Editor's note: This review was written in February 2011 about the 2011 Nissan Quest. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2012, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
Nissan has returned to the minivan market with a completely redesigned Quest that has just gone on sale. It's a terrific vehicle, but the Quest isn't as roomy as the rest of the minivan class, and its shape hasn't adopted the more popular style of a crossover.
It wears its odd, boxy minivan dressings with pride. The roof is quite tall, and there's lots of glass to see out. There's a roomy third row and an impressive cargo well behind it, but the Quest's oddness is that, despite those minivan looks, overall it doesn't offer as much space as the rest of the class. Buyers not looking for a maximum amount of room usually opt for a crossover and skip the minivan stigma altogether.
Are there buyers on the lookout for the Quest's unique combo? I'm not sure, but I happen to like odd designs, capable engines, and bright, luxurious interiors, and the Quest has all those things.
Most minivans are graded on what's inside, but you can't talk about this new Quest without tackling its striking exterior design.
Borrowed from a Japanese model, the U.S. Quest, not surprisingly, looks very Japanese. The front is snub-nosed, with bold use of chrome. Around back, the windows appear to wrap around the entire rear three-quarters of the car. The black glass around the rear pillars is simply cosmetic, though; there are still pillars there. But the effect is stylish.
Interior & Cargo
Stepping inside my SL test model — the second-highest trim level — I thought I had opened the door to a car from Nissan's luxury Infiniti division.
The leather seats look expensive and are comfortable in all three rows. The dashboard is offset with deep-brown wood accents that also exude luxury. The large leather steering wheel feels like ones I've tested in luxury sedans. Compared with the rest of the minivan landscape, the Quest beats the previous front-runner — Honda's EX-L Odyssey — by a nose in the luxo-van race.
While the dash is good-looking, there's one huge ergonomic fail that cannot be glossed over: The shifter is placed directly in the dash — like almost all minivans these days — but is too tall. I routinely found myself knocking into it while reaching for radio or climate controls. It simply doesn't need to be this tall; most minivan shifters are short and more knoblike. Otherwise, I found the layout of buttons and controls fairly straightforward and not as dizzying as Honda's.
As a father of two very young children, I thought the digs were too nice for extended use. I might opt for the cloth-seated SV trim and save $4,000. For the week I had it, though, I learned to appreciate some of its family-friendly aspects.
For kids this age — 18 months and 3 years — the second-row captain's chairs fit their respective car seats easily. They also slide forward and backward, so Mommy and Daddy don't have to leave feet within kicking range.
From there, the kids can watch the optional rear DVD player on a screen that flips down from the ceiling. Unlike most ceiling-mounted DVD players I've tested, this one barely obstructs the driver's view out the rear window.
The Quest has a rather small, removable console that sits between the second-row seats. It can hold the DVD player's remote and headsets, and also features two cupholders — out of 16 total in the Quest — with room for nothing else. It sits low to the floor of the van, as does the driver's fixed center console, so young children — even in boosters — may have trouble reaching it.
With the console in place, passengers need to fold one of the captain's chairs forward to get into the third row. This is a traditional design for crossovers and minivans with second-row bench seats, but if you have child-safety seats installed, it's a near-impossible task.
That said, I really wish there were a second-row bench seat option, let alone an expandable bench seat like the Honda Odyssey has.
I also liked the power sliding doors, which come standard on SV trims and higher. Most minivans have this option these days, including being able to open them with a remote, but the Quest has a passive entry system, meaning you can open all the doors without removing the key fob from your pocket. For the rear doors, press a button on the doors and they start sliding back. Other minivans require a full tug on a rather large handle to start this action. Not only is this nice for kids, it's also great for parents whose hands are too full to reach their keys.
With all three rows of seats up and in place, you can have either a flat cargo area behind the third row, or you can remove the cover to create a deeper well, like in a traditional minivan. When covered, the well itself comes in at 11.4 cubic feet. The storage area above the covered well is an additional 25.7 cubic feet. That allows for as much as 37.1 cubic feet of cargo area behind the third row.
That puts to shame the Ford Flex's 20 cubic feet of room, which has just the well when the third row is in place. The Quest also beats the third-row-up space of GM crossovers like the Chevy Traverse and GMC Acadia, which have about 24 cubic feet in that configuration.
The optional powered third row folds flat at the touch of buttons. Powered or not, both rows of seats fold flat to create a flat-load floor, again like a crossover. Minivans usually have either second-row seats that can fold into the floor — as do Chrysler's Stow 'n Go seats — or can be removed completely, while the third row generally tumbles backward to stow in the rear well.
The Quest has less total cargo room — 108.4 cubic feet — than the rest of the minivan class (the Odyssey has 148.5 cubic feet, the Sienna 150 and the Dodge Grand Caravan 144.3), but that's mostly due to height given up to the fold-flat seating layout. Its width and depth are still voluminous. I found myself keeping the third row down, and with the flat floor that made for 63.6 cubic feet of space. Strollers and groceries were easily swallowed up in that. If you find yourself deciding between this and a Ford Flex, with its paltry 43.2 cubic feet behind the second row, there's no comparison.
