Columnist

It arrived Wednesday, the day I said goodbye to what was going to be a restful weekend. A vehicle such as the 2013 Nissan NV200 cargo van showing up in the driveway implies work — cleaning, stacking, hauling away the detritus of ill-advised spending.

Mary Anne, my wife, greeted the NV200 thusly: “Great! We can move all of that stuff out of the mud room!”

Warren Brown is a columnist who writes about autos for The Washington Post. View Archive

It was a comment/directive wrapped in irony. We put “all of that stuff” in the mud room — piece by piece, shopping trip by shopping trip. We used some of that stuff, which, after years of neglect, had now fallen into the status of clutter, unwanted junk.

The NV200 was perfect for the mission. It was a compact, front-wheel-drive cargo van with two sliding side doors, an arrangement that made easy work of loading and unloading in narrow spaces. The 60/40-split rear doors helped in that endeavor. They could be opened 180 degrees, securely attaching to magnetic connections on the rear left and right panels of the vehicle.

All of this, in addition to a wonderfully flat and low floor, eased loading from the rear. But there was a problem: Mary Anne and I are no longer 25 years old. We’re in our mid-60s. After two van loads, it became clear to us why we let stuff accumulate. Clutter is weighty. Junk is heavy. Our backs hurt.

The 2013 Nissan NV200 Compact Cargo Van. (Nissan/Wieck)

Which is why we were pleasantly surprised by the NV200’s two seats, for the driver and front passenger. Those seats were comfortable, forgiving — apparently designed and engineered by people who understand that physical labor takes a toll on the human body. We thank them for their insight.

Our NV200 did not come with the optional rear glass windows — a larger one on the right rear door and the smaller one on the left. Those windows would have improved rear visibility, or at least increased our peace of mind over what seemed to be the lack of adequate rear visibility in our SV version of the NV200, which came with no rear windows at all.

But we learned to adapt, making increasingly expert use of the optional backup camera and the NV200’s two wide side-view mirrors with built-in convex inserts. Our rear vision was good enough to allow us to back up as if we knew what we were doing at the disposal and recycling bins of the Fairfax County dump.

The NV200 comes standard with a 2-liter in-line four-cylinder gasoline engine delivering a maximum 131 horsepower and 139 pound-feet of torque. That is enough to get done whatever needs to be done for household jobs and light, urban commercial hauling. The compact cargo van is “zippy,” as defined by its ability to maneuver easily around and through urban congestion — a task enhanced by an optional Nissan Connect system that delivers real-time traffic updates and weather information.

But if it’s power you want, the feel and thrust of a big engine, the NV200 is disappointing. It wasn’t engineered for thrills. Instead, it is a day-in, day-out work van, designed to haul and deliver stuff, and to do so with reasonable efficiency in an urban environment.

It hits those targets quite well, with the possibility of delivering even more with suggested upgrades such as the available Adrian Steel shelf arrangement for the cargo area.

I returned the NV200 SV thinking that it is the new standard in small commercial vans. It makes so much sense without being fancy — a front passenger seat that folds down to create a lunch table/computer desk, an upper dashboard storage bin for clipboards, an overhead storage unit for securing an electronic table, a hideaway drawer under that second front seat, minimal flat rear wheel wells that aid in the easy stacking of boxes, lots of upfront legroom for the driver and front passenger, and, best of all, a turning radius that rivals that of some compact sports cars.

The NV200 does an extraordinary job of making “ordinary” work. It provides ample and dangerous competition to the likes of the Ford Transit Connect and the Ram C/V Tradesman.