To say that there are massive (no pun intended) expectations with the Urvan Premium is quite the understatement.
For over a decade now, there have really been only two major (and successful) choices in the mass market van segment: either the Hyundai Grand Starex or the Toyota Hiace Grandia. That's a surprising observation, especially in a country where families are huge, not to mention extended. There are, however, a lot of new players from the Mainland, but they're mostly unlicensed -uh- “interpretations” of other models from Japanese brands.
Now there's a new player on the court, and it's from Nissan: the Urvan Premium.
We've driven the version with the manual gearbox before, but now it's time for us to try out the new version with the automatic.
As you may already know, the Urvan Premium is Nissan's version of upsizing a McDonald's value meal. Where the NV350 Urvan they originally launched a few years back is the standard model, this NV350 Urvan Premium just supersizes the whole thing; the Urvan Premium is 535mm longer overall, 185mm wider, and rides on a 2940mm long (+385mm) wheelbase compared to the Urvan. But the most important thing with the Urvan Premium is its height: at 2285mm, it's 295mm taller than the standard version, effectively making it a Class 2 vehicle if you enter any of our toll expressways. Size-wise, it's comparable to the Toyota Hiace LXV or the now-discontinued Hyundai Grand Starex Limousine.
There really isn't all too much designers can do with big and boxy vans, but that didn't stop Nissan from trying. The color is actually quite nice, especially in this shade of Gun Metallic Gray. They gave this facelifted version a nicer front fascia with a “sportier” front bumper, if that's possible. Heck, they even put in a garnish up front that, according to the spec sheet, has a carbon fiber finish on it.
Getting up to the driver's or front passengers' seats are exercises in themselves. You really have to grab onto the A-pillar handle and pull yourself up, making me wish I had paid attention to doing pull ups in P.E.. For the record, I was never able to do one, though I can tell my gym teacher that I can get aboard the Urvan Premium.
Sitting here, you begin to get a sense of the Urvan's height; my eyeline is so high that I can actually see above the roof of the neighbor's Montero Sport parked in front. The dashboard is, surprisingly, utilitarian. This Urvan is marketed with the “Premium” badge, meaning I expected more bits and pieces like better seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, power mirrors, a center console tray with cupholders and pockets instead of a folding seat, and most importantly, a better head-unit with -at the very least- Bluetooth. Granted, Nissan is marketing this Urvan Premium as a vehicle meant to be driven by a family driver that is undoubtedly named Manong, so it's apt. Still, I expected a bit more.
On the right side, there's a massive sliding door; open it, and you're greeted by a cavernous space, one that can accommodate 12 more passengers in the back. The seating layout means that 2 people can sit in the second row, 3 people in the third and fourth rows, and another four in the last row. The high roof configuration means most people can comfortably walk between any of the four rows fully standing. The last row can be folded up (in a 50:50 split) for cargo space though most kinds of personal bags can easily fit under each seat.
What powers the NV350 Urvan Premium is a 2.5-liter common-rail turbodiesel with 129 PS and 356 Newton meters of torque. On paper, I would have preferred a larger diesel with more torque given the size, but despite that, the Urvan Premium is actually light on its feet. Max torque comes in early at 1400 rpm, so the gargantuan van gets moving with ease.
Maneuvering the Urvan Premium is really a challenging task in the city. If you're used to cars with the engine and the wheels in front, you'll have to adjust your driving a bit and be mindful that the wheels are right under you. That means reconfiguring how your mind tackles tight, 90-degree corners. The other bit is the height; you'll have to be selective of the malls with covered parking structures. If it's over 2.3 meters, you're good; if it's anything less than that, you may end up having to ask permission from Eagle 1, Eagle 2, or the other Ma'am/Sirs to park in the delivery bay like I did. Case in point: there was a dent on the “forehead” of the Urvan Premium, meaning someone who drove this before me already misjudged a ceiling.
The 5-speed automatic gearbox actually has good ratios for the size, resulting is decent fuel economy: in traffic (16-20 km/h average) the Urvan was doing 7.0 kilometers to every liter. On the highway it's doing 12.3 km/l. Here's a surprising bit: the 5-A/T actually has a snow mode to help you get better traction in winter conditions. No it's not applicable here unless you drive on sand, or if we completely mess up climate change.
There are two things that are really great with the Urvan Premium apart from its space. The first one is the obvious thing for Nissan: the airconditioning is mighty cold. There's a standard A/C unit in front that can really work on the heat for the driver and front passengers, while there's a ceiling mounted system for the rear occupants. You do, however, have to give it some time to cool down something that seems just as spacious as an SMDC studio unit. OK that's an exaggeration; it's a bit bigger than half of the smallest SMDC unit.
The second thing is the suspension. This is something we've known for a while, especially after riding in an NV350 in Thailand back to back with a Hiace Grandia. The manners of the suspension system are just much more forgiving than the Hiace's, despite having leaf springs. The result is a very comfortable ride for a van riding on a ladder frame chassis.
There are some things that could do wonders in improving the Urvan Premium. Given the cab-over configuration (meaning the engine is right under the front row) I would have put in more heat insulation. In traffic, you can feel the heat from the engine underneath. It's not enough to cause concern, but it does have an impact on comfort. In the same light, the Urvan Premium can also do with some more sound deadening around the engine compartment and the side panels. These are simple upgrades, but they would be very welcome. Two particular features I would have also appreciated would have been power-adjustable mirrors and back-up sensors.
But really, the thing that strikes us most is the configuration; the way the cabin comes out of the factory in Japan could be better to deserve the “Premium” name. There is, however, a solution that is offered right from the moment you purchase one: Nissan has appointed A-Toy Customs as the official coachbuilder of sorts for the Urvan Premium.
For a fee, the Urvan Premium can be upgraded to become an Urvan Premium S. What this means is that -after the purchase- the vehicle will be reconfigured and thoroughly upgraded with four captain's seats, overhead cabinets, leather upholstery, a better entertainment unit with DVD playback, navigation, Bluetooth, and even a drop-down screen. They'll even install a dashcam and some airline-style mood lighting, among others.
As it stands, the Urvan Premium automatic is priced at PhP 1,836,000; just PhP 60,000 more than the manual version. Upgrading it to become a Premium S entails an added cost anywhere between PhP 400,000 to 450,000, bringing the total to PhP 2,236,000 to 2,286,000 all-in. The prices of the Premium S upgrade sound steep, but considering that the Hiace Super Grandia LXV (which already has the captain's seats) is already well over PhP 2.6 million, the Premium S is quite an attractive package overall.