One can never run out of causes to ride the Nissan Urvan EstateBy Tessa R. Salazar
Philippine Daily Inquirer
When I’m given a large vehicle to test-drive, I always give it a moment’s pause. I remember a certain superhero wall climber’s motto: “With great power comes great responsibility.” In a way, that’s how I feel when I’m given a pick-up, SUV or van to ride and write about. With great power—and space—comes great responsibility.
And that’s how it has been for this motoring writer for the past decade or so. An offer to test-drive a large vehicle also comes with the opportunity for embarking on “epic” rides with other humans, animals and objects—all for one cause or another. I have gone on tourism-oriented road trips, mountaineering and outreach trips with members of the Inquirer’s outdoor club, transported donated goods to calamity-stricken areas and to orphanages, squeezed bikes in for the annual Tour of the Fireflies and, yes, I have gone on animal-rescue missions using these vehicles. For each of these occasions, I thank the manufacturers for having created such spacious, utilitarian beasts; they have made my world a happier, better place to live in, one trip, one load, at a time.
So I waxed nostalgic when Universal Motors Corp. offered to reacquaint me with its upscale Nissan Urvan Estate early this June. It was on this same model, in 2002, that I and 14 officemates made a memorable trip to Mayoyao, Ifugao province, to became adopted sons and daughters of this picturesque mountain community. This happened after our group donated 10 used computers for the town’s public high school. The Urvan Estate would also become my van of choice for taking balikbayan friends and relatives to places worth remembering and revisiting.
It’s no puzzle that the Urvan Estate, like its middle-of-the-road kin the Urvan Escapade, could pack in more passengers and luggage than any ordinary van. The engine is located under the front seats. The driver and front passengers are placed so forward that it may seem unsettling for some who are used to the assuring presence of the front hood of their cars or SUVs that they’re now so close to oncoming vehicles—despite assurances from UMC technical guys that front crushable zones that absorb impact upon frontal collision still do exist, thereby preserving the safe cabin and leg space in their vans.
On the weekend before classes would officially start this year, I was handed over the keys, and the Urvan Estate unit. Everything was still as it was, and that was good. The same powerful 3-liter ZD30DD diesel engine with brisk acceleration, powerful torque at low engine revs, and fuel economy (at 12 to 14 km/liter on highways) even on a full load still gave out that familiar engine clatter. There were three additional features, however, that made the Urvan Estate “catch up” with the times: a back-up sensor, mobile Wi-Fi connectivity and “an upgraded entertainment system featuring a DVD player and monitor.”
The Urvan Estate, just like before, would provide a ride for me and my outdoor group to the North, specifically to Bokod in Benguet province, where we would start the trek up Mount Pulag, Luzon’s highest peak. Before that, however, we would be handing over six used computers (donated by the Inquirer) to the Benguet School of Arts and Trade (BSAT), a public tertiary school situated just a hundred meters from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Pulag tourism registration office.
The back-up sensors were useful on the night trip from Manila to mountainous Benguet, especially during tricky maneuvers and U-turns on this longer-than-usual van. The Wi-Fi proved fun to use—as long as the signal was strong enough (the unit used the Smart network), but deep into Benguet, however, we preferred to either sleep or enjoy the sights than to wait interminably for the signal to strengthen.
The rains and thick morning mist in the mountain passes offered minimal visibility, but the bright headlamps and high ground clearance helped considerably.
There were only six passengers in the van, but combined with the six desktop PCs, and the mountaineering gear we needed to bring along, it felt like the Urvan Estate was fully loaded. We felt assured, however, that the Urvan Estate would still be stable enough even in winding roads, as a load sensing valve automatically senses total load and weight distribution and optimizes the balance in brake pressure between the front disc and rear drum brakes. If the worst happened, side impact beams—a rigid steel cage of sorts—would absorb collision impact from any angle. The three-point seatbelt was available only to the driver and front right window passenger, however. The rest had to strap themselves in with lap belts.
On external looks, the Urvan Estate seems to have already been “out-styled” by newer competitors Starex, Grandia et al. But for lovers of the old-school look of vans, the Urvan Estate as a business-like family limo with a bold grille and sharp headlight is grand enough.
On the way back to Manila (after a cold, rainy Pulag climb and a warm welcome and send-off by BSAT principal Lorna Lina), sans the six donated PCs (but substituted somewhat with pasalubong from Baguio), we realized the extent of space the Urvan Estate interior offered. All passengers were able to stretch out their aching legs, with a lucky few even able to lie down on the rear seats and sleep the entire return trip away.
The Urvan Estate offers no-frills driving. Its function is to bring people, and whatever they may carry, to where they intend to be, and bring them back as safely and as comfortably as possible. It may be out-styled, but I dare say it isn’t out-performed. And when you carry enough people—and memories—with it, the Urvan Estate becomes the heartwarming sentimental favorite, notwithstanding the lack of temperature controls of its freezing air-conditioning system.
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