It’s safe to say there’s some baggage with Nissan’s attempts at mainstream minivans. The first and second-generation Quests, widely considered underpowered also-rans among people carriers, rode on a platform shared with the Mercury Villager. After a two-year hiatus, the nameplate returned on a bulbous, Nissan-specific van known for its otherworldly interior with center-mounted instruments and jarring exterior lines. For its idiosyncrasies, however, the Quest never rose to the top of the segment.For 2011, the fourth-generation Quest returned with striking styling, a significant punch under the hood, and the motivation to push toward the head of the class.
The Quest’s exterior employs flat, square panels to give it a unique look not to be confused with its ilk. From some angles, it’s cleverly stunning; it exudes a brick-like profile that belies its coefficient of drag (0.32 Cd), and its decidedly modern wraparound rear glass smartly reduces visual mass. There is something inherently debonair about slab-sided minivans, such as the departed Chevy Astro, that is hard to describe yet easy to ogle.
If its exterior is revolutionary, the Quest’s interior is a careful, if not derivative, evolution that panders to function over form. A sea of similarly shaped buttons and knobs, indecipherable by touch, clutter the two-tiered center stack. My SV tester was equipped with the standard radio and a small screen that includes a smartly integrated reversing camera. Models equipped with a navigation system receive an ultrawide screen replete with the center control knob nicked from Infiniti. Even on the mid-range SV, the interior featured high-end surfaces, textures and colors that hinted at luxury.
The Quest’s sole engine choice is a 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 260 horsepower, attached to Nissan’s excellent continuously variable transmission. The CVT accelerates with exigency, devoid of the frenetic, vacuum-cleaner moan associated with lesser transmissions. With overdrive disabled, it becomes quite easy to chirp the tires off the line, and downshifts are much more pronounced. Fuel economy (19/24, according to the EPA) is respectable, and a 20-gallon tank allows for long highway slogs.
The ride is composed and compliant for a van with a powertrain so surprisingly willing. The suspension made quick work of rough surfaces in Manhattan, allowing for a comfortable ride in any of the Quest’s three rows of seats. The highway ride is similarly tuned for comfort and soaks up imperfections in road surfaces. Along my coastal Rhode Island handling loop, the chassis was more than competent and exhibited no signs of slop or lag over undulating surfaces and quick corners. It does not seek to be a canyon carver, but neither is it slow to respond and adapt.
As its size implies, the expansive Quest is also a serious hauler. The second row folds flush with the third row to produce an enormous, squared-off cargo area. With the third row up, a deep cargo well accommodates both grocery bags and suitcase. Not as useful is a fragile, removable cover for the well that separates the underfloor storage but fails to hide taller items.
There are few nits to pick, as far as minivans go. The Quest’s most significant fault is its flat, unsupportive cloth seats, which proved to be rather uncomfortable over a six-hour, stop-and-go escape from Manhattan. (Leather seats, available in higher-level models, might make all the difference.) The initial ergonomic challenge of the instruments and gauges is a peccadillo by comparison, as they become intuitive with regular use.
The Quest is a competent performer in an ever-expanding class of minivans. Its price, which starts at $25,990 and stretches to nearly $45,000 fully optioned, is competitive with the Honda Odyssey and the Toyota Sienna. It offers prospective buyers a stylish, confident and powerful alternative to slightly more anonymous and reserved competitors. And while the Quest might not be a game changer, it’s now a true competitor, and easily swallows the baggage once associated with its predecessors.