Finally, a Nissan in a mainstream segment that possesses some of the charm and style of the brand’s many niche offerings. I love the Quest’s slab-sided styling, if only because it goes directly against the swoopy-van trend currently pursued by the new Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna. It’s almost like it’s saying, “Yeah I’m a huge van designed for carrying around juice boxes and dog kennels. You got a problem with that?” I don’t. The interior isn’t quite as spunky — no shag carpets here, like in the Cube — but is still more interesting to look at than the cabins of its main competitors. I’m too young and too single to test the van’s kid-and-crap-carrying capability, but I do like the utility of the deep underfloor storage bin behind the third row.
Alas, this Quest has an unhappy conclusion due to one very significant flaw: the powertrain. We’ve all done plenty of complaining about the VQ V-6 — apparently not enough, as it’s not yet been replaced by something modern and refined. In this application, it sounds pained as it struggles against the Quest’s 4500 pounds. Worse, the CVT automatic pins the engine in its most abrasive range. I can’t imagine tolerating this noise when the competition from Honda, Toyota, and Chrysler (Chrysler!) has made a priority of engineering quiet, smooth engines and better transmissions.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
I had two trips home in this van and I was impressed. Unlike the last Quest, this is a real van, one that I could see carting around my family in. The interior is attractive, second only to the Honda. I’m not sold on the seat-folding/cargo setup of this van yet, however. Its seats fold nearly flat but not down into the floor like in other minivans. I might miss a true, flat cargo floor.
One significant benefit of the Quest’s cargo/seat setup is the permanent underfloor cargo well in back. This is a real game-changing feature, and it might overrule any potential downside to the flat-cargo-floor concern. For 90 percent of a family’s cargo needs, this permanent storage solution combined with a quick-folding seatback would trump the traditional fold-into-the-floor bench.
Although I didn’t break out a tape measure, this van sure felt like the largest inside, had tons of room everywhere, and a good view out from all seats.
I wish this Quest were fully equipped like the others in the comparison, so it would be easier to judge versus the competition. As equipped, this van is quite a bit cheaper than the Honda, Toyota, and Chrysler. If I were ordering a Quest, I’d need to go all the way up to the LE, since it’s the only way to get the blind-spot-monitoring system. At that point you’re in the thick of the battle with the other vans, in the low-to-mid $40Ks.
Matt Tierney, Art Director
The previous-generation Quest looked a bit too weird for my liking, but I really dig the distinctive yet tasteful exterior styling of the brand-new 2011 edition. Unlike Matt, however, I actually thought that the Quest felt smaller inside than the other minivans we recently tested. The sliding door openings definitely were smaller. Also, the inside buttons that operate those power sliding doors were very small and hard to push with winter gloves on. The ingress handle on the B-pillar got in my way a couple times when I was loading the kids, but I appreciated the Nissan’s excellent headroom. I certainly did not appreciate the fact that the power sliding door’s don’t-pinch-a-person reversing function had a threshold that I found scarily too high. Luckily I — and not one of my kids — was the test subject. Nissan PR is investigating this concern …
I thought the Quest decently well, but, unlike David, I felt that the CVT worked very smoothly and unobtrusively. Of course, my two-year-old was practicing singing the alphabet song at the top of her lungs most of the weekend, so I didn’t have much chance to ruminate on engine noise. I was pleasantly shocked, however, when the ancient-looking radio head unit showed off dual functionality as a rearview camera.
Some car buyers like to spring for something that’s different from what everyone else is buying; the Nissan Cube is a great example. I’m not so sure, however, that minivan buyers care much about that, which is unfortunate for Nissan, because its Quest certainly offers something different in a relatively mundane category. The big boys — Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Caravan, Honda Odyssey, and Toyota Sienna — all sold right around 100,000 copies each in the U.S. in 2010. I suspect that Nissan, though, will find itself battling the Kia Sedona (which sold less than 22,000 units in 2010) in the second tier of minivan sales.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
This very square, blocky vehicle reminds me of modified GM Astro/Safari vans done in Japan in the 1990s. Very tall body sides. Very high cowl. Really, the styling leaves me cold. But this is a very willing powertrain, and the steering is direct. There certainly seems to have been an attempt to inject some sportiness in the vehicle. A couple ergonomic miscues: the button inside the B-pillar to close the sliding doors is tiny. Maybe Nissan did that purposely so that people wouldn’t accidentally bump them, but surely there is a better solution. The front interior door handles are very thick; it was all I could do to put my left hand around the driver’s-side handle, to grasp the door and pull it shut, so I would think that a woman with small hands might have a problem grabbing it.
My overall impressions: eager powertrain, good steering, weird styling. This just does not hang together as a whole nearly as well as the other minivans. I’m really put off by the way-too-tall body sides and the chunkiness of the front and rear. Seems like another weak attempt to make the minivan more masculine. I guess my colleagues disagree with me on this front. Let’s hope for Nissan’s sake that lots of buyers do, too.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
2011 Nissan Quest 3.5 SL
Base price (with destination): $35,150
Price as tested: $35,390
3.5-liter DOHC 24-valve V-6 engine
18-inch alloy wheels
4-wheel disc brakes with ABS
Vehicle dynamic control
Traction control system
Tire pressure monitoring system
Second row sliding/reclining captains chairs
60/40 split fold-flat third row
Leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob
Tilt/telescoping steering column
6-speaker audio system with 4.3-inch color display
USB/auxiliary audio input
Tri-zone automatic climate control
Nissan intelligent key with push-button start
Auto-dimming rearview mirror
Heated outside mirrors
Power liftgateand one-touch sliding doors
Options on this vehicle:
Carpeted first, second, third row floor mats — $180
Cargo net — $60
Key options not on vehicle:
DVD entertainment system — $2100
Dual opening glass moonroof — $1350
Bose audio system package — $1300
Fuel economy: 19/24/21 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
Size: 3.5L DOHC 24-valve V-6
Horsepower: 260 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 240 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
Curb weight: 4480 lb
Wheels/tires: 18 x 7.0-inch alloy wheels; 235/55R18 Toyo A22 all-season tires
Competitors: Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, Dodge Caravan, Chrysler Town & Country