Although the slab-sided styling isn't very appealing to me, I generally was impressed with the Nissan Quest. I get the impression the entire vehicle has been carefully designed to make it as practical and as sensible as possible. The extremely low step-in height and quick power sliding doors are very convenient. All the switches and instruments are incredibly easy to use. The third row of seats offers enough space for me to sit there comfortably, and it can effortlessly be folded flat.
We often criticize continuously variable transmissions because they can dull the driving experience, but I think CVTs are ideally suited to a minivan. The Quest accelerates smoothly without the jarring of gearshifts, which is perfect for a vehicle like this that will be used to chauffeur family members. The engine never "groans" or feels strained by the transmission, and it is still plenty quick for highway merging.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
I don't typically spend a lot of time in minivans, but I have logged a decent number of miles in a Honda Odyssey, since we just had one in the Four Seasons fleet. There are some things the Quest does a lot better than the Odyssey; for example, the entire interior feels much more upscale and luxurious than an Odyssey's. The materials used inside the Quest are almost as nice as I'd expect in an Infiniti, and the navigation system is very simple to use. Nissan's use of a CVT makes a lot of sense in the Quest, and it means there's never an abrupt shift like the Honda Odyssey serves up occasionally.
In terms of styling, neither the Quest nor the Odyssey is particularly handsome. This generation of Quest is certainly more toned down than the last one, which looked like a futuristic spaceship and sold in about the same quantities. I still can see a lot more people warming up to the Odyssey's looks than this latest Quest, though.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
I remember being impressed with the Quest when we had one in a year ago, and if anything, I'm more impressed after spending a weekend with this one. Since I'm fresh out of a Toyota Sienna and our Four Seasons Odyssey, I'll limit my comparisons to those two competitors.
I personally like the big, blocky, unapologetic "I'm a van, dammit!" styling. And the boxy look on the outside pays dividends within: the lack of tumblehome (inward slope from windowsill to roof) translates directly to an airy, room-like cabin with straight, square walls and a flat ceiling. It also means stadium-esque headroom with a best-in-class (nearly) 41 inches up front, and 38 inches for the third-row passengers. (All three rows in the Honda are at least 38, while the Sienna starts at 39.1 for the front row but falls below 36 for the third row.) The Quest's higher, squared roofline aids access to the third row as well as general maneuverability within the cabin -- key for parents who must climb around to buckle in kids. It also means that being stuck in the third row feels significantly less confining in the Nissan. In the Odyssey, the side windows taper to comparatively tiny portholes by time they get to the third row, while passengers riding in back of the Sienna start to feel the encroaching headliner and second-row seatbacks; none of that is an issue in the Quest. The Nissan's second-row sunroof adds immensely to the open feeling of the cabin without sacrificing headroom. Families with older children, or who will regularly use the third row may vault the Quest to the top of the list for those reasons alone, and justifiably so -- everyone along for the ride will feel more comfortable on a long journey.
Back up front, the driver is treated to a well-appointed and attractive dashboard. The finish is top-notch -- approaching Infiniti levels -- besting the Honda from padded door panel to door panel, and absolutely embarrassing the plasticky, monotone Sienna. Honda's arrangement of controls is better, but the Nissan is close behind. Both feature clear, easy-to-use and distinct zones for navigation, climate, and entertainment with buttons and knobs for all functions, unlike the touch-screen-dependent Toyota. All three suffer from a console-mounted shift lever that gets between the driver and some controls, but the Nissan's feels most obtrusive, obscuring more of the lower-mounted climate and stereo panels than the other two. All three offer retractable cupholders low on the center stack, but only the Honda's has a change drawer plus the Coolbox bin at the bottom. The center floor console offers a convenient tray with power and USB jacks (which is better than the Toyota), but the Honda beats both with a huge enclosed storage bin between the armrests. The Quest counters with a much smaller and less useful drawer that emerges from the front of the console.
Throughout the cabin, carpeted floor mats look and feel thick and soft, and hard plastics are banished to the lower halves of all doors, and rich and glossy faux-wood accents are well distributed. The Quest gives up the center seat in the second row offered by the Honda and the Toyota in favor of a console with a nice-size storage bin, something that may be a decisive factor to some buyers but not to me.
