Suburban Dad: Taking My Daughter to College in a 2012 Nissan Quest

It's a rite of passage for many families: driving your kid off to college. For our daughter, this meant a 1,500-mile trip from the Chicago suburbs to upstate New York. Assisting us on this trip was the 2012 Nissan Quest minivan. Given that I was recently in the Ford Flex for our summer vacation, this gave me a nice opportunity to compare and contrast two different types of family haulers, crossover versus minivan. Here's what we found.

By the numbers
On the way there: 713 miles
Driving time: 11 hours 40 minutes Leg mpg: 22.8

On the way back: 633.6 miles (because we have relatives in the area, we started our return trip 80 miles closer to home)
Driving time: 10 hours Leg mpg: 21.6

Full trip: 1,582 miles (includes miles racked up during the three days we were in upstate New York)

How the Quest Held Up
When the Quest competed in our Ultimate Minivan Shootout, one of the highest marks it got was for its comfortable seats. That remains perhaps its greatest strength. Even after 13 hours of driving, my back was not sore, and I was not uncomfortable in the slightest. While I'm a big fan of the Flex's seats, the Quest gave it a run for its money. Where the Flex's seats envelop you more, the Quest is supportive but not stiff, and it’s a winning combination.

Even in the second row, where the college-bound teen and her grandma sat for the trip outbound, there were few complaints about space or seat comfort.

Loading the Quest was OK, but it's got a pretty high load floor. One of the van's advantages, though, is that even with the third-row seats lowered, there is still impressive under-floor storage, which was great for things like toiletries and some loose items that might get crushed or become projectiles in the cargo area. Even with several milk crates of goods, a couple of suitcases and even a body pillow, there was still plenty of vision out the back window for me.

Unloading the van when we arrived at campus was also easy, and that's where the higher load floor was actually helpful, as it let us slide her things out and drop them down into the huge wheeled bins provided to cart her things upstairs.

When it comes to power, I'm always worried when I'm driving a minivan or any large car with four adults and a few hundred pounds of stuff. Too often, you feel like the car is dragging and not able to keep up. The Quest, though, moved very strongly — stronger even than the Flex I drove earlier this summer. Now, it was not the racecar that a Flex with an EcoBoost engine has proven itself to be, but it was impressive and very helpful in passing on Midwestern interstates.

The Quest had far less engine noise in the cabin than in the Flex I drove. Wind noise and road noise were roughly the same.

Styling remains a personal choice, but I'm coming to the point of view that I care less — a lot less these days — about exterior styling when I enjoy the ride. Cars like the Infiniti QX56, which I think is ugly, rides great. The Quest is a little too idiosyncratic for me, but given all of its positive attributes, I can overlook its looks.

The Navigation Dilemma
Now, like the Flex, I was flummoxed and ticked off by the navigation system in the Quest, though it is not as troubled as the MyFord Touch system. My biggest gripe was this chain of interactions:

  • Select the Destination button
  • Choose the search-near-your-location option, and the option to type in the name
  • Type in "Target"
  • First on the list? The Target in the Bronx, 194 miles away.

Turns out the system was giving me all of the Targets it can find in my region (which includes several states), and then alphabetizing them by location name (since they all have the same store name, Target). Well, since I started the process by saying "near me," then it should sort from nearest location to farthest location, not by store name. It's illogical, and it's frustrating.

On the way back, we were several hundred pounds lighter, but we actually got worse mileage than we did on the way there. A couple of things may have been at work:

  • On the way back, we faced less traffic, so I used the cruise control far more often, and that may have contributed to the difference.
  • We had a higher average speed on the way home, and that certainly contributed.

All in all, we were able to get my daughter moved in without much hassle, and almost no tears. We'll have to go back in May, and see how we'll fare then.

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