Sadly, we're a multitasking society.
We text, talk on the phone, yell at the kids, write a grocery list, file our taxes and turn right on Fort Street all at the same time. Ray LaHood may frown at the distractions and have the Department of Transportation create another rule no one will enforce or follow, but it's just who we are. Why do one thing right when we can do six things poorly all at the same time?
The Nissan Quest used to have the same problem: It tried to please too many people at the same time and became lackluster in everything.
The 2011 Quest, however, seems to have embraced its "minivan-ness" and focuses on the occupants to the point of pampering. Now entering its fourth generation, the Quest may not be perfect, but it's certainly worth considering if you're shopping for a premium minivan.
The Quest 3.5 S starts at $27,750, and the price climbs quickly, with the top-of-the-line Quest 3.5 LE starting at $41,350. While both prices sound expensive, they're on par with the V-6 versions of the Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey and Chrysler Town & Country — only $4,000 separates the most expensive and least expensive of these models. The Quest is right in the middle.
Nissan seems to understand that minivans were created and continue to serve as the mechanical nanny for many parents. No one buys a minivan because of its dramatic good looks and mountain-carving capabilities. The minivan is typically a giant juice box with headlights and more cup holders than a tea shop.
The Quest is no different. If it were in a beauty contest, it would win a participation certificate. The edges are hard and the corners emphasize its boxiness. The sides look like something Mr. T's B.A. character would weld together for the final scene in "The A-Team."
When it comes to multitasking, the Quest does nearly everything from the driver's seat. It can tell you if someone is in your blind spot, as you talk on the phone — the stereo's volume automatically muted without you ever taking your hands off the wheel — while looking at the conversation mirror to check on your sleeping infant in the second row without turning your head. That all happens while you're breathing filtered air from the Plasmacluster air purifier. Breathless parents could use some fresh air.
That doesn't even include all of the amenities aimed at passengers. The Quest comes with nearly everything but a microwave for popcorn.
Kids might want some Orville Redenbacher as they enjoy movies on the 11-inch monitor. While I initially had reservations about onboard DVD players, I have learned to appreciate the hushed silence of a cabin full of kids.
Then there are features like the second-row sliding doors that open with a single touch and can be opened from the driver's seat without ever unbuckling the seat belt. Sure, just about every minivan has this feature, but it's still cool.
So are the dual-opening glass moon roofs that allow even the third-row passenger some vitamin D on a long trip. Third rows in minivans can often feel more like a cramped cave, as the seats are traditionally closer to the ceiling and sealed off behind the larger second row captain's chairs.
The Quest's third row has more than 40 inches of leg room — more than the second row — and can seat two adults comfortably.
Throughout the cabin, every feature feels as if its purpose was well thought out and carefully executed. This isn't as much a minivan as it is a family room.
The Quest has workshop qualities, too. The second and third rows can fold flat to create a massive 108.4 cubic feet of space behind the driver's seat. That is more interior volume of storage space than all of the interior space in a midsize sedan.
It also has the muscle to do some heavy lifting. The Quest's 3.5-liter aluminum dual overhead cam with variable valve timing cranks out 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque. This engine provides excellent acceleration, especially on the highway when you want to blast past a semi or just get up to the same speed as everyone else. The engine is mated to a continuously variable transmission, a series of belts and pulleys that replace gears, but it rides pretty well. Nissan continues to use CVTs that are actually not bad to drive.
Towing great, mileage not
The Quest's mileage, however, isn't the best in the group of top minivans. It averages 19 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway, according to Environmental Protection Agency testing. But it can also tow up to 3,500 pounds.
Like most minivans, the high riding position and generally big body don't bode well for great handling characteristics. But the independent front suspension, multilink rear and speed-sensitive, power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering perform together well enough to provide good road manners — at least for a minivan.
But the Quest does offer a smooth ride without being too harsh or too soft. It handles itself on the road quite nicely, even when swerving around a pile of truck tire treads sprinkled along Interstate 75 like so many rubber slalom flags.
The key to this car's ride is the comfortable seating position and good visibility forward. Since the seating position is more upright, it's easy to sit and concentrate on driving.
Perhaps one glitch is the placement of the gear shifter on the dash. It's mounted very close to the keyless start button. But it also blocks your view of some of the controls on the center stack.
When the Quest is in park, you can see everything, but when it's in drive, you can't easily see the volume controls and some of the heater/air conditioning controls. That's an unnecessary distraction.
Worse yet, smaller drivers will have more obstructions. The closer they sit to the steering wheel, the less they can see. My advice around this flaw is to use the telescoping steering column and push it out as far as possible and adjust the seat accordingly.
But that's a quibble on a minivan that lives up to the hype of its family-friendly features. Nissan has delivered a worthy contender in a segment that just won't die, no matter how many new crossovers arrive.
Nowadays, we are all in a hurry. We've got a lot of irons in our daily fires. Now and again, we attempt to take on more than one thing. The Quest makes it a little easier to handle those daily tasks, sometimes all at once.
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2011 Nissan Quest
Type: Seven-passenger FWD minivan
Engine: 3.5-liter DOHC V-6
Power: 260 horsepower; 240 pound-feet of torque
Transmission: Xtronic CVT
EPA gas mileage: 19 mpg city / 24 mpg highway
Exterior: Fair. Big slab sides and hard edges make the Quest look like an unfinished Pinewood Derby contestant.
Interior: Excellent. Comfortable, well-crafted and extremely well-appointed.
Performance: Excellent. Powerful engine, nice ride and great utility.
Pros: Can make your daily life easier and a little more comfortable.
Cons: Should be parked in your garage, not your driveway.
**** Excellent *** Good ** Fair * Poor