Nissan comes up short in its quest for a great minivan
What We DroveNissan Quest: Review – The setup was perfect. Three members of our CarTV crew needed a rig to transport themselves and their gear from Orange County to Las Vegas for the SEMA show. Turns out Nissan had a 2007 Quest 3.5 SE available, complete with leather seats, a navigation system, a fold-flat third-row seat, and a dual-screen DVD system. Plus, the EPA-rated 25 mpg on the highway would leave more in the budget for Vegas-style entertainment.
Unfortunately, the mileage never hit much above 18 mpg, so what didn't go toward gas bought burgers in the hotel diner with an "Elvis" show. And after a 500-mile journey, the "uncomfortable" Quest failed to win any fans. Overall, our editors agreed.
Since it was completely redesigned a few years back, the Nissan Quest has been a love-it-or-hate-it minivan (our staff is currently about evenly split). The interior layout, with its center dash pillar and oddly-placed gauges, has been a little wacky, and the exterior design features more than its share of unique styling cues. Plus, quality has been a nagging issue. So, when Nissan announced that the 2007 model would address all of these issues, we wanted to determine that statement's accuracy and, of course, pass our findings on to you. What we discovered was a more agreeable interior and hit-or-miss quality, including a door that didn't fit correctly, a door that didn't always work, and discolored paint.
Under the Quest's hood is a 3.5-liter V6, a similar yet detuned version of the engine Nissan uses in several other models. With 235 horses on tap, there's plenty of power for confident highway passes, though the throttle can be touchy and the Quest feels less energetic than the relatively sporty Honda Odyssey. After a week of driving, including more than 500 miles to and from Las Vegas, we recorded 17.8 mpg (the EPA estimates 21 mpg in mixed driving). Some drivers complained about occasional hard shifts from the five-speed transmission – others never experienced any issues, and except for a few instances of hunting for the appropriate gear, found the tranny's operation to be smooth and seamless.
When considering Japan's Big 3 (Honda, Nissan, Toyota), Nissan is generally viewed as the performance-oriented brand. However, thinking back on the Odyssey and Sienna minivans we drove last year, the 2007 Quest seems to fall mid-pack in terms of handling. In contrast to the fairly responsive Honda, the Quest is too soft on those exit ramps taken a little too fast, it's steering offers road feel but feels vague, and the hard run-flat tires add an odd harshness to the ride. Collectively, it feels as though engineers coupled overly stiff shocks with soft springs, resulting in neither a completely sporty nor comfortable experience. Braking, on the other hand, was free of fault thanks to four-wheel vented discs' effectiveness and instinctive modulation.
Look at the Quest's expansive wrap-around greenhouse and you'll think that visibility is terrific. Indeed, the side glass is long, side mirrors appear ample, and the windshield is enormous. However, when the driver looks over her right shoulder, the second row headrests block the view, and the rear headrests eat up a big chunk of the rear window. Thankfully, a pull of the strap on the back of the third-row bench folds those noggin supports easily. Outside, the beltline gradually rides, making it hard to see cars traveling next to the rear passenger side, while the driver's mirror allows for a blind spot when cars are close on the left. The optional rearview camera is a huge help when backing up.
Fun to Drive
There's really only one minivan on the market that teases its driver with a slight fun-to-drive demeanor, and that's the Honda Odyssey. The Toyota Sienna falls short, as do vans from Chrysler, General Motors, Hyundai/Kia, and Nissan. The 2007 Quest is fine for covering the daily commute or running errands, as it offers enough power, a decent ride, and fuel economy that's acceptable (though not great) for such a large and heavy vehicle. That being said, there's nothing fun about it, including the vague steering, adequate but hardly scorching horsepower, and soft suspension that interestingly takes on speed bumps with harshness. But, come on – it's a minivan – fun is a possible by-product, not a crucial ingredient.
