First Drive: 2011 Nissan Quest
Seeing the Quest in person brings to mind a design executed in drywall. The sides of this van are enormous and nearly flat, a perception enhanced by the van's 6-foot 1-inch height and fact the doors wrap under the body. Even the optional 18-inch wheels look small in the wheel wells. On the plus side, the new Quest displays more design personality than the all-new Toyota Sienna and appears more cohesive than the all-new Honda Odyssey. The Sienna, however, looks a bit cleaner (if blander) because the rear-door tracks are concealed along the lower edge of the rear windows.
The reality with minivans is that their exteriors are secondary to their interiors. You must open the doors to see where manufacturers spend the majority of their development dollars. Do so on the Quest and you'll find a practical 7-passenger environment that's standard on every trim level.
The front compartment is roomy and comfortable. Like nearly all contemporary minivans, the dash thrusts rearward in a shape that harkens back to a day when rear-wheel-drive full-size vans has their engines mounted between the front seats. The modern design is useful because it places controls within easy reach of the driver and front passenger. The front thrones proved most comfortable for the driver. The front passenger had to beware of the protruding center console. The surface facing the front passenger is hard plastic and it's an unpleasant surface for a knee to rub against.
Opening either rear door reveals more than 143.5 cubic feet of maximum cargo space or seats for another five bodies. Access through the rear doors was engineered with little people in mind. A recessed step lowers step-in height to just 15.7-inches. Given the van's exterior shape, you'd expect plenty of room for those in the second and third rows, and there is.
If you must know, there are 16 cup holders.
When van duties require carrying cargo rather than passengers, the second- and third-row fold easily. The seats are not removable, so cargo gets loaded on top of the seat backs and the seats don't all touch when they are folded down, so the vehicle doesn't quite have a perfectly flat and even floor to load objects onto.
In addition to the cargo space above the folded seats, the Quest features a huge cargo well behind the third-row. How large? Big enough for your 5-foot 9-inch author to climb in and close the twin covers over his only slightly folded body. The strong yet lightweight lids align with the main floor of the minivan and can support more than 200 pounds.
To help make room for the well, the Quest's spare tire is located under the second-row seats. The under-chassis mount is only accessible from outside the vehicle, and it's a considerable reach. With this arrangement, you'd better hope you never get a flat tire.
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.