It’s never a huge surprise when a passenger car derived from a commercial van turns out to be something less than a looker, but even by those low standards, the NV200 is no oil painting. It’s not just the unashamedly boxy back end that’s responsible, either. The rest of the car features a number of strange angles and unconventional lines that give the NV200 a thoroughly awkward appearance. The electric versions of the NV200 look decidedly different to the diesel-powered ones, because they feature blue badging, clear light lenses and no radiator grille. On the plus side though, everything you can see in our pictures is standard fit – so it’s unlikely you’ll need to spend any money sprucing it up.
The steering only moves for rake and not reach, and there’s no height adjustment on the seats
Again, few cars that are derived from vans are the last word in interior quality, and there’s no doubt that the e-NV200’s cabin has many materials that are chosen for their durability rather than their tactility. Most of the plastics you see on the dashboard and doors have a hard and rather shiny finish, making the cabin feel a little bit cheap. However, things are pepped up a little by the same touch-screen infotainment display you find in the Nissan Leaf, thanks to its clear display surrounded by a glossy black trim. It’s reasonably easy to use, too, considering how many different functions it controls, but it’s still not the most intuitive system of its type. The rest of the controls are fairly simple, but you might struggle to find a comfortable driving position because the steering only moves for rake and not reach, and there’s no height adjustment on the driver’s seat. The bulky windscreen pillars mean your visibility could be clearer at the front corners of the car, too.
In this area, the NV200 is a very strange mix of huge positives and pretty catastrophic negatives. On the plus side, the car can be had with up to seven seats as a very affordable option (five are standard), and each one is surrounded by enough space for an adult; not something you can say about all seven-seat MPVs. Sliding rear doors also make getting in an out easier in tight parking spaces. However, while most rival MPVs have seats that fold flat into the floor to boot versatility, there’s nothing clever about the way the NV’s fold; in the middle row, the backrests simply flop down onto the bases, leaving a massive step in the load floor. You can remove them completely, but they’re extremely heavy to lift and you’ll need somewhere to store them. Specify the two rearmost seats, and they don’t fold down at all; they fold up instead. They’re attached by a hinge to the sides of the boot, and if you want them out of the way, you lift them up and secure them with a bungee chord attached to the ceiling. As storage solutions go, it’s pretty low-fi. The boot is a half-decent size with seven seats in place, and massive in five-seat mode. However, you might struggle to open the boot in tight spaces, due to the length of the massive tailgate. Your rear seat passengers might not like the fact that the rear windows can’t be rolled down, either; there’s a small sliding panel opening instead.
Ride and handling
Because the NV’s origins are as a commercial vehicle, it doesn’t have the most sophisticated suspension you’ll ever encounter, and you can feel this in the ride comfort. Most surfaces will give the car a case of the jitters, and bigger potholes will give you a bit of a jolt. It stops short of being uncomfortable, but plenty of other MPVs give you a much more polished ride. The handling is better than you might expect of a high-sided vehicle like the NV, though; there’s a bit of lean as you negotiate a bend, but because the heavy bits of electrical kit are positioned low down in the vehicle, it feels pretty stable overall. The steering is very slow, but a tight turning circle makes manoeuvres nice and easy. However, the NV isn’t as refined as a lot of electric cars we’ve driven; there’s quite a loud whirr from the motor as you accelerate, bumps can cause the suspension to knock and there’s quite a bit of wind- and road noise swirling around on the motorway.
Even with plenty of throttle, you build speed in a gradual, rather leisurely way
Many electric cars – the Nissan Leaf included – have surprisingly strong performance thanks to the instantly available torque provided by an electric motor. However, while the e-NV200 shares its propulsion system with the Leaf, it delivers its power in a rather different way. Even with what seems like plenty of pressure on the throttle, your take-off is gentle and you build speed in a gradual, rather leisurely way. However, you can tap into a stronger vein of acceleration by pushing the pedal past what feels like the end of its normal travel – it clicks through and there’s a little more space available – whereupon you feel a more purposeful surge of pace. It still doesn’t feel as brisk as a Leaf, but the performance will be perky enough for anyone who’s likely to want an NV. Charging the battery fully takes around 10 hours from a normal domestic socket, but a fast-charger will give you 80% charge in just 30 minutes. That gives you a theoretical range of 106 miles, but bear in mind that imperfect driving conditions, low temperatures, or having lots of passengers on board will eat into that significantly.
Electric cars are pricey to buy compared with fossil-fuelled alternatives, and the e-NV200 is no exception, but like with other electric cars, the Government will give you a grant to help with the extra cost. You can choose to buy your car either with the battery included, or you can choose to pay a bit less outright and lease the battery from Nissan. The latter gives you more options around battery maintenance and renewal. The leasing costs depends on predicted mileage and rental period, but the rates certainly aren’t ruinous. Once you’re past that initial hurdle of getting your hands on an NV, the running costs are minuscule. Reckon on spending about 2p per mile in electricity costs if you’re charging up on a cheaper night-time tariff (that’s far less than you’d spend on fossil fuel), while most of the various taxes that motorists face will either not apply to you, or will be charged at the very minimum rate.
There’s very little reliability data available for the Nissan’s electric products specifically, but the firm’s vehicles usually perform well on mechanical dependability. With far fewer moving parts that a conventional combustion-engined car, there’s a lot less to go wrong on an electric car. This should, in theory at least, translate into strong reliability. It also means that electric cars are, by and large, easier – and therefore cheaper – to maintain. Most of the car is protected by Nissan’s standard three-year/60,000-mile warranty, while the battery and EV-specific parts have five-year/60,000-mile cover. Hopefully, that should go some way towards allaying any fears you may have about battery longevity.
Many van-based MPVs are rather short on safety kit, which really isn’t ideal in cars designed to ferry families. Thankfully, the e-NV200 does better than most such vehicles, but it still lags behind many MPVs with more conventional origins. The best MPVs these days have sophisticated driver aids such as autonomous braking and lane departure warnings, but the NV has to make do with the bare minimum of tools required by law, things like traction and stability controls. At least you get front, side and curtain airbags provided as standard, which is a lot more than many van-derived people-movers give you. However, that still couldn’t prevent the car from scoring a rather disappointing three out of five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests.
You might expect more luxury kit given the car’s price
The e-NV200 comes with a decent amount of luxury kit provided as standard, but you might expect more given the car’s price. You get sat-nav along with all sorts of clever functions to help with life as an emission-free electric motorist, and this infotainment system also comes with Bluetooth and a rear-view camera. The other standard luxuries include heated seats, climate and cruise controls and automatic lights and wipers.
Because you like the idea of emission-free electric motoring, but you still need space and seating for up to seven people. On that score, the e-NV200 is in a class of one, giving it a very unique appeal. However, don’t go expecting it to be the cleverest or most versatile MPV going.