The minivan market has fallen on hard times. A category that once garnered more than a million sales annually has fallen to less than half of that. The Nissan Quest has followed the trend downward. The last generation model was introduced for 2004, and it sold some 46,000 vehicles that year. Odd styling inside and out somewhat undeservedly ate into sales, which fell to 8400 in 2009, prompting Nissan to cancel the 2010 model. But Nissan feels the minivan market is going to rebound to at least 500,000 sales and figures there is room for a new Quest. Enter the 2011 Quest, a completely redesigned minivan looking to get a foothold among some tough Honda, Toyota and Chrysler Group rivals. Let’s see how it stacks up.
Photos courtesy of Nissan
#1. It's all new and smaller than the last model
The new Quest shares its design with the Japanese market El Grand minivan and is built in Japan instead of the United States like the outgoing model. It is still based on Nissan’s D segment platform that also hosts the Altima and Maxima sedans and the Murano crossover. However, this version is 3.3 inches shorter than the last model and it rides on a six-inch shorter wheelbase. The new design features a bold face and Nissan’s boomerang-shaped taillights, but the most striking feature is the privacy glass that surrounds the vehicle from side door to side door. It’s a unique look, but the Quest isn’t particularly attractive or innovative among minivans. Maybe that’s a good thing because the last model tried to be different and failed to sell.
#2. It comes in four models
Nissan is standardizing the model ranges throughout its lineup and the Quest is no exception. It comes in S, SV, SL, and LE models. Pricing starts at $27,750 for the S, which comes standard with cloth upholstery, cruise control, power windows and locks, power mirrors, Nissan’s Intelligent Key keyless access and starting, six-way manually adjustable front seats, four-speaker AM/FM stereo with six-disc CD changer, auxiliary input jack, manual sliding side doors, and 16-inch steel wheels. The $30,900 SV gets a 4.3-inch color dash display with a rearview camera, three-zone automatic climate control, USB port, Bluetooth connectivity, fog lights, and alloy wheels. For $34,350, the SL adds leather upholstery, heated outside mirrors, universal garage door opener, power rear liftgate, roof rails, automatic headlights, and 18-inch wheels. The top-line LE sells for $41,350 and adds a hard-drive-based navigation system, a Bose sound system, memory for the driver’s seat and exterior mirrors, second- and third-row sunshades, a power third-row seat, rear DVD entertainment, a Blind Spot Warning System, xenon headlights, and a 120-volt outlet.
#3. It'll keep you connected and entertained
The 2011 Nissan Quest offers plenty of features to keep you connected and the kids quiet. Entertainment and communications features include a 13-speaker Bose audio system, a USB port for mp3 players, Bluetooth connectivity, and Nissan’s Music Box stereo that comes with a 9.3-gigabyte hard drive to hold thousands of music files. Back seat passengers can watch an 11-inch rear DVD entertainment screen. It’s the largest on the market, but unlike some competitors’ offerings, it doesn’t allow kids to watch two shows at once. These entertainment features meet or exceed those of the Japanese competitors, but the Chrysler minivans also offer an internet router and two types of TV streaming.
#4. It has the nicest front seat of any minivan
With their utilitarian character, most minivans have functional yet simple interiors, with hard plastic surfaces on the dashboard and even the door tops. Such is the case with Toyota, Honda and Chrysler. The Quest is a welcome change. It has the nicest, most refined cabin in the class, with a soft-touch dashboard, quality materials, and excellent fit and finish. The tri-laminated leather front seats, which feature three types of cushions to more evenly distribute body pressure, are also among the most comfortable in the class.
