First Drive: 2011 Nissan Quest

Rex Roy

Tertiary to many minivan buyers is the powertrain. Adequate, reliable, relatively efficient propulsion is enough. No lusty exhaust notes, please.

Nissan's familiar 3.5-liter V-6 is the Quest's single engine. A CVT is the only transmission. In this fitment, the V-6 makes an ample 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque. Generally speaking, CVTs like torquey engines, and in this case, the two play well together.

Power? There's plenty. Torque steer? A little, but only sometimes.

The van is happiest when driven smoothly. The CVT and V-6 deliver seamless acceleration that's smooth enough to put any baby to sleep in its car seat. More aggressive acceleration is less fluid. When rushed, the CVT and engine dawdle while selecting the right gear ratio and engine RPM the driver needs leading to some throttle lag and blustery driveline noise.

Final EPA figures were not yet available (the van goes on sale early in calendar year 2011), but Nissan expects 18 mpg city, 24 mpg highway.

Nissan builds the 4,300-pound Quest on a modified version of the corporation's D-Platform, the same front-wheel drive architecture used for the Maxima, Altima and Murano. The wheelbase is 118.1-inches, identical to the Odyssey and an inch shorter than the Sienna.

The Quest proved smooth and quiet while driving around town. No corners were late-apexed during the research required for this article. The electrically-assisted steering didn't encourage verve-filled driving thanks to its Zanax-numbed feel.

While not as quiet as a summer vacation-town's library in the dead of winter, interior noise levels were subdued. If you conduct your own test drive you'll hear some engine noise up front and whispering wind noise in the back.

Realizing that family vehicular budgets cover a range, Nissan is fielding four models. The Quest S ($27,770) is the price-leading model with seven-passenger seating, a proximity keyless entry, pushbutton start system, six airbags, a six-CD audio system, removable second-row console and 16-inch steel wheels with wheel covers. Each successive model adds content until you reach the fully-loaded, NAVI/DVD/11-inch LCD/blind-spot-warning equipped LE ($41,350).

Because they deliver on practicality, minivans survived the age of the SUV and seem to be holding their own against the onslaught of crossovers. People who count such things peg the minivan segment for 2011 at being something more than 500,000 units and growing. Statisticians surmise that some of the renewed interest in the segment is just because of the new product from Toyota, Honda, Chrysler, Dodge, and now Nissan. Designed purposefully for families, the 2011 Quest is absolutely competitive with the segment's other new entries.

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