The Evalia’s smoothed-over panels and large, rounded features make it look a bit like it belongs in an animated movie by Pixar; particularly so in the white of our test car. ‘Quirky-looking’ might be how you’d describe it if it were yours. But then, lucky for Nissan, this isn’t a part of the new car market where buyers are sensitive to such things.
Being van-derived and based on a product almost a decade old, the Evalia has a cabin that’s at once basic and quite cheap-feeling; which is no great criticism, though, since it’s just the way cars like this are. You get a digital instrument screen which looks small and a bit antiquated by the standards of the latest passenger car digital instrument displays, though it’s easy enough to read.
Up front you sit in a driving position that feels slightly compromised, being very upright and positioning you close to the pedals but also at a distance from the steeply raked steering wheel. You feel, frankly, like you’re driving something in which the available loading length behind your seat is more important than the passenger’s comfort in front of it. Which, of course, is entirely true. Trouble is, other comparable cars don’t make that commercial vehicle link plain in quite the same way.
In the Evalia version, though, instead of a loadbay behind the driver there are three roomy second-row seats accessed via sliding side doors – and behind them, two third-row chairs that fold and stow upwards against the sides of the boot when not in use. The third-row seats are a bit fiddly to manhandle and don’t offer particularly generous legroom, but they’re more spacious than in some so-called seven-seaters – and even when in place, they leave enough space for a decent haul of bags and small cases in the boot. With all the seats folded meanwhile, Nissan states that you can squeeze in three full-sized mountain bikes having left their front wheels attached, and longer stuff too (kayaks, ballistic missiles, railway locomotives and the like, at a guess) if you fold the front passenger seat down as well. This is certainly a car with the potential to move both people and cargo in plentiful supply.
Realistic expectations are required to appreciate some, if not quite all, of the characteristics of the e-NV200’s driving experience. That there’s plenty of low-down, low-speed torque available from that electric motor, however, is absolutely plain. The car picks up pace from urban speeds with gusto – much more, in fact, than you’d get from an economy diesel seven-seater – though its performance feels less and less assertive the farther you go beyond 50mph. By the time you close on the car’s electronically limited top speed of 76mph, it feels considerably less strong than its combustion engine equivalent might. A small comfort, perhaps, to think that at least it won’t be e-NV200 van drivers rushing up behind you well beyond the national speed limit in the outside lane of the motorway.
The other drawback of travelling at motorway speeds in this car is the remarkable amount of wind noise intrusion it suffers from. Having a particularly upright cabin profile, large door mirrors and commercial-grade door seals not intended for the last word in refinement, the Evalia would give you the impression you were driving through a storm-force gale even when conditions were clement.
The car’s ride is equally rudimentary: with leaf springs and a torsion beam suspending the rear of the car, it handles smooth roads adequately enough but is easily upset by fairly low amplitude bumps, and generally makes life less comfortable for those travelling in the rear than you’d ideally like. Handling is more decent: with a weighty drive battery carried down low, the car manages its mass fairly tidily around sharpish bends, though that tricky driving position would make it such a demanding car to physically set about if you were in a hurry that you’d be unlikely to be in a hurry for very long.