The Quest delivers an acceptable driving experience and decent utility. However, by not offering better front-seat comfort and more configurable seating in general, Nissan risks making the minivan's primary selling point its looks, and minivans are the wrong kind of car to try that with.
Exterior & Styling
While some minivans truly are handsome, like the Honda Odyssey, there's only so much leeway designers have when their starting point is a box. Of the minivans available today, Nissan has pushed the limits of design the furthest with the futuristic-looking Quest.
The van received a new front grille and bumper for 2007, but its characteristic design elements — flowing shoulder lines and a raked-forward liftgate — remain. The Quest seems like one of those designs you either can't get enough of or can't understand how it got out of the factory. I lean toward the latter, but would be interested to know what you think of the minivan's looks.
Sixteen-inch steel wheels with wheel covers are standard on 3.5 and 3.5 S trim levels, while the 3.5 SL gets 16-inch aluminum wheels and the 3.5 SE has 17-inch aluminum rims. Michelin's PAX System run-flat tires are optional on the 3.5 SL and 3.5 SE. Mounted on 19-inch aluminum wheels, PAX System tires are rated to withstand 125 miles of travel at 55 mph when completely flat.
Ride & Handling
Like the Odyssey and Toyota Sienna with which it competes, the Quest has taut suspension tuning. The ride is firm but not harsh; it's certainly better than the bouncy responses the Dodge Grand Caravan's suspension exhibits on bumpy roads. It's worth mentioning that during most of my test drives I was alone in the Quest; adding a half or full load of passengers (which is the reason people buy minivans) might counteract some of the firmness in the Quest's suspension.
The Quest feels stable and planted on the highway, but there's a fair amount of wind noise at 65 to 70 mph. The van's steering is fairly responsive.
Going & Stopping
All trim levels are powered by a 235-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine that drives a five-speed automatic transmission. The Quest requires premium fuel, and its gas mileage estimates are 18/25 mpg (city/highway).
The smooth V-6 delivers strong around-town performance. It's only when you need to pass quickly while driving at highway speeds that the engine feels somewhat taxed; flooring the accelerator pedal under these conditions yields only a mild nudge in your back (and elevated engine noise) as the automatic transmission kicks down to aid the V-6 in its efforts.
All-disc antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist are standard. The brake pedal has a very linear, natural feel.
This is where the most significant changes are. The Quest's gauges, which were in the middle of the dashboard, have been replaced with a new instrument panel that's right in front of the steering wheel. Center-mounted gauge clusters are truly despised by some. I'm not especially fond of them, but I'm not sure I wouldn't buy a car because it had them. Nissan's reversal signals that others may not have been so forgiving.
Also new is the layout of mostly rectangular buttons on the center control panel, but they end up looking all the same when you have to glance over to change a setting while driving. Not helping matters is the automatic transmission's gear selector, which is just left of the center controls; it blocks some buttons from the driver's view when the transmission is in Drive.
My test car's dashboard had a couple of minor rough-edged trim pieces, but it was otherwise free of imperfections. I found the cabin's color scheme — which consisted of varying shades of gray — a bit dreary, but fortunately Nissan offers a couple of two-tone interiors if you want to brighten things up.
Like the exterior, the Quest's front seats also have a unique appearance. Available with standard cloth or optional leather upholstery, the front seats have a furniture-style design, according to Nissan. That's not all marketing speak, as they do have the contemporary appearance of a high-end recliner. The bucket seats don't feel as nice as they look, though; the curved seatback pushes you away from the rest of the backrest, and there's no side bolstering whatsoever to hold occupants in place during a quick turn. Manual lumbar adjustment for the driver's seat is standard.
The second row can hold two passengers in captain's chairs that match the front seats in appearance. These chairs are comfortable for adults and there is plenty of legroom. Though the second-row seats are technically optional, as is the third row, I doubt many Quests will leave the factory with only the two front seats.
Speaking of the third row, Nissan has improved it by adding a spring-assist feature and new head restraints that no longer need to be removed before folding the seat. However, the company missed an opportunity with the Quest's interior update by not equipping the minivan with a 60/40-split third row like the ones in the Grand Caravan, Hyundai Entourage, Odyssey, Sienna and others. While the Quest's third row offers passable comfort for adults and is easy to fold into the floor, its one-piece design means the Quest gives up some versatility. You also have to give the Quest's third-row seat a good shove to raise it, which might present a challenge for some owners.
The Quest performed very well in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests, earning the Institute's top overall rating, Good, in both. Side curtain airbags for all rows of seats are standard, and IIHS ran the minivan through its side-impact test twice (with and without the optional side-impact airbags for the front seats) and came back with the same results. Active front head restraints are standard. An electronic stability system, power-adjustable pedals, rear parking sensors and a rearview camera are optional.
Cargo & Towing
The Odyssey and Sienna offer more cargo room than the Quest, but any advantage those models have is rather small. There's 32.3 cubic feet of room behind the Quest's third row; folding it into the floor raises the total to 87.7 cubic feet. Though the second-row captain's chairs can't be removed like the competition's, they do fold fairly flat against the floor — though not into the floor like the Stow 'n Go system offered in Chrysler and Dodge minivans — to create a maximum 145.7-cubic-foot area for moving your son or daughter back to college. Selecting the optional SkyView roof panels (detailed below) lowers the ceiling and reduces these figures a bit. Like the minivans from Honda and Toyota, the Quest can tow up to 3,500 pounds when properly equipped.
Entertainment options include a DVD entertainment system that can have one or two 8-inch overhead screens (in line, one for each row), a remote control and two pairs of wireless headphones. A Technology Package that includes Sirius or XM Satellite Radio, Bluetooth-based hands-free cell phone connectivity and a rearview camera on the 3.5 SL is also offered. Curiously, Nissan bundles the navigation system and run-flat tires together in an option package.
Nissan is one of the more creative automakers when it comes to moonroofs; the company's Maxima sedan, for instance, has a narrow rectangular glass panel running down the center of the roof. The Quest's optional SkyView system is a bit different, consisting of two long rectangular panes that run along the edges of the roof from the second to the third seat row. From the inside, one gets the impression that there are four overhead glass panels because the cabin's roof lining bisects each one. A traditional moonroof for the front seats is also included.
Quest in the Market
Even though crossovers are all the rage these days, there are still a number of minivans, like the Grand Caravan, Odyssey, Sienna and Chrysler Town & Country, that sell well. Unfortunately for Nissan, the Quest's relatively modest sales exclude it from that group.
While the changes to the interior are a step in the right direction, more needs to be done if the Quest is to have a chance at matching the sales performance of the leaders. I'd add a split-bench third row and roll-down second-row windows to start, and better reliability would be welcome, too; Consumer Reports predicted a reliability rating for the Quest that is much worse than average.
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