First drive: Nissan NT400 Cabstar van review


The light truck sector has come under enormous pressure of late from chassis-cab versions of heavy van models.

All the major manufacturers offer truck and dropside versions of their vans now, and they are generally lighter than the pukka trucks, thus allowing for extra payload. They are more comfortable to drive too.

But for really heavy usage, we reckon there is still no substitute for an out-and-out truck – and Nissan has just renewed its faith in the sector by facelifting its evergreen Cabstar, which is now officially called NT400 Cabstar.

The Cabstar has always been renowned for its rugged toughness, but new for this model are fresh looks, a revised engine and improved payloads, as well as refinements which aim to make the general driving experience better.

Visual changes include a new front grille incorporating the latest Nissan LCV identity and revised headlamp clusters, while the indicators are now integrated into the door mirrors. It certainly smartens up the Cabstar's appearance.

Inside there are new fabrics while a heated driver's seat is available as part of a winter pack and the instrument cluster has been updated too, with read-outs for instant and average fuel consumption, oil level check, maintenance advice including an oil change monitor which can help to extend service intervals, digital clock and a gear-shift advisory message.

The 2,488cc common rail turbo diesel unit now has a diesel particulate filter, diesel oxidation catalyst, exhaust gas recirculation and on-board diagnostics so it complies with Euro 5b+ emissions standards.

It is available in three different power outputs – 121bhp, 136bhp and 145bhp. The high output version, which replaces the old 3.0-litre unit, is new to range and delivers up to 22% better fuel consumption, while service intervals have been extended from 18,000 miles to 25,000 miles.

Available in single and double-cab versions, standard overall lengths range from 4,546mm to 6,346mm while the three wheelbase lengths are 2,500mm, 2,900mm and 3,400mm. There are six different GVWs ranging from 2.8t to 4.5t, while payloads go from 1,125 kgs to 2,768 kgs.

Our test model was the medium wheelbase 3.5t variant with the136bhp powerplant and pretty smart it looked too clad in rather fetching silver paintwork. The NT400 is built in Spain and the body comes courtesy of Scattolini and features alloy sides which all feel good quality and unclip easily. There is also a non-slip loadfloor which should add to extra safety for operatives at loading time. There are also four load-lashing eyes sunk into each side of the cargo area.

At £22,230, this truck manages to undercut just about all the van rivals – the Transit LWB chassis-cab, for example, weighs in at £25,220. However, that truck manages to return 35mpg on the combined cycle against the Cabstar's 31mpg.

The big difference, however, comes in ride and handling and here the Cabstar shows its shortcomings. The cab is cramped in the extreme and at 6ft 2in I had trouble actually climbing aboard.

The diesel engine is a right old rattler and without at least a tonne of cargo in the rear end, the Cabstar bounces around all over the road unless you happen to be driving on a snooker table.

True, this vehicle isn't really meant to be driven over long distances but we were hoping for better than this.

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.