This isn’t your average cargo van

Nissan is dumping the conventionality of the monotonous cargo van with its Cargo X Project van – a hard-core, Cummins-powered rock crawler with a heavily modified suspension and solid axles. The Cargo X Project was headed up by legendary off-road builder and host of Spike TV’s Xtreme Off-Road, Ian Johnson and fully supported by Nissan. Needless to say, this isn’t the average fleet van.

The NV2500 van started life as a standard cargo van, powered by Nissan’s 5.6-liter Endurance V-8. It rode on an independent front suspension with a leaf spring suspension holding the solid rear axle in place. Rear drive and an open differential, combined with the rest of the road-going suspension wouldn’t cut it for rock crawling, so modifications began.

Though the NV Cargo X might seem more like a SEMA build, Nissan is bringing it to the 2017 Chicago Auto Show. It will be on display for show-goers to check out from February 11 through 20. Those not able to make the show can see all the details below.

Continue reading for the full review.

  • 2017 Nissan NV Cargo X Project Van
  • Year:
    2017
  • Make:
  • body style:

Exterior

Wow, what a difference a suspension lift, a Baja front bumper, and some proper wheels and tires can make! That tall suspension lift helps clear the 37-inch General Grabber X3 tires and the absence of the standard front bumper gives the NV a respectable approach angle. Off-road lights along the passenger side A-pillar help light the road without impeding forward visibility during the day. Beadlock wheels help hold the tires’ bead when aired down for off-roading. Manual locking hubs on the front axle add strength to the one-off 4WD system developed for this NV van. And if all else fails, a 10,000-pound winch hides behind the Baja bumper.

2017 Nissan NV Cargo X Project Van High Resolution Exterior
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2017 Nissan NV Cargo X Project Van High Resolution Exterior
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Wow, what a difference a suspension lift, a Baja front bumper, and some proper wheels and tires can make!

Beyond the utilitarian upgrades, the NV Cargo X project sports a custom wrap job that mimics mud and dirt splatter. The wrap also gives plenty glory to Nissan, the NV Cargo X name, and the sponsors that helped put the project together, including Dynatrac Axles, General Tire, and the Xtreme Off-Road show on Spike’s Power Nation series.

Interior

2017 Nissan NV High Resolution Interior
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Note: Standard Nissan NV interior shown here.

Not much was done with the NV’s cockpit, so it still includes all the same design and features found on any random NV van. For those familiar with the NV, they know it was designed with inspiration and parts from the first-generation Nissan Titan pickup. That older design and feel is still present in the dash, sadly, though it won’t matter when hammering down a trail no other cargo van could dare travel.

2017 Nissan NV High Resolution Interior
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Note: Standard Nissan NV interior shown here.

Not much was done with the NV’s cockpit, so it still includes all the same design and features found on any random NV van.

Nissan doesn’t let the van travel empty, though. The 234 cubic-feet of space behind the front seats is filled with goodies normally found in off-road support vehicles. That means the NV can act in a self-sufficient manner, not relying on dedicated support vehicle for extra parts or fuel.

Those goodies include an on-board air system, fluid containment and storage, a full-size spare tire, recovery ropes, recovery tracks, a high-lift jack, and even a portable welder, not to mention all the tools a gearhead could want.

Drivetrain

2017 Nissan NV Cargo X Project Van High Resolution Exterior
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Nissan went all-out with this project, and didn’t just stop with a suspension lift. The stock 5.6-liter V-8 was swapped out for a 5.0-liter Cummins V-8 turbodiesel – the same engine found in the 2017 Nissan Titan XD. The engine makes an impressive 310 horsepower and a whopping 555 pound-feet of torque. It’s that low-end torque which makes this NV a perfect off-roader.

The Cummins swap is backed by a few other Titan XD parts, including the Aisin six-speed automatic transmission and the part-time, electronically controlled transfer case. Like any part-time system, the driver chooses to send power to the front axle when the going gets tough. The rear wheels receive engine power under normal operations.

The stock 5.6-liter V-8 was swapped out for a 5.0-liter Cummins V-8 turbodiesel – the same engine found in the 2017 Nissan Titan XD.

Helping improve its off-road prowess, the Nissan NV’s independent front suspension was swapped for a Dynatrac solid front axle. Dynatrac is a huge name in the aftermarket off-road segment and offers everything from basic parts to full axle swap kits, just like the one found under the NV. Out back, the rear suspension retains the NV’s leaf spring setup, though it was lifted to match the front’s impressive height and to clear those 37-inch mud-terrain tires.

Conclusion

2017 Nissan NV Cargo X Project Van High Resolution Exterior
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Though we hardly expect Nissan to offer anything this extreme from the factory or dealership network, it does go to show how versatile these vans can be. Much of that can be attributed to the NV’s body-on-frame construction. The NV and Chevrolet Express and its GMC twin, the Savana, are the only full-size vans on the market to day that still use a ladder frame. And unlike the General Motors twins, the NV’s frame is fully boxed, giving it added strength and torsional rigidity.

