Traveling like a boss in the Nissan Urvan Premium

Nissan Urvan carries 15 passengers plus luggage

Color-coordinated Alpine White Urvan Premium and facade of Circa 1900, a colonial dining destination in Lahug

Color-coordinated Alpine White Urvan Premium and facade of Circa 1900, a colonial dining destination in Lahug

Ever since the sport utility vehicle became the “in thing” in the Philippine motoring landscape, the other big, burly vehicle—the van—was relegated into the backseat of our consciousness as far as hauling people and goods were concerned.

It has certainly been a while since a car manufacturer organized a media ride-and-drive with a van, to give me a chance to lift my petite frame up behind the wheel and drive “like a boss,” with a commanding view of the road ahead.
I was fortunate enough to pilot not just those ordinary commuter vans we see today in use as “garage-to-terminal” shuttles, but the truly big ones like the Ford E150 and the Nissan Urvan Estate. Those Class 1 behemoths made me go on the level with truck and bus drivers (well, at least that was what I felt), and driving elevated made me feel secure during the rainy, flooded season.

My affinity with vans extends beyond the occasional test drive. I am the proud owner of a still reliable, 13-year-old 9-seater Toyota Hiace van, which I have converted to a dual-fuel gasoline-LPG system.

I have always valued function more than form in an automobile. And the van design reflects that inside and out. I still remember the numerous trekking, cycling, outreach and animal rescue missions that my colleagues and I conducted using one brand of van or another.

So, when Nissan Philippines Inc. (NPI) invited me to Cebu to drive the premium version of its new Urvan on May 25 to 28, there were no second thoughts. At last, a big van and I were to meet again, just like old times.

The Urvan Premium units that greeted us at Mactan International Airport were, indeed, majestic, and looked fit for celebrities. But the driving had to wait. Something much bigger needed to be launched first, and these were the two state-of-the-art, globally designed NREDI (Nissan Retail Environment Design Initiative) dealerships. The South Cebu dealership was launched on May 25, while the Cebu Central dealership was officially opened the next day.

The luxury of space: Individually mounted seats allow four rows of seating.

The luxury of space: Individually mounted seats allow four rows of seating.

As a 5’-2” passenger entering the passenger cabin of the Urvan Premium for the first time, I was floored at the experience of not having to bend when I stood inside the Urvan Premium. In fact, a male, vertically challenged colleague who stood an ant’s breath below 5’-3” could also stand upright (albeit his scalp already scraped the ceiling), which prompted NPI president and managing director Ramesh Narasimhan to jest, “This van was designed for you!”

It was on Saturday, May 27, that I got to finally drive the Urvan Premium. We were headed to northern Cebu, a four-hour drive on the Transcentral Highway to Kandaya Resort in the town of Daanbantayan. The mountainous route took our convoy of four Urvan Premium vans to the famous Tops, 2,000 feet above sea level up Busay hills on the way to the scenic West 35 Eco Mountain Resort in Balamban. After a quick pit stop here, it was my turn to drive an Urvan Premium.

My experience of driving vans in twisty, mountain passes the past years kicked in, and I immediately felt at home driving a supposedly wider, longer, and taller van. The only challenge for me was the unusually narrow highway in this part of Cebu, plus the seeming nonchalance of roadside residents and pedestrians toward big vehicles speeding toward them. Power at my disposal was no problem, knowing that beneath my butt was a 2.5-liter turbodiesel powerplant, the same engine under the hood of the award-winning Nissan Navara pickup capable of 356 Nm of torque. The van rode smooth on the uphill and downhill climbs, while the impressively quiet engine enhanced the minimal NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness) for passengers, many of whom were dozing off in no time.

I was comfortable with the placement of the steering wheel, while the gear shifter mounted on the dashboard was spot on. The clutch and brake pedals, and everything else, were all within easy reach of my Asian hands and feet.

There were some occasions, though, that I had to make small adjustments in my shift timing between the first and second gears to keep things smooth, particularly during the hard climbs and steep descents. Knowing that there were additional safety features installed, such as the dual front airbags and seatbelts, load tensioning valve, antilock brake system, brake assist, child safety lock, and front fog lamps added more confidence to my drive.

Back-to-back behemoths, in Tiger Eye Brown, at the Daanbantayan shoreline.

Back-to-back behemoths, in Tiger Eye Brown, at the Daanbantayan shoreline.

The Urvan Premium makes itself look vastly different from the Urvan NV350, not just because it’s been made bigger, higher and longer. The upscale “limousine van” look is achieved both by the upsize and the designer’s subtle touches—the V-shaped angled strut grille, sharper head lamps, and dynamic character lines on the front and side. The “sosy” look is completed with the elimination of the side roof drip channel, as well as the rich surface expression around the wheel opening, coupled with a longer wheelbase and a shortened overhand.
Fabric that’s nice to touch

The Urvan Premium’s seats (which can be reclined) feel good to the touch. Gray, suede-like tricot fabric covers the individually mounted seats, and is not made from animal skin, thank God for that. Complementing these premium design touches is a two-tone dashboard that gives the impression of a wider, roomier front cabin. The passenger cabin seating configuration allows for four rows of seating, so that the van is capable of carrying up to 15 passengers, with space to store luggage.

To make sure that all passengers get a taste of that legendary air-conditioning system, the Urvan Premium has 14 individual vents positioned along each seat of the new Nissan Urvan Premium rear cabin.

Passengers are also pampered with features such as an extended sliding door opening height of 1,580 millimeters, as well as a Door Closure Assist that allows passengers to close the sliding door firmly without exerting much effort. The rear step board, ingress/egress grips and a hand rail adds safe entry and exit, especially for the elderly.

A two-tone dashboard gives the impression of a wider, roomier front cabin.

A two-tone dashboard gives the impression of a wider, roomier front cabin.

NPI claims that the Urvan Premium’s maintenance costs are significantly lower than other vans in the same segment. It further stated that it was also the first in the industry to offer warranty coverage for business use, allowing customers to have their vehicle serviced for the first three years, or 100,000 kilometers, whichever comes first, at no additional cost.

The Urvan Premium is now available in manual transmission in all Nissan dealerships nationwide, with an SRP of P1,650,000 in Alpine White, Black Obsidian, and Tiger Eye Brown.

“The past year has truly been phenomenal for the brand. And we have been able to continue this performance, beating our own sales record in March, by selling 2,094 units. Our core models have also performed well in the past quarter, especially the sales of our NV350 Urvan,” said Narasimhan.

“The NV350 Urvan sold 1,651 units, accounting for 31 percent of our sales for the first quarter of the year. And now, we continue to grow the business by entering a new segment, with the launch of the Nissan Urvan Premium,” he added.

Media ride-and-drives are supposedly about the new vehicles being tested. This Nissan Urvan Premium event centered around that, for sure. But this van is just so spacious, NPI couldn’t help but bring along a “van-ful” of good company, as well. Enough for us to enjoy the trip even when we were outside the van. It did help a lot that Narasimhan and three other participants shared my vegan and vegetarian preferences.

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