Flat. We're betting that will be the first impression of the majority of drivers who slide onto the 2007 Nissan Quest's front chair. No, the drive and passenger don't get buckets (that would connote luxuries like contours and shape) – they get chairs, albeit spacious and well-padded chairs. Seat bottoms are wide, somewhat firm, and did we mention utterly devoid of bolstering? Add in optional leather upholstery and you've got yourself a great little slip-and-slide game. The seat back is slightly curved, though what's there doesn't truly qualify as bolsters. We found the comfort level to be acceptable for short trips, but our video crew returned from a 500-mile trip complaining about the seats' lack of comfort and support.
We didn't like the 2007 Nissan Quest's front seats – we liked the rear seats even less. The second row chairs were even flatter than the front, though they did recline. The Quest lacks operable second row windows found on competitors, and the power sliding doors were at times unwilling to work as promised. Large grab handles on the front pillars assist with entry and once seated second-row passengers will enjoy lots of head and leg room, as well as folding armrests. The third-row bench is flat and stiff, with enough room for children or adults under six feet tall. It sits higher than the second row, allowing for a better view to the front.
With a winder sticker topping $40,000, we expected less noise from the 2007 Nissan Quest. There was noticeable road and tire noise, and a fair amount of wind noise around the windshield and door seams at high speeds. Hard Michelin run-flat tires exacerbated the problem. Most of the staff found it to be less than bothersome, though staffers who drove the Quest round-trip to Vegas would hardly concur. The 3.5-liter V6, which does not include silent operation among its many accolades, sounds and feels somewhat unrefined when pushed for power, but it's not raucous. One could compare the Quest's engine to a Ford V6, which has a similar grainy sensation, though the Nissan's six is more refined overall.
Cumbersome is an accurate way to describe the Quest's third-row bench seat. It's a process of pulling straps, pulling on handles, and leaning your pant legs against a possibly dirty rear bumper to get enough leverage to pull the whole unit back into the floor's deep cargo hold. There's some spring-loaded assist in there to help, but the exercise remains awkward and more complex than with competitors. Second row seats can be folded nearly flat, though not quite, and they are not easily removed. Sliding items onto a completely flat load floor from the side doors is not possible. The power tailgate button on the rear inside pillar is easy to reach but requires standing or reaching under the gate to close it.
Upon close visual inspection, the interior of our 2007 Nissan Quest tester appeared to be well-constructed, and when we started tugging on parts to uncover any problems, the only complaint revolved around a loose wardrobe hook over the second row seats. Seams around the instrument panel and glovebox could've been more consistent, and we could've done without the tinny sound when shutting the door, but otherwise we had little to criticize. The exterior, on the other hand, exhibited more than its share of issues, including a driver's door that was about ¼ inch from being flush near the roofline, a discolored front fascia, a loose grille, irregular gaps around the headlights, and a misaligned tailgate – a bit much for more than $40,000.
Materials used to construct the 2007 Nissan Quest are generally of high quality, with a few exceptions. We liked the matte, padded plastic on the dash and upper doors, and complimented the mesh headliner with matching fabric on the visors and front sunshade. Leather on the steering wheel and seats felt durable, and thoughtful touches, such as felt lining in the driver's side dash pocket, are found when inspecting the details. Rubberized grips on the main control dials were an added plus. What we didn't like were the low-budget vinyl sunshades on the overhead glass roof panels, and a rubberized gear shift knob that should've been leather.
For 2007, there are a few notable changes to the Quest's design, most significantly to the interior. The 2006 Quest housed its gauge cluster atop the center dash rather than behind the steering wheel, a move that, despite being attempted by other manufacturers, has failed to gain approval from U.S. buyers. That Quest also featured a distinct vertical dash column with a near-horizontal instrument panel. For 2007, the gauges are behind the steering wheel and that center stack has been better integrated into the dash design. Exterior updates include new wheels, a more attractive grille design, and slightly revamped lenses. The result? It looks much like the same ol' Quest, unless you're intimately aware of the previous dash layout.