All told, this van is an impressive machine. Not only can it traverse terrain not otherwise passable by a stock cargo van, it boasts the Cummins 5.0-liter V-8 turbodiesel. Now that’s a combination Nissan should definitely consider sending into production.

  • Leave it
    • * A one-off project
    • * Would be expensive to build
    • * Not headed for production, at least at this level of awesome

Press Release

The Nissan NV Cargo X project vehicle, arguably the most extreme version of Nissan Commercial Vehicles’ flagship NV Cargo van ever created, will make its world auto show debut at the upcoming 2017 Chicago Auto Show. Built in partnership with legendary off-road builder Ian Johnson, the NV Cargo X stands over seven-and-a-half feet tall on 37-inch tires and is powered by a Cummins® 5.0L V8 Turbo Diesel transplanted from a Nissan TITAN XD full-size pickup.

In addition to its appearance at the Chicago Auto Show, which runs at Chicago’s McCormick Place from February 11-20, footage of the NV Cargo X build and its shakedown on Pyeatt Draw trail in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest can be viewed at NVCargoX.com.

2017 Nissan NV Cargo X Project Van High Resolution Exterior
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To celebrate this vehicle with fans, Johnson will be at the Nissan booth on Saturday, Feb. 11, signing autographs from Noon to 2 p.m. and 3 to 5 p.m.

"The Nissan NV – Cargo and Passenger van configurations – has the durability, quality and reliability that works hard for business applications – backed by America’s Best Commercial Van & Truck Warranty1 with 5-Year/100,000-mile Bumper-to-Bumper coverage," said Fred Diaz, division vice president and general manager, North America Trucks and Light Commercial Vehicles, Nissan North America, Inc. "We thought it would be interesting to take an NV Cargo to the extreme – pushing it to where no cargo van has ever gone before. We weren’t disappointed."

2017 Nissan NV Cargo X Project Van High Resolution Exterior
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About the Nissan NV Cargo X

"When I looked at the NV Cargo, I saw a hard-working van with a heavy-duty foundation. And I also saw possibilities for a rock crawler that could serve as its own support vehicle," said Johnson, who in addition to his custom off-road transformations also serves as the host of the "Xtreme Off-Road" television series.

Starting with a stock NV 2500 HD Cargo, Johnson and his team set out to build a custom vehicle that could handle everything from maintenance to mayhem. "A strong foundation is what makes the NV Cargo X build possible. Most work vans come with a C-channel frame that would flex and squeak under the stress of Pyeatt Draw. But every NV Cargo is built on a rigid, fully boxed ladder frame," explained Johnson.

While the NV Cargo’s front independent double-wishbone suspension and multi-leaf rear suspension is responsive and rides smooth through even the toughest workdays, the NV Cargo X required something a little more radical – including a custom-modified off-road suspension system with enough suspension travel and wheelwell clearance to fit a set of 37-inch General Grabber X3 tires. While the front suspension is 100 percent custom, the rear retains the NV Cargo’s standard leaf spring design.

Next, out came the factory 5.6-liter gasoline V8 engine and in its place Johnson fit a Cummins 5.0-liter V8 Turbo Diesel borrowed from Nissan’s TITAN XD pickup. The engine is rated at 310 horsepower and, more importantly for rock crawling, a hefty 555 lb-ft of torque. The TITAN XD also donated its heavy-duty Aisin 6-speed automatic transmission and advanced 4-wheel drive system.

2017 Nissan NV Cargo X Project Van High Resolution Exterior
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Once the front sheet metal was reinstalled following the engine transplant, other exterior modifications included installation of a custom off-road LED Lighting System, 10,000-lb. front-mounted winch and a tube bumper with custom skid plate. A special black-and-white custom wrap finished the exterior.

Next came the challenge of the cargo end of the NV Cargo X. "With the NV Cargo, the customization potential is practically limitless. Its spacious interior cargo is designed to upfit and outfit for just about any type of job," said Johnson.

With 234 cubic feet of available cargo space, the build team decided to go all out – equipping it with all the goodies usually found in an off-road support vehicle. The custom build-out utilized the NV Cargo’s standard reinforced mounting points and standard cargo containment system. Ultimately, the cargo bay was filled with an onboard air system, fluid containment and storage, full-size spare, recovery rope, recovery tracks, high-lift jack, portable welder and the always important tool bag.

Then it was off to Arizona for a full-out rock test. "We asked the NV Cargo X to do work that’s way outside of its normal job description, and it rose to every challenge," concluded Johnson.

2017 Nissan NV Cargo X Project Van High Resolution Exterior
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About Pyeatt Draw

Tucked between Diamond Rim and Mogollon Rim outside of Payson, Arizona, Pyeatt Draw trail is the rocky dry-wash bottom of a geologically ancient ravine. Despite the beauty of the location, it is rugged terrain that’s filled with steep ledges, large boulders and fallen logs.

Location: Tonto National Forest
Category: Rock, Mud, Forest
Elevation: 5,000-6,000 ft.
Rating: Moderate to Difficult
Category: Rock, Mud, Forest

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