Usually after a car manufacturer launches a new vehicle, they invite the motoring media to evaluate the car with a long distance driving experience. With Nissan Philippines replacing its long-enduring Urvan with the new-generation NV350, the Japanese automaker took a different approach with a 'ride-only experience' as we were shuttled to different destinations instead of actually driving ourselves.

“We wanted everyone to have their own Urvan experience as a fun story to share instead of the usual ride and drive,” said Toti Zara, president and Managing Director of Nissan Philippines Inc. (NPI).

First Ride: 2015 Nissan NV350 Urvan

Interestingly, the bolder-looking 2015 Nissan NV350 Urvan is actually smaller compared to its predecessor. The Japan-built NV350 now measures 4695mm long, 1695mm wide and 1990mm tall with a wheelbase of 2555mm. The previous generation measures 4790mm x 1690mm x 1990mm, with a 2645mm wheelbase.

Design-wise it looks a lot more modern with the Nissan-signature V-motion grill flanked by larger headlamps, flatter looking panels finished off by larger tail lamps. It also gets 15-inch steel rims (with wheel covers) wrapped with 195/80R15LT tires.

First Ride: 2015 Nissan NV350 Urvan

Both 15-seater and 18-seater variants share the same exterior dimensions as well as wheelbase, while the “high-roof” 2-seater cargo version is longer, taller (5090mm x 1695mm x 2285mm) and sits on a significantly stretched wheelbase of 2940mm.

Despite the shorter length, Nissan engineers must have figured out a way to make the interior of the 15-seater variant feel more spacious. The cockpit feels a lot more modern when compared to its nearly two-decade-old predecessor.

Powering the new NV350 is a new YD25 DDTi 2.5-liter commonrail turbo diesel similarly found in the Navara NP300 pickup. Despite also being equipped with a variable geometry turbocharger, this engine has been detuned to 129 PS @ 3200 rpm and 356 Nm at 1400-2000 rpm. While it doesn't seem like a large number for today's high output diesel market, it does pump out nearly twice as much torque and 50% more power compared to the outgoing model's “aged” OHV 8-valve 2.7-liter naturally aspirated diesel with 84 PS and 178 Nm of torque. When compared with its similar looking rival the Toyota Hiace, it still has the advantage as the Hiace's 2.5-liter commonrail turbodiesel outputs 102 PS and 260 Nm of torque.

First Ride: 2015 Nissan NV350 Urvan

The NV350 ride took members of the motoring media to Tagaytay Highlands for lunch as we headed to Anilao, Batangas for the night. The well-chosen route involved long stretches on the expressway, winding mountain roads with occasional roadwork that put the new Urvan's engine performance and riding comfort to the test.

First Ride: 2015 Nissan NV350 Urvan

The more capable engine didn't break a sweat, smoothly taking on uphill roads as well as the overtaking on long stretches along the expressway. It was well insulated enough in front so the driver or passenger won’t get "cooked" by the engine underneath the front seats . The better engineered chassis felt very capable and confident on the twisty mountain roads to our destinations.

It was a leisurely paced trip but was quite fun as I was able to get some work done on the spacious front passenger seat as well as share some laughs and tales with my van-mates on the road to Anilao from Tagaytay.

First Ride: 2015 Nissan NV350 Urvan

The trip to our alternative “drive” activity was a different story as our golfer's group had to wake up really early for the two-hour ride to Sta. Elena golf club in Cabuyao, Laguna where all passengers were fast asleep thanks to the “legendary” air-conditioning of the Nissan Urvan through all of its 12 rear air vents ensuring each of us was kept cool.

Part of every road experience is the peace of mind of riding in a safe vehicle. The new Urvan is built with a high strength body using Nissan’s "Zone Body" principle and fitted with modern safety features like front ventilated disc breaks with ABS and brake assist, and front airbags.

NPI chose to release the shuttle and commuter variants of the NV350 Urvan in the meantime; as these will be volume drivers for them. The company did promise premium variants to follow for family driving duties.