Besides looks and layout, the other reason to choose a crossover over a minivan is that it doesn't drive like a van. The Quest can't escape the fact that it unquestionably handles like a minivan — a very capable minivan, but a minivan nonetheless.
I drove the Quest on a snowy road trip from Detroit to Chicago, and the Nissan stayed solidly planted on the road despite arduous conditions, including built-up snow. Its ride wasn't quite as firm as an Odyssey's, nor quite as composed as that of the redesigned Dodge Grand Caravan. Other Cars.com editors felt the same way.
The 3.5-liter V-6 and continuously variable automatic transmission did impress me and those same editors. With 260 horsepower, it slates above the Odyssey's 248 and below the Grand Caravan's 283. However, the Honda and Nissan feel a bit faster than the Dodge, urging you to push both a bit more. That doesn't often happen when toting precious cargo, but passing on the highway was effortless. That power is welcome with a full load of kids and gear on board.
As far as minivans go, you're not going to be outgunned by anything else on the road.
At an EPA-estimated 19/24 mpg city/highway, the Quest is above average in terms of fuel efficiency, though it's outdone by the Odyssey's 18/27 mpg. But even the four-cylinder version of the Sienna gets the same 19/24 mpg. A V-6 Dodge Grand Caravan gets 17/25 mpg, and V-6 crossovers get worse mileage: The Flex, Traverse and Mazda CX-9 all get 17/24 mpg with front-wheel drive.
Handling is tough to rate in a vehicle of this type. You don't expect it to take corners like a racecar, and the Quest certainly doesn't. I doubt any parents would be able to discern a handling advantage between the Quest, Odyssey or Dodge Grand Caravan, which all feature fairly responsive steering. I find the Sienna's steering to be a bit too loose.
Likewise, braking was on par with the rest. Only the Odyssey offers especially grippy brakes.
If you want an awesome driving experience in a vehicle near this size, there's only one option: the Ford Flex with EcoBoost. That's a pricey proposition, starting at $36,845, but it does get you all-wheel drive. The only minivan that offers that feature is the Sienna, and that's as an option on its LE and higher trim levels, starting at $31,430.
Features & Trim Levels
There are four trim levels of the new Nissan Quest, all with the same V-6 engine and automatic transmission. The base model is called the 3.5 S. It costs $27,750 equipped with second-row power windows, 16-inch steel wheels, passive keyless entry and push-button start, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, and a four-speaker stereo with a six-disc CD changer.
Next up is the SV trim for $30,900, which adds 16-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, one-touch power sliding doors, a backup camera, Bluetooth, three-zone climate control, a conversation mirror, a six-speaker sound system with a 4.3-inch color display, a USB input, and steering-wheel audio controls.
My test car was an SL, which starts at $34,350. Its biggest upgrade is the rich leather seating, but it also adds 18-inch alloy wheels, a power liftgate, automatic headlights, a HomeLink garage door opener, an eight-way power driver's seat and heated front seats.
Top-of-the-line LE models start at $41,350 and add xenon headlights, a blind spot warning system, a navigation system with an 8-inch screen, advanced climate control with an air-cleaning feature, second-row manual sunshades, a 120-volt outlet, a four-way power front passenger seat, memory for the driver's seat, power-folding third-row seats, a 13-speaker Bose stereo and a rear DVD entertainment system.
Unfortunately, that $2,100 rear DVD system is available as an option only on the SL model. Otherwise, the SV could be a real steal for parents. Same goes for the $1,300 Bose stereo system. A dual panoramic moonroof is a $1,350 option on the SL and LE. My test car had the stereo, moonroof and DVD, and its final sticker was $39,910. That's a nice combination of features; often when you get a car equipped with a moonroof you can't get the in-ceiling DVD option, too.
That near-$40,000 price tag might look like a tough number to swallow, but delete the moonroof and it's on par with a similarly equipped Odyssey or Sienna.
You can see how the latest, comparably equipped minivans rank in terms of affordability here.
The Nissan Quest has not yet been crash-tested by either the federal government or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Quest in the Market
The last Nissan Quest was an untraditional minivan in terms of styling and interior features. At the time, no one had a dash-mounted shifter in a minivan. Now it's common practice.
This Quest doesn't break as much new ground, but it offers a stylish, at times luxurious alternative to the rest of the market. It does limit itself a bit by not offering a second-row bench option, but the execution is so good I can see it being a sleeper in the class.
On its own merits, the Quest doesn't fall far behind any minivan on sale today. To top the Honda Odyssey in my book, I'd have to see a second-row bench option. If you can count your family members on one hand, though, the Quest should be on your minivan shopping list.
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