The driving experiences are all pretty close as far as I'm concerned, and to most buyers this will rank behind the usability and functional aspects and the aesthetics of these vehicles. The Quest's CVT transmission never attracted my attention one way or the other, which puts it ahead of the Honda's clunky six-speed automatic. The 3.5-liter V-6 seemed up to the task, although perhaps not as spirited as the Sienna's. No mechanical differences are great enough to me to be a major decision factor when choosing among these three minivans. The EPA fuel economy rating is slightly better for the Honda than the for Nissan, which barely edges the Toyota, but in the real world all three are probably close enough to call a wash.
In summary, I think I'd rank the Honda ahead of the Nissan by a hair, due mostly to some interior details such as more dedicated storage that better fits my needs, but the Nissan might very well work best for larger families or those with older kids, with the Toyota a viable runner-up to either. All three are very good, and it comes down to personal taste and individual needs and preferences more than anything else.
Matt Tierney, Photographer
I haven't driven a Kia Sedona in quite a while, but the Nissan Quest is possibly the least exciting-to-drive minivan on the market today (and yes, some minivans are actually pretty decent to drive). Unlike the impressive Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna, the Nissan's steering is completely uninspiring. The Quest's continuously variable transmission does its job unobtrusively and effectively, but it seems to make acceleration slower than what it would otherwise be. Even with the lack of urge, however, torque steer is present whenever you give it a lot of gas from slow speeds.
That said, I still like the Quest a fair amount, primarily because its styling is quite distinctive inside and out but not, to my eye, ugly like the Toyota Sienna's face. The Nissan's big, boxy shell means that there's lots of space inside. In people mode, the Quest is very nice, as the second-row seats can move fore and aft quite a bit (although not as much as the Sienna's). Rear passengers can be treated to a large opening sunroof over the second-row seats, which I was very surprised to discover. Temperatures were a bit too cold for me to drive with both sunroofs open, but my two small children seemed to really like the open-sky view. (It's nothing like the panoramic fixed skylights that you find in many crossovers and sedans, though.)
As Matt Tierney implied, all minivans on the market today are very good -- in large part because minivans are inherently so useful. Most minivan purchase decisions will likely come down to personal preference, and the Nissan has several distinctive qualities that give it a potential edge.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
I give the Quest a lot of credit just for looking so weird. Most minivans do their best to disappear in the parking garage but the Quest, much like the smaller Juke and Cube, lets its freak flag fly with plywood-board flat sides and oddly shaped, heptangular grille. Some people won't like it, but that's fine. The interior likewise is styled a step above most competitors. A few organic shapes and soft touch surfaces on the center console go a long way toward making you feel like your sitting in something more than a moving, $45,000 daycare facility.
Alas, the driving experience is pretty standard -- maybe even substandard -- minivan fare. Winding around our parking garage, I immediately missed the steering sharpness of our Four Seasons Honda Odyssey, even though that vehicle had more than 30,000 miles on the odometer when I last drove it. I'm normally a not a fan of either Nissan's vocal V-6 or its CVT transmissions, but that pairing works OK here. The 3.5-liter is plenty peppy and its growling at least injects some character into what is otherwise an isolated, soulless driving experience.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
Wait, this looks weird? Does anyone remember the third-generation Quest, with its column-like center stack, and its attempt to revive the Volkswagen Samba's small skylights along the perimeter of the roof? Or 2009's Forum concept, which seated passengers beneath an endless moonroof in swiveling barcaloungers inspired by baseball gloves? By Nissan van standards, the Quest - which, from its exterior, bears a passing resemblance to the Forum - is rather conventional.
I find the Quest to be surprisingly upscale. The upright roofline, vertical C-pillars, and curvaceous fenders remind me a bit of the large Infiniti QX56 sport-utility vehicle. The Infiniti flashbacks aren't limited to the exterior, either: as Phil Floraday notes, this top-tier Quest LE model boasts little touches that feel as if they belong in a luxury liner, not a family mover. Stitched, leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel, leather seats with piping accents, and luscious wrap-around wood trim all help the Quest feel like a million bucks - or, at the very least, worth its price tag, which eclipses $40,000 in LE guise.
The front cupholders and cubby spaces may not be the most impressive designs on the market, but there are still several smart features I do like. The flip-down bag holders on both front seat backs are handy for trash bags, backpacks, or purses. Both power sliding doors open and close remarkably quickly, which is quite nice in inclement weather. And since the Quest's third row seat backs fold forward and flat, there's still a sizable cargo cubby aft of the seat cushions that's usable when the third row is stowed away.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor