Nissan Quest — Finding space enough for a brood

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

This is the best of times for minivan consumers. The once extremely popular people mover has never been better. Nearly three decades of refinements have turned the minivan into the ultimate in family transportation convincingly supported by five all-new or considerably upgraded minivans now on the market.
The Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna and Nissan Quest are all new for the 2011 model year, and the Dodge Grand Caravan and the Chrysler Town & Country have been heavily refreshed.
Never has family transportation been so safe, so passenger friendly and so engaging to drive; a far cry from the underpowered Chrysler that launched the segment in 1984. We invite those who think it’s trendier to chauffeur their brood around in a less spacious crossover to rethink; test drive a new minivan; and then reevaluate. 
 The quirky last-generation Quest, an exercise in unique design, did not resonate with the minivan-buying public, so Nissan decided to take its people mover in a new direction with a more traditional look in the modern sense. It took a year off — there was no 2010 model — to bring the new vehicle to market, and we think Nissan's efforts will pay dividends as it stands up very effectively to the competition.
While we aren’t bowled over by the minivan’s new styling, we feel the new slab-sided look separates Quest from the other players in the segment, all of whom have opted for a more squared-off appearance. And from a full side view, we like the character line that slants upward from the front door through the rear quarter panel.
The Quest’s stylish front end doesn’t seem to match up with the wrap-around rear glass. But we also had reservations with the Odyssey over its “lightning bolt” break behind the rear door. It certainly is a challenge to designers when the starting point is a box.
The Quest is built on Nissan’s unibody D-platform shared with Maxima, Altima and Murano — front engine and front-wheel drive. Getting behind the wheel and stretching the Quest out on our favorite winding roads proves that much work has been put into the vastly improved suspension. It has great road manners and a solid feel, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering the sporty nature of the Maxima and Murano.
The underpowered minivan seems to be a thing of the past. The aforementioned entries all bring considerable horsepower and pleasing performance to the segment. No more does a family, strapped by a tight budget, have to settle for sub-par performance.
And this is a good thing because we think inadequate horsepower is as much a safety factor in a family hauler as the lack of antilock brakes or side-curtain airbags.
All Quests, regardless of trim level, come with Nissan’s lusty 3.5-liter 24-valve DOHC V-6 developing 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque. It’s mated to an Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) with Adaptive Shift control.
While we have never completely warmed up to the CVT, Nissan has mastered the transmission — which it uses in most of its vehicles — endowing it with excellent rpm management and fuel economy.
The engine has the ability to move the 4,500-pound vehicle from 0 to 60 in a sprightly 7.9 seconds and through a quarter mile in 16.1 seconds at 91 miles per hour. What this means is that the Quest, even under full load, has the ability to safely merge on a fast-moving freeway or overtake and confidently pass a slower moving car on a two-lane highway.
The engine delivers this strong performance with a solid EPA gas mileage rating of 19 mpg city and 24 mpg highway on regular gas. The city rating matches the best offered by the competition.
Besides performance, most people rate a minivan on interior comfort, features and cargo and passenger hauling usability. The Quest generally shines in these areas with one exception. Cargo hauling volume does not quite match up to the current crop of minivans.
Here’s the thing. Some cargo space is sacrificed because the rear seat does not fold into the floor as in other minivans. But a flat load floor is created by folding both the second and third row seatbacks forward. There are 37 cubic feet of space behind the third row, 63.3 cubic feet with the third row folded and 108.4 cubic feet with both rows folded. For most buyers it is probably more than adequate.
Also, the Quest offers only a maximum seating capacity of seven while competitors can be configured for eight. This is because there is no bench seat option for the second row. Here again, for most families it is probably adequate.
On the flip side, we found both the front and second-row seats as comfortable as any vehicle we’ve tested this year. The second-row seats slide fore and aft and recline for additional comfort and increased legroom. There were no complaints from the peanut gallery.
The interior is stylish, and first-rate materials have been used. The surroundings, especially in top trim, are indeed of luxury car Infiniti standards. Many in our families including the senior in-house critics found an instant attachment to the Quest. 
Apparently the public feels the same way based on an Edmund’s Consumer Top Rated van survey that made it number one, displacing last year’s winner, the Town & Country. 
Owner-reviewers love the “classy” interior styling, Edmunds noted.  “Definitely feels like driving a luxury car,” wrote one consumer.
The Quest comes in four trim levels — S, SV, SL and LE — starting at $28,575 including destination charge. It tops out at $42,150 for the loaded LE.
Our test vehicle was a well-equipped SL with a base price of $35,150 and options including rear entertainment, Bose audio system and dual-opening glass moonroof, which brought the bottom line to $40,140.
A family on a budget need not fret because the base price brings a host of standard equipment including a full range of safety features, full power equipment, air conditioning, cruise control, tilt and telescoping steering, an audio system with CD player, and keyless entry.
Nissan has done a credible job creating a modern minivan that delivers excellent value for the dollar.
Base price: $28,575; as driven, $40,140
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Horsepower: 260 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 240 foot-pounds @ 4,400 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: Continuously variable
Seating: 2/2/3
Wheelbase: 118.1 inches
Length: 200.8 inches
Curb weight: 4,508 pounds
Turning circle: 36.1 feet
Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds
Luggage capacity: 37.1 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 108.4 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 20 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 24 mpg highway, 19 mpg city
0-60: 7.9 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Honda Odyssey, Dodge Grand Caravan, Toyota Sienna
The Good
• Stylish well organized interior
• Excellent seats
• Top-notch handling for a minivan
The Bad:
• Exterior styling may be off-putting
The Ugly:
• Not as much cargo space as competitors