2011 Nissan Quest Review
By Thom Cannell
The Auto Channel
Why minivans? I mean they are so 1987, uh, make that “like totally 1990”, or should that read “so 2000-maybe, kinda, 2010? Absurd, isn’t it, to fail to understand that families need transportation regardless the decade, buying half a million minivans every year. Early in 2010 Toyota delivered a third-generation Sienna and Honda’s newest Odyssey went on sale last fall. The newest arrival is Nissan’s fourth generation Quest, which is totally redesigned and reengineered.
Despite every attempt at stigmatization the minivan retains its cachet as the premier people moving box on wheels. Box on wheels Quest is, despite Nissan’s designers best efforts to convince our eyes that Quest is not just such a box. Instead, Nissan designers emphasized the linebacker muscularity Quest’s front face presents and concentrated on visually slimming the sides and rear, an auto designer’s equivalent of vertically striped sweaters and suits. One trick is smoked privacy glass that wraps around three sides of the vehicle in a visually unbroken line. However, the result cannot disguise the fact that this is a massive vehicle, albeit one with three rows of seating for eight, surprisingly decent fuel economy of 19 city and 24 highway miles per gallon, and solid driving characteristics.
Every Quest features three rows of seats with the second and third rows folding flat to create a completely flat load floor that appears suitable for moving refrigerators and dogsleds. There are no hefty, bulky second row seats to strain your back during removal, nor garage space needed for seat storage. Just push a lever and second row seats fold. Third row seats are even easier; a gentle push on an electric button drops them forward and the same button can majestically raise them back into position. Behind the third row is a deep cargo well topped by removable covers that provides hidden storage suitable for strollers, or other precious cargo.
Seating in the third row is comfortable, even with the second row pushed back and tilted towards your knees. Average sized folks will find 2-3 fingers of room between knees and the backwards-tilted seat. Furthermore, the third row is elevated for improved forward vision and less motion sickness. Second row seating is similar; it tilts and slides and offers decent knee room. A minor quibble is that, when tilting the second row forward for third row access, the second row does not anchor for entry support. If you’re stuffing kids into the second and third row that’s no problem as you’ll likely remove the second row center console and herd the kids between the seats. For nimble adults it’s only a minor annoyance; to exit you can easily grab the handle over the door or another one mounted to the B pillar.
One outstanding feature is how the sliding door operates. Quest uses a handsfree key and push button start system. Because the vehicle recognizes when the key is nearby, RFID for you geeks, the sliding doors open with a light touch of an electrically operated button. Thus a spare elbow, knuckle, or finger can get the door open when you’re laden with babies, toddlers, or groceries.
Once seated in Quest’s newly upgraded front seats (they incorporate a triple layer of progressively stiffer foams for increased comfort), you’ll experience a quiet and luxurious vista. Indeed, this is a vehicle for those who feel confined in a car the size of a Versa, Altima, or even a Maxima sedan. Entry and exit are easy, and the seat height allows an easy step in, no ladders or jumping. The interior, which Nissan likens to a modern great room, is open and generous due to a tall roof height. (Fold-flat seats required 50 mm of vertical space and that height was added to the roof line.)
Interiors preserve familiar Quest amenities like the mom-friendly, kid-monitoring conversation mirror and multiple cup and bottle holders (16 in total), an available premium Bose 13-speaker audio system that you’ll likely team with in-dash navigation and rear view video monitor. Many families will also opt for the wide-screen 11” DVD entertainment system; everyone will appreciate the advanced climate control system, standard, that includes automatic recirculation, anti-allergen air filter, and negative ion generator which neutralizes odors that originate outside or inside the vehicle.
You may consider options like a power liftgate, fog lamps, and Xenon headlamps to accessorize the exterior, along with dual glass moonroofs, functional roof rack, or rear roof spoiler.
Safety is arguably the most important selling point for family vehicles and tire inflation is an under-appreciated aspect of safety. Bad things happen when tires loose even 10% of their pressure, affecting vehicle stability and handling response. Tire pressure monitoring (TPMS) systems are mandated and can warn you of low tire pressure. After that, when you put the quarters into the filling station air machine, Quest is the first minivan to add Nissan’s Easy Fill Tire Alert to help you know when you’ve added enough air to your tires. When you reach the correct tire pressure, it honks the horn and when filling, your hazard lamps flash so you know it’s working. Another safety feature is an available Blind Spot Warning system to warn you of vehicles in your blind spot. It illuminates a warning light in the appropriate side view mirror.
Power, braking, and steering response are active aspects of safety, the fundamental mechanicals that provide power and grace. Quest has abundant power from a 3.5-liter V-6 producing 253 horsepower and 236 pound feet of torque. Coupled to a stout CVT automatic transmission that can be manually controlled, it gets you up all but the steepest hills with total ease. Faced with starting up extreme hills from a stop, the powertrain feels a bit strained, but isn’t. That feeling is explained by Nissan engineers as control strategies that avoid overheating the CVT transmission.
What you may notice more often is the electronic, speed sensitive power steering. EPAS, as the industry calls it, responds more rapidly than typical hydraulic steering and has two other advantages. One, it uses power only when needed, second, it can be modified so suit individual models. Thus one EPAS module can be used in cars and minivans and so lower your purchase price by a few bucks. Nissan has tuned the steering for precise handling and enough feedback so it feels solid and nicely responsive whether parallel parking or on the highway.
We tested preproduction models which had yet to receive their final calibration for American roads, which we felt as bottoming over bumps or potholes. Quest uses independent suspension at all four wheels, coil springs and an anti-roll bar in the front and multilink rear. The shortfall, easily remedied, was a lack of damping force from the shock absorbers. That is surely a small challenge and we look forward to trying the final versions on our harsh Michigan roads. Brakes, discs at all four corners, felt ready for stop-and-go traffic in any city, particularly in southern California where we tested, retested, and re-retested them.
In short, Quest is roomy, strikingly designed, and very family friendly. It incorporates practical advanced technology in an easy-to-use fashion and makes passengers, each of them, feel coddled and comfy. It has plenty of power, good handling, good-in-segment fuel economy, and exterior styling that won’t leave your neighbors wondering what brand of minivan you’re driving.