Nissan Philippines launched the fifth-generation of the Urvan, aka the NV350, last week. The Japanese carmaker is hoping that the Urvan will continue the legacy of its predecessors as a bulletproof people-mover. As part of its launch activities, it invited Top Gear Philippines to experience its van in a media ride-and-drive event.
The itinerary was to power up a mountain to Tagaytay Highlands, then down a mountain to a beach in Anilao, Batangas. With the brand’s representatives claiming that the new 2.5-liter turbodiesel in the Urvan would be more than a match for any incline (sans the need to shut off the famous Nissan A/C), we were excited to check out and put to the test this veritable workhorse.
At the designated meetup point, Nissan Philippines president Antonio Zara welcomed us and set the tone for the event. He reminded us that we Filipinos love taking road trips, and he made us reminisce about the times that we had gone on road trips with our barkada or our family. He believed that aside from the business nature of the Urvan, it can also fill the role of being a dedicated barkada road-trip vehicle.
Piling into our unit, the first thing that literally hit me when I sat in the Urvan’s front passenger seat was a blast of freezing air from the air-conditioning system. Nissan in the Philippines has always been famous for its superb cooling ability. And with 12 A/C vents spread throughout the interior of the van, the air hits every part of the cabin, keeping us cool despite the 40-plus-degree Philippine summer.
From a cursory glance at the line of white Urvans pulling out of the meeting point, one would be forgiven for thinking that the vans resembled a convoy of refrigerators. That comparison is more than apt, however, since from where we were seated, that was exactly what it felt like.
The front passenger seat only reclines, meaning those like me who have long legs just barely have enough room to fit. My knees were almost grazing the glove box. Looking around the bare interior of the Urvan, I had to fight the temptation to shout: "This is...spartan!" On the plus side, for the smokers out there, or those with mobile phones that are perpetually dying, there is a cigarette lighter and ashtray located under the climate control panel.
I found the ride smooth, despite the fact that our 15-seater variant only had six people on-board. This was clearly evident when, on a particularly bumpy portion of the South Luzon Expressway, a Japanese AUV pulled up alongside us, and we could visibly see the smaller vehicle bounce up and down on the wavy asphalt, while our Urvan’s suspension remained planted and stable. The 2.5-liter mill had us chugging along comfortably at the speed limit, and it never felt wanting at highway speeds.
From Tagaytay Highlands, I had a chance to drive the next few hours to Anilao. On the steep gradient leading out of the Highlands area and back to Tagaytay, the Urvan’s new YD25DDTi turbodiesel’s 356Nm of torque and 127hp of output made short work of the ascent without even breaking a sweat.
On the way to Anilao--in the thankfully adjustable driver’s seat this time--I was pleasantly surprised by the digital cluster flanked by the speedometer and the tachometer. It provided fuel mileage information and even a shift light. Power delivery was great, especially if the engine was kept in its sweet spot somewhere around 1,500-3,000rpm. Third-gear overtaking maneuvers were a piece of cake, and the typical provincial jeeps and tricycles clogging the roads never stood a chance.
Getting stuck in a two-hour jam around Bauan taught me something about the car. All the controls were soft: The clutch, the brakes, the accelerator and even the steering felt soft and a bit floaty. But it is precisely this softness and floatiness that makes the Urvan a dream to drive in stop-and-go traffic. Whether you’re driving this for your business or for your friends, it’s the kind of van that you could pilot all day without feeling as if you had just finished leg day at the gym.
Arriving in Anilao after sunset, we settled into our rooms and spent the night like all good barkadas do--by singing and drinking. Even Nissan Philippines’ general manager for marketing, SJ Huh, sang along with the band onstage.
After spending the night in the beautiful Aiyanar Dive Resort, I decided to trade places and see what it was like to sit in the back for the return trip to Manila. It was probably just my 6'2" frame, but I found the rear a bit tight for something that sat 15 people. I had to sit on the folding side seat, if only so my legs would have somewhere to go.
However, it was there in the back--with colleagues talking and laughing while an open bag of chicharon filled the freezing cabin with the scent of heart disease--that it hit me: Road trips like these are so very dependent on the friends you’re with. Good company plus a dependable vehicle will always end up in stories that beg to be told, and memories that are a joy to remember.
Whether you’re considering buying one for business, or you just need a dependable barkada-mobile for an out-of-town jaunt, the Nissan NV350 Urvan may just be the van for you.
Photos by Carlo Chungunco