The Pathfinder is no longer Nissan's only inexpensive seven-passenger vehicle. With the Los Angeles Auto Show introduction of the Quest, Nissan revisits the minivan model that it retired just a couple years ago.
Altima drivers who want more space should be an easy sell for the Quest. The real question is whether it can attract buyers who usually would head straight for a Grand Caravan, Sienna, or Odyssey.
The styling of the 2011 Quest should at least generate second glances from minivan consumers, with blacked-out D-pillars that recall the Ford Flex, this segment's unofficial competitor. The front view is all Nissan, with angular headlights joined by a thick bar of chrome, connected to a distinctive six-sided grille. The Nissan's door track isn't hidden as on the Chrysler, Dodge, and Toyota.
As you'd expect, the Quest is based on the same platform as the Altima, Maxima, and Murano. Power comes from a 3.5-liter V-6 producing 253 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. Fuel economy has not yet been rated. A CVT is the only available transmission for the Quest, which has a curb weight of 4367 in base S trim. For comparison, the 2011 Honda Odyssey LX weighs 4337 pounds, while the more powerful 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan comes in at 4510 pounds.
At this point, there's no word on the possibility of an all-wheel-drive Quest. Safety is especially important to minivan drivers, and Nissan has its bases covered. Dual-stage supplemental front air bags are joined by front seat-mounted side air bags and roof-mounted curtain side impact air bags with a rollover sensor. Stability and traction controls are standard, but the automaker's Blind Spot Warning system is offered only on the top-line LE trim.
Standard on all trims is a neat feature called Easy Fill Tire Alert that we hope spreads its way to all Nissan's family-oriented vehicles. Perhaps to encourage more drivers to start regularly checking tire pressure, the technology will let you know the system is working by flashing the hazard lights as you fill the tires. When the correct tire pressure has been reached, your Quest will beep the horn.
Once you're all set and on your way, the Quest has the entertainment and luxury features expected in this class. If you're prepared to spend more than 40 grand on a minivan, Nissan will be happy to oblige with features like HID headlights, a navigation system with an 8-inch screen, a power third-row seat-up function, and a comprehensive DVD entertainment system. The package includes an 11-inch VGA display for rear passengers, a 7-inch color QVGA display in the dash, DVD/CD/Flash memory, an auxiliary audio/video input jack, and even a Driver Concentration Switch.
Four Quest models are offered: the S, SV, SL, and LE. When the 2011 Quest goes on sale early next year, the S model is the one you'll see advertised in dealer ads. It has 16-inch steel wheels with wheel covers, Nissan's Intelligent Key with a push-button ignition, fold-flat second- and third-row seats, and a four-speaker sound system with a six-disc CD-player. We'd recommend upgrading to the SV, which has 16-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth, a USB port with iPod connectivity, RearView Monitor, three-zone auto temperature control and, importantly, one-touch power-sliding doors.
Things start becoming luxurious at the SL level, which has leather seats and 18-inch alloy wheels. Homelink, a power liftgate, and a Quick Release fold-flat third row are also included. The standard Quick Comfort heated front seats puts a new twist on heated seats. First, Nissan says, the system focuses on warming the body parts most sensitive to heat, like the thighs and hips. Once that's done, the seat will increase heating power on other pressure points.
The LE offers the navigation system and a Bose sound system with 12 speakers plus HID headlights, the DVD entertainment system, a power front passenger seat, manual blinds for the second and third rows, and an advanced climate control system that reduces allergens and unwanted odors.
Whatever trim you choose, the Quest is about 2 inches shorter than the Honda Odyssey and Dodge Grand Caravan. The Quest is also a couple inches taller than those minivans, but not as wide. Cargo room behind the third row seats is competitive at 35.1 cubic feet (38.4 for the Odyssey and 33.0 for the Grand Caravan). Fold down those seats in the Quest and the picture isn't quite so good: 63.6 cubic feet of space versus 83.3 in the Grand Caravan and 93.1 in the Odyssey.
Despite that cargo space difference, Nissan would, of course, rather parents take a Quest than an Odyssey. The reemergence of Nissan's minivan should help Nissan keep more drivers within the brand, potentially cutting into the market share of other models. Is the Quest good enough to compete? Consumers will decide when it goes on sale early next year.