the Combi’s seating capacity up to a generous seven), I was left with a wide, flat loading bay that easily swallowed up all noise-making equipment.
And as it didn’t impinge on the second row, I still had extra space available to seat rogue band mates and/or groupies (yeah, dream on dude). If the cargo space was impressive, so too was this van’s accessibility. With sliding doors on either side and a large rear hatch that opens and closes with minimal elbow grease, loading and unloading the NV200 is a breeze — even in the confines of a crowded car park it was easy to unpack all my gear. Despite being designed as a packhorse, Nissan’s rival to the VW Caddy turned out to be quite a nice thing to pilot. You see, any good city van worth its salt needs to be manoeuvrable and, thanks to the fitment of teeny 14-inch alloys (last seen in the late Iron Age) and a 10.6m turning circle, this is what the NV200 does best.
Whether parallel parking or alley docking, I never found myself struggling to position this nimble brick on wheels. Adding to the ease of use was a fairly large glasshouse that provides a useful amount of all-round visibility. Another welcome surprise was the 1.5-litre diesel engine Nissan decided to use. Although I thought this little oil-burner was going to be somewhat underpowered, there was actually more than enough torque on tap to propel me and my musical cargo forward at an acceptable lick.
Unfortunately, and no doubt to extract the best possible performance in the stop-start urban environment, the short-ratio five-speed manual gearbox quickly runs out of revs when cruising at higher speeds out on the highway. Venture beyond 130km/h and things start feeling a bit too loud and busy for my liking. Yep, the NV200 might not be the world’s best long-distance cruiser, but for drudging through chaotic city traffic it’s ideal — even more so when, after a week of driving, you check the fuel economy gauge and see a very respectable 6.8l/100km.
Luxury levels are high too, with features like Bluetooth, air conditioning and a multi-function steering wheel; all installed as standard. There’s even an auxiliary-in and USB port to keep the music fans happy. Despite being an almost perfect package, I did have a few honest gripes about the NV200. For example, the driving position seemed sculpted only for people with orangutan proportions (read superlong arms and stumpy legs). The rear-view mirror also has no day-night toggle switch, which means that after the sun slinks below the horizon, you spend your evenings being dazzled by everybody else’s xenon headlights.
The third and final annoyance was the inexcusable absence of a rear windscreen wiper. Come on, Nissan, this should be a mandatory piece of safety kit. Aside from these niggles, the NV200 was an absolute joy: a load-carrying godsend that again demonstrated how badly I need a van like this in my hobby-filled life. In fact, I think that in the next year or so, I’ll probably have to take the plunge, sell the Corsa and buy one. Should this happen, the NV200 would definitely feature as a possible candidate.
Engine: 1 461cc, four-cylinder, turbodiesel
Power: 66kW at 4 000rpm
Torque: 200Nm at 1 750rpm
Consumption: 6.8l/100km (Achieved)
Price: R303 900