04 Oct: Nissan NV400 ELWB

Within press circles, the promotional staff at Nissan CV are renowned for their sense of humour, but when the latest test vehicle arrived at Castle Bunnet early one morning, all the neighbours thought sunrise had come early as it glowed through closed blinds up and down the street. It was certainly bright, and it was most certainly orange. It was definitely noticeable. Then again, it might just be a cheaper theft deterrent than an alarm system!

At nearly 7 metres in length, the Nissan NV400 extra-long van is one of the biggest 3.5 tonners on the road. Daunting to drive? Not a bit of it. It’s as sweet as a Terry’s Orange.

The sheer simplicity and ease of driving such a large van illustrates the misguided folly of a Government which thinks that a modern 3.5t GVW vehicle of such technical sophistication should be subjected to a speed limit of 56 mph. Admittedly there is a separate case to be made for tachographs, but if we can raise the speed limit, then why not the limit for the compulsory fitting of tachographs too?

But I’ve got a better idea, raise the minimum GVW limit to 4.5 tonnes. A five tonne limit would be better, but I’m not unreasonable.

The big advantage here would be that the very same vehicle could carry a more effective payload of two tonnes as opposed to just over one tonne, which seems such a waste in such a well-engineered large vehicle. To complement the new scale, a speed limit of 65 mph would be perfectly acceptable although 70 mph would be better, but again, I’m a realist.

No doubt, the ‘greens’ and the safety zealots are already up in arms having read this far, but there is method to the plan. At one fell swoop it would make these bigger vans all the more fuel and cost efficient to run. That means cheaper goods and services from those who run them. A simplistic view perhaps, but one worthy of consideration.

With regard to safety, this van has a deformable safety cell upfront, seat belts and a driver’s airbag. It also has ESP, ABS and EBD. In other words it is just as well equipped as a high performance car or large utility vehicle.

Admittedly in the wrong hands, such a large vehicle could be a bit of a problem, but then again so could a high performance saloon car or badly driven large 4×4.

Road accident statistics are littered with instances of youngsters able to drive some of the fastest accelerating and highest top speed cars in the world without a moment’s thought or additional training, and yet van users are subjected to out of date, ill considered, antiquated restrictions in the interests of safety.

The other minority group which has strict controls are the motor cyclists. They now have stiffer licence qualification tests followed by a probationary period before being allowed to progress to bigger, more powerful machinery. And yet those in power are oblivious to the dangers of unrestricted private car access and use.

I hate singling out just one at-risk group, but I’m going to anyway, young professional footballers. The excessive wages that some top flight clubs pay their new-signings allows them to go out and plonk down a deposit on a 200 mph peer-impressing, supercar. These are the guys who fall over when hit by a feather on the football field, and yet are allowed to drive home on roads lined with dangerous kerbs, menacing metal road furniture and distracting sights along the route. And yet, these same people are not allowed to drive a truck, ride a motorcycle or drive a large van without additional training and qualification. There’s something not right here, surely.

But that’s my opinion. An opinion reinforced by the simplicity and ease of driving the Nissan NV400. With power steering, light clutch and slick six speed gearshift I reckon this van is safer than some smaller cars. The reason for that is the high seating position, allowing the driver to see further ahead and spot any trouble coming his or her way.

Naturally, there is a bit of a blind spot to the rear, but thanks to the modern invention of reversing sensors, this is all perfectly under control. The cab also has an excellent set of door mirrors with two lens in each housing for close reversing work and keeping an eye on traffic behind.

In other words, after a bit of practice and familiarisation, reversing such a huge van is a doddle.

As for the business end of the van, the loadspace is huge with room for at least five Euro pallets or conversion to a mobile workshop.

Health and safety has decreed that the modern male worker and his female counterpart are not allowed to lift heavy loads, hence the growth of trolleys, wheelbarrows, tail lifts, small cranes and the growing use of fork lift trucks of all sizes. Around 25 kgs seems to be the acceptable limit for manual lifting these days before ‘heavy handling’ equipment needs to be brought in.

Hence the disappearance of spare wheels from the underside of many large vans on the market these days. With a steel wheel and commercial vehicle tyre weighing more than 25 kgs, many drivers are not allowed under H&S guidance to change their own wheels at the side of the road unless they have help or the ‘proper’ equipment.

In some cases this is a good idea. The last time I changed a wheel on a large van, getting the spare wheel out of the metal carrier under the rear floor was a mucky job, and although it slid out of the carrier easily enough, it took a few grunts and wheezes to drag it out, stand it up and wheel it round to replace the one with the puncture. I didn’t even bother to try and put the punctured tyre in the carrier, just heaved it into the back.

However, having that spare saved me a long delay in the middle of nowhere waiting for the tyre service bods to turn up. So there is a case to be made for carrying a spare wheel at all times  especially if there are two or more blokes in the vehicle. I’m no fan of the alternative can of gooey skoosh and a compressor. Admittedly the tyre service companies are much more efficient and prompt at attending to such breakdowns these days, but this has to be weighed against the cost of such service provision. No one single answer will suit all.

Anyway, the point is, that invariably a breakdown technician will turn up in a large van with a workbench and power tools in the back and a small hydraulic crane or lift in the rear to help him lift out the required van or truck wheel for replacement. In other words, an ideal basis for a rally service barge.

As far as the NV400 goes, the living quarters at the front end are as good as they get these days with comfortable seating, plenty of head and shoulder room and more fittings than a furniture shop. Storage above the windscreen, in the door pockets, along the dashboard and under the seats is excellent while the fold-down desk with its swivel laptop-top in the middle seat may at first sight seem gimmicky – but much of this report was typed up in just such a fashion in a lay-by on a stretch of the A9 in Stirlingshire!

It’s also got plenty of cupholders, one at each end of the dash, two below the heater controls in the centre of the dash and two more in the drop-down middle row seat back.

If I have any niggles, there are just two. Both are quite petty, but one of them was particularly annoying. I found the housing around the gearshift lever continually rubbing and sometimes bumping against my left knee. Not a major fault, just annoying.

The other complaint was more a personal gripe than serious criticism. If I was paying thirty grand for a van, I’d like it to sound nicer. The engine note sounded more like a hotel room air conditioning system than a 145 bhp diesel engine. It’s not a noisy engine, but it reminded me of the drone of the old piston engined Trislander aircraft. As I said, a silly complaint, but I like proper sounding engines!

In all other respects, this is a cracking big van, with a huge side loading door and a sidestep to help clamber inside. It’s the same at the rear, with two foot steps built into a beefy bumper. Coupled up to a commodious comfortable cabin, what van driver/mobile technician could want anything more?


  • Review Date: October 4, 2012
  • Price
  • Engine
  • Power
  • Transmission
  • Wheel Base
  • Overall Length
  • Overall width
  • Loadfloor length
  • Loadspace width
  • Loadspace height
  • Loadfloor from ground
  • Payload
  • Kerb weight/GVW
  • GTM