Thumbs Up: The first minivan I actually enjoyed driving.
Thumbs Down: Only available with a continuously variable transmission.
Buy This Car If: You want to break away from the rest of the minivan herd.
The 2011 Nissan Quest may look like a minivan, it may drive like a minivan and it may haul passengers and cargo like a minivan. Nissan even promotes it as being a minivan, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: the Nissan Quest was the first minivan I’ve driven that didn’t require me to wear a hat and sunglasses. I’m just not a minivan kind of guy, and even the best of the breed bore me to tears: except, that is, the 2011 Nissan Quest. I actually enjoyed driving it, even if I can’t quite put a finger on why.
Nissan’s 3.5 liter V-6 makes decent power, even if it is tied to a noisy and unsatisfying CVT gearbox. Handing and braking were good for the category, but let’s be honest here: no minivan is going to accelerate, brake or handle like a sports sedan. It was above the class average in comfort behind the wheel, but even that can’t explain my fondness for the Quest.
Maybe it’s the van’s styling, which reminds me of Nissan’s funky-fresh cube, but in a good way. I’m usually not a fan of chrome trim, but the Quest uses it well to define the greenhouse and accent both the front grill and rear hatch. The limo tint rear windows give the van a bit of attitude, and really work well with darker paint colors (like the Dark Mahogany paint on my tester). Call it mojo for lack of a better term, but whatever the reason, the new Nissan Quest is the first minivan I’d write a check for, assuming I needed the ability to haul six passengers on a regular basis.
The 2011 Quest is a ground-up redesign of Nissan’s minivan offering. In terms of exterior styling, Nissan attempted to blend the traditional minivan shape with a bit of edgy style, most evident in the boxy rear and overhanging roof spoiler. Minivan buyers don’t go for radical designs, so Nissan played it (relatively) safe, making the new Quest distinctive enough without being over the top. In my eyes, at least, it’s the best looking minivan on the market.
Still, no one buys a minivan because of exterior styling. People buy minivans because they need to haul passengers and cargo on a regular basis. If you fit that category and haul up to six others, the Quest should be near the top of your shopping list. If you need to haul seven others, the Quest won’t do it for you since the second row includes two captains chairs instead of the traditional bench. I view that as a good thing, since the rear seats are a lot more comfortable than a traditional bench seat, especially for longer drives.
The most comfortable seats in the house are still up front, and the Nissan Quest seats are all-day long comfortable. Both driver and passenger get powered seats, and the front row chairs are heated. The driver’s seat also features a memory setting, crucial for accommodating family members of differing height and inseam length. Front seats include armrests for driver and passenger, at least in the range-topping LE trim.
The second row captains chairs may be the most desirable seats in the house. They give you the front row view of the ceiling-mounted 11-inch screen for the onboard DVD system, they offer plenty of head and legroom and the side windows even have manually deployed sun shades. If you need to access the third row seats, or if you you need maximum cargo room, the second row seats tumble forward. If that still doesn’t leave you the space required to haul that grandfather clock from the garage sale, the second row seats can be removed for even more cargo capacity.
The third row seat will haul three children or two adults in relative comfort. Unlike many third-row equipped vehicles, the back seats in the Quest feature an adjustable seat back angle, which makes even drawing the short straw comfortable on longer trips. When not in use, the third row seats fold down to make a level cargo bed.
I liked the two-arch design of the Quest’s dashboard, and I’m glad that Nissan is now “borrowing” the same type of interface for nav and data input found on Infiniti vehicles. I wasn’t fond of the center-stack-mounted shifter, which blocked my access to the radio presets. It’s a minor detail, since there are redundant controls on the steering wheel, but it’s still an annoyance. Does a minivan need a console mounted shifter? Why not a simple column mounted lever?
I was duly impressed with the cargo space inside the Quest, even with the third row seats in place. There was plenty of room for groceries or even a trip to the local home center, unless you were stocking up on sheets of plywood or drywall. That’s not always the case with three row-vehicles; the Chevy Tahoe Hybrid, for example, doesn’t even give you room enough for five bags of groceries in the hatch with the third-row seat in place.
Power comes from Nissan’s ubiquitous 3.5-liter V-6, and in Quest duty the engine is rated at 260 horsepower and 240 foot-pounds of torque. If there’s a downside, it’s the continuously variable transmission used by Nissan throughout their product line. Nissan’s CVT may be the best of the bunch, but I still find it noisy and unresponsive compared to a conventional automatic transmission. As good as the Quest is, I can’t help but think it would be better (and, perhaps, more fuel efficient) with a seven speed automatic transmission. We can’t have that, and I’ll give praise where it’s due: Nissan’s CVT, at least in my opinion, is the most functional unit on the market.
The Quest will get from zero to sixty in just under nine seconds, which is on par with others in the segment. Fuel economy is rated at 19 mpg city, 24 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined. In city-heavy driving, my press fleet tester delivered an indicated 19.8 mpg.
The Quest is a big minivan, but underway it drives much smaller than it actually is. The ride was comfortable without being too soft, and handling seemed better than average for the class. It’s subjective, since I don’t run slalom, skidpad and braking tests on the vehicles I review, but I’d slot the Quest in above the Toyota Sienna for handling and on par with the Honda Odyssey. It’s still not as entertaining behind the wheel as a Nissan Maxima would be, but you’re not going to (legally) fit seven passengers in a Maxima sedan, either. If you need that capability, the 2011 Nissan Quest is definitely worth a look.
Base price on my 2011 Nissan Quest 3.5 LE tester was $42,160, including a destination charge of $810. Options included the $1,350 Dual Sunroof Package, $180 Three-Row Floormat Package and the $60 Cargo Net for a total vehicle price of $43,750. For comparison, a similarly equipped Honda Odyssey Touring Elite would sticker at $44,335, while a comparable seven-seat Toyota Sienna Limited would list for $47,406.