#5. It has comfortable seating for seven
Nissan says the new Quest “gets parenting,” and that is exemplified by the easy-to-use and comfortable seven-passenger seating. All but the base model have a front center console that provides some storage space, cupholders and a tray to put life’s minutiae, but it’s not as deep or versatile as those offered in other minivans (for instance, it doesn’t have a drawer that can be accessed from the second row). The available power side doors come with buttons on the handles that can be pressed to power the doors open, which will be a boon to parents with armfuls of kids and packages. Those doors open wide and the second-row seats, which are only offered as captain’s chairs, slide forward to make access to the third row especially easy. The captain’s chairs are quite comfortable, and second-row passengers have access to a deep and useful center console that can be removed to open a path to the rear. The third row has good head and legroom, but the cushions sit too low to provide decent long-trip comfort.
#6. Cargo space is easy to access but not class competitive
Nissan says the Quest’s interior was designed with “Innovative Functionality.” We see it as cargo space that is easily accessed but far from maximized. The second-row captain’s chairs fold flat, but they’re not removable. While removable second-row seats are heavy and you need to have a place to store them, the extra space is helpful in a pinch. The Quest’s third-row seat folds quickly via a pair of quick-release buttons or pull straps. The seat folds forward, not into a well behind it. Instead, that well is covered by a pair of lids that can each hold up to 220 pounds.
The problem is total cargo space. The Quest has 35.1 cubic feet of storage space behind the third row, which is class competitive. With all the seats folded, there is 108.4 cubic feet of space. That’s a lot of room, but the Honda Odyssey, with its removable second row and a third row that folds into the rear well, has 148.5 cubic feet. The Odyssey can also fit a 4x8 sheet of plywood, but the Quest can’t. Families won’t need all that room very often, but when they do, the Quest won’t fit the bill.
#7. It gets the standard Nissan powertrain
Like the outgoing model, the 2011 Nissan Quest offers front-wheel drive and only one engine, Nissan’s proven 3.5-liter V6. In the Quest it makes 253 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. The lone transmission is a continuously variable automatic (CVT) that constantly varies gearing among a virtually infinite number of ratios.
The Quest’s powertrain is par for the class. The 3.5-liter V6 has plenty of grunt to get the van moving, though the throttle can feel a tad touchy. Passing response is decent, as the CVT quickly raises the revs when the driver stabs the throttle. Keep the gas pegged and the revs stay constant, which is the only noticeable indication that you are driving a CVT. Nissan isn’t giving a 0-60 mph time, but it should be in the 8.5-9.0-second range, which is average for the class. Fuel economy is also class typical at 18 mpg city/24 highway, but the Honda Odyssey, which is offered with cylinder deactivation technology, is the class leader with a 19/28 rating.
#8. Handling takes a step backward...
Despite its large size, the outgoing Quest was one of the best handling minivans on the market. With quick steering and surprisingly agile moves, it bordered on sporty. This model is smaller so you would think it would handle better, but that’s not the case. Nissan has slowed the steering ratio (despite a fairly heavy feel) and softened up the suspension. As a result, handling suffers. The Quest doesn’t dive into turns as quickly, leans a little more when turning or stopping, and has a tendency to plow forward instead of rotating when pushed hard through corners. It’s not unwieldly, but this reviewer prefers the way the last model drove.
#9. ...but the ride is quite pleasant
On the other hand, many drivers might prefer the softer ride of the new model. The 2011 Quest’s ride is smooth and forgiving, ironing out most potholes and rarely disrupting passenger comfort. There are other positives, too. The turning radius is as tight as the Altima sedan’s, which is impressive for such a large vehicle. The new Quest also shuts out most wind and road noise, making for a quiet cabin. The engine is also subdued most of the time, but it does emit a rather coarse whine at full throttle.
#10. It's a good effort in a class of good vehicles
The 2011 Nissan Quest is a pleasant and roomy vehicle that will make parents’ lives easier. But that can be said of just about any minivan. The Quest’s strengths are a refined and classy interior and passenger and cargo space that is easy to use. However, it lacks the ultimate cargo room of most rivals and doesn’t offer some of the connectivity features of the Chrysler minivans. The price can also get high, especially for higher end models, so be careful about which model you choose and how you equip it. We recommend the SV or SL models, likely with the optional $2100 rear DVD system.