Nobody could accuse Nissan of lacking ambition when it comes to CVs. Quite simply, the company aims to become the biggest-selling manufacturer in the global market by 2016 and a key player in Europe with a 5% market share.

Nissan expects its newly launched heavy LCV, the NV400, to kick-start its growth plans.

The model, which replaces the Interstar, is an extremely close relation to Renault‘s Master due to the joint ownership arrangement between the two manufacturers, and has just as much in common with the Movano, thanks to its maker Vauxhall‘s long-standing collaboration with the French brand.

The NV400 is available in front-wheel drive from 2.8-3.5t and in rear-wheel drive mode for the first time from 3.5-4.5t. According to Nissan, there are 20 versions of the panel van available with 10 load volumes ranging from 8-20m³. There are also nine body conversions, while the new 2.3-litre diesel engine (developed by Renault and replacing the 2.5 used in the Interstar) comes with 100, 125 and 150hp power outputs.

“The potential for complexity is enormous,” says UK marketing boss Francis Bleasdale, but he also points out that Nissan has kept the specification choice for the UK simple with just entry-level E and the “big volume” SE available.

ESP is fitted as standard to all RWD models and as an option on FWD. According to Bleasdale, all SE NV400s have either reversing cameras or reversing sensors. If taken as an option, the camera will set you back £438 excluding VAT, and if you need sensors on the basic E model you’ll have to pay £304.

Bleasdale predicts sales of 1500 NV400s in a full year out of a 2012 total for the brand of 11,000 units.

We drove the 3.5t, FWD 125hp, 2.3-litre, medium wheelbase, medium roof SE with semi-automatic, or ‘Robotised’ transmission. This version has a load volume of 10.8m³, which matches the Renault Master and Vauxhall Movano siblings and at least holds its own against equivalent Ford Transits and Mercedes Sprinters.

The cargo area is accessed through 270º twin rear doors, as well as sliding near and offside doors through which you can slot a standard Euro pallet. The offside sliding panel door comes as an option for £370.

While the two-pedal system feels a bit lurchy at first, once you get the hang of the semi-auto shift it is pleasantly smooth and a good deal more efficient than some of its forerunners on the market. Nissan had strapped a couple of bags of sand in the back and no doubt this contributed to a comfortable, sure-footed ride.

Power steering is reassuringly steady and predictable and results in responsive handling when one ventures onto more challenging, winding roads where it is consistently stable when cornering. The 125hp unit is no sluggard on the motorway either, and once the semi-auto box has hit top gear it can cruise along happily for as long as the route requires.

One of the van’s strongest points is its cabin layout. It is 5.7cm longer than the Interstar to create extra leg room, while the seats are also longer and wider than before and come with an arm rest. A feature that takes some getting used to is the suspended airsprung driver’s seat that initially feels like driving while strapped to a water bed. Fortunately, the seat can be adjusted and the sensation toned down. Interior storage space is more than ample, and another plus-point is that noise levels inside the cab are well suppressed.

Nissan claims the L2H2 van we tested turns in a respectable 34.0mpg on the combined cycle while emitting CO2 of 221g/km.

From April, as well as the factory-built panel vans and combis, there will be crew vans, box bodies, tippers and dropsides built in-house. In addition, Nissan will offer a specialist chassis cab for conversion companies.

Nissan NV400 L2H2 2.3 dCi 125 SE
Price (ex VAT) £23,695
Price range (ex VAT) £18,995-£30,045
Insurance group group 14
Warranty 3yrs/100,000mls
Service intervals 2yrs/25,000mls
Load length 3083mm
Load width (min/max) 1380/1765mm
Load bay height 1894mm
Gross payload 1620kg
Load volume 10.8m³
Engine size/power 2.3-litre/125hp
On sale November 2011
Combined fuel
CO2 221g/km
Score 8/10
Verdict Stylish and sophisticated,
but may have lost ground
to the Master