Like a sleepy homeowner who manages to unlock the door after fumbling with his key, Nissan has finally gotten the tumblers to drop and gained parity with the leading minivan manufacturers.
The instrument of this achievement is the 2011 Quest, once an oddball contender against the big guys in the field: Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, and Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town and Country.
When the previous generation Quest arrived in 2004, it was touted as a sporting alternative to the competition. But it had a quirky interior design with all of the instruments mounted above the center stack. The driver looked through the steering wheel at a storage compartment cover.
It proved so unpopular that, after three years, Nissan did a running re-design and moved the instruments back to traditional locations. Still, sales continued to decline and the company went so far as to ax the 2010 model, promising to revive the Quest later.
Now it’s here, and the result is so mainstream and family-friendly that it runs wheel to wheel with its two major import competitors, the Odyssey and Sienna.
However, the Quest’s new slab-sided styling bears more of a resemblance to the American contenders, the Chrysler Town and Country and the Dodge Grand Caravan. But the Nissan designers added enough curves here and there to give the Quest a distinctive look, particularly when viewed from the rear.
Nevertheless, Nissan does not regard the Quest as a direct competitor to the Chrysler minivans because the brands attract different groups of buyers. The Quest is aimed squarely at its Japanese counterparts, the Odyssey and Sienna.
The three are so close in dimensions, interior space, weight, power and fuel economy as to be almost indistinguishable from a specifications standpoint. For example, the Quest and Odyssey each are 16 feet 11 inches long, with the Sienna just three inches shorter. All use 3.5-liter V6 engines with 260 horsepower in the Quest, 248 in the Honda and 266 in the Toyota.
Nissan scored a coup in one respect. The seats in the second and third rows fold to deliver a flat floor for maximum cargo carrying. On both the Odyssey and Sienna, the second-row seats must be removed to maximize the cargo area.
The Quest’s is a solution similar to that on the Chrysler minivans, which offer a so-called Stow ’n’ Go feature where the second-row seats fold into the floor. However, those seats are necessarily fairly thin to fit into the floor, while the Nissan’s second-row seats are plush by comparison because the seatbacks simply flip down.
That makes for a higher load floor, which produces a bonus of a hideaway cargo bin under the folded third-row seat, where the third rows on the Odyssey and Sienna fold into and fill the well.
The designers paid particular attention to the interior, and especially the first- and second-row seats, which are supportive but have so much extra padding they almost squish when you sit in them. Third-row passengers, however, are consigned to harder and flatter surfaces along with a shortage of hip room if three people are exiled back there. As with any minivan, gaining access to the third row requires some athletic ability.
There’s adequate power from the 253-horsepower engine to move the Quest’s 4,480 pounds. The juice gets to the front wheels through one of Nissan’s continuously-variable automatic transmissions. Nissan has been a leader in CVTs, which have no shift points because they use belts and pulleys to vary the power delivery.
Unlike some CVTs, where the engines sometimes roar away and sound as if something is slipping, the Quest’s transmission delivers the power quietly and progressively.
There are four versions of the 2011 Quest: S at $28,550; SV, $31,700; SL, $35,150, and LE, $42,150. All models get full safety equipment, seven-passenger seating, pushbutton starting, remote locking, air conditioning and an audio system with CD changer.
The tested SL model added a load of equipment, including one-touch power sliding side doors, 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels, tri-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery and trim, power rear hatch, rear-view monitor, Bluetooth connectivity, heated front seats, eight-way power driver’s seat with lumbar adjustment, garage-door opener and heated outside mirrors.
To make things more family-friendly, the sliding side doors have tiny buttons in the door handles. A touch of the button sends the door sliding open or closed; you do not need to pull the handle. It works the same way for the powered rear hatch. Out back, on the tested SL model, another touch of a button folds the third-row seats. If you move up to the LE model, the third row is motorized to raise the seatbacks.
The top-line LE model comes with a navigation system, 9.3-gigabyte hard drive for music, 13-speaker Bose audio system, memory driver’s seat and outside mirrors, DVD entertainment system, blind-spot warning, the powered third-row seats and Xenon headlights.
Only one option is available on the LE: front and rear motorized sunroofs, both of which open fully. The DVD entertainment system and the Bose audio are available as options on the other models.
- Model: 2011 Nissan Quest SL four-door minivan.
- Engine: 3.5-liter V6, 260 horsepower.
- Transmission: Continuously variable automatic.
- Overall length: 16 feet 11 inches.
- EPA passenger/cargo volume: 167/35 cubic feet.
- Weight: 4,480 pounds.
- EPA city/highway fuel consumption: 18/24 miles to the gallon.
- Base price, including destination charge: $35,150.
- Price as tested: $35,150.