Minivans typically transport people, and with those people comes their stuff. The 2007 Nissan Quest is ready for the challenge, offering average pockets on the side doors, seatback pockets, a large glovebox, two big cubbies on the center dash and console, a deep front center armrest with a removable liner and retractable cover, as well as a few lined slots for holding parking cards or coins. The lined pocket next to the driver's left knee on the dash is quite large. Third row passengers get a large cubby on the left side, and the whole crew is treated to ten cupholders (based on our seven-passenger test vehicle). When the third row seat is raised, a deep cargo well is also available.
Audio controls on our 2007 Nissan Quest 3.5 SE tester included clearly labeled buttons for seek, tune, mode, and presets on the instrument panels. A center dial with a rubber grip controls volume and power, though a few times we grabbed the heat control dial, which is positioned closer to the driver, when trying to play with the radio. Steering wheel audio buttons – including volume, mode, and tune – are great for big-thumbed fumblers. The CD and DVD players are placed below the radio. For the sake of simplicity and clean design, we wish the radio and CD player were one unit. The optional navigation system features thoughtful dash buttons, but uses a small and finicky joystick rather than the preferred touch screen.
Except for occasionally turning up the heat when we meant to crank up the tunes, our experience with the Quest 3.5 SE's triple-zone climate control system was issue free. Front passengers enjoy individual temperature control dials with rubber grips, while rear occupants get their own system. Buttons on the dash include mode, fan speed, and bless those Nissan designers – a simple off button (you might be surprised by how many systems lack such a seemingly obvious feature). Readouts for temperature and fan speed are presented on the bottom of the navigation screen, which sits atop the center dash. Rear climate controls are located overhead.
All of the controls for the stuff we all use most (power windows, power locks, power mirrors) are just where you'd expect – on the door panels. Buttons for the power doors and sunroof are operated by controls placed overhead. Nothing too unusual so far. However, try finding the heated seat buttons and you might be in for a hunt (we were, and just to prevent ourselves from feeling stupid, we'll assume you would be, too). Those buttons are a bit out of reach on the lower seats, separate from the recline and slide buttons. Also unusual is the power tailgate button mounted on the D-pillar, which requires standing below or reaching in the path of the tailgate when you want it closed.
Test Vehicle: 2007 Nissan Quest 3.5 SE
Price of Test Vehicle: $40,865 (including a $605 destination charge)
Engine Size and Type: 3.5-liter V6
Engine Horsepower: 235 at 5,800 rpm
Engine Torque: 242 lb.-ft. at 4,400 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 18/25 mpg
Observed Fuel Economy: 17.8 mpg
Dodge Grand Caravan
2nd Opinion -- Fabin
Nissan Quest – James Fabin's Opinion:
When it comes to minivans, there are a lot of expectations. You expect comfort, plenty of storage, lots of cupholders, and a great overall value. The Nissan Quest appears to not have been designed to meet those typical expectations, instead focusing on qualities not normally associated with a minivan. While its seats are very uncomfortable, its cupholders and storage bins limited, and high sticker price erases any value, it does offer a slightly sporty driving experience. The brakes are strong, the steering well weighted, and the engine relatively responsive, though our test car's transmission was not always smooth. My recommendation is to consider the Hyundai Entourage or Kia Sedona, both offering a much greater value at a far lower price.
2nd Opinion -- Sullivan
Nissan Quest – Mike Sullivan's Opinion:
For a minivan, the Quest is powerful, nimble, and features precise steering and braking, but if you are considering a minivan for more traditional reasons - like comfort, convenience, and value - it's not up to par with the competition. The driving position is awkward, the front and second row passenger seats are both stiff and uncomfortable, and family necessities like cupholders and storage compartments are scarce. In terms of performance and cargo room, the Quest does the job, but if you buy one, you'll probably have to deal with some cranky passengers.
Photos courtesy of Ron Perry