Story and Photos by Keith Burton
Okay, I will admit this right up front, I am not a minivan guy. I have owned cars and trucks most of my life and been quite happy with them, though I have owned (for a short while) a Chevy Lumina minivan and a VW bus. But minivans have always seemed too domesticated for me. So when we Nissan delivered a spankiní new Quest, there was some trepidation on my part.
Over the last few years, minivans have had trouble competing with SUVís, which seem to have grown to be the size of buses, as the vehicle of choice among families that need to haul kids. But I can tell you, nothing, and I mean nothing, is really as good at people hauling than a minivan.
With that said, I have to add that if you have shopped around for a
minivan lately you probably have noticed that the word ďminiĒ doesnít
really suit these vehicles anymore. Like their more rugged SUV cousins,
minivans have grown and today have truly cavernous space inside. Perhaps
the best example of this new size is Nissanís Quest, which, by the way, is
built at their new $1.5-billion state-of-the-art plant in Canton,
The Quest is among the largest minivans you can buy. It offers a whopping 44-cubic feet more interior room than the previous Quest. But more than that, Nissan decided to give the Quest a look that is far and away different than other minivans that look more like boxes or giant loaves of bread. The Quest is sleekly designed with a short and aggressive front end, and an arching beltline that is appealing to some folks, and polarizing to others. Still, I like it. The Quest has ďstyleĒ and that is a feature sorely lacking in many vehicles today.
For folks that have found themselves with a family to carry around, and are used to sports cars and sedans, such as Nissanís formidable 350 Z, Nissan has built your minivan. The Quest is the Z-car of minivans in my humble opinion. That is not just because it is sleekly designed, but living under the hood is the same, though somewhat revised, version of Nissanís highly respected 3.5-liter 240-horsepower 3.5-liter DOHC V6. The same engine found in the Z, the Murano, Mazima and Altima.
Along with a nimble all independent suspension, the Quest drives and handles remarkably well for a vehicle that seems to have the interior space as a small living room.
The interior styling is also quite different. Unlike most vehicles, the dash instrumentation is located high in the center of the dash. In front of the driver, where normally live the gauge cluster, is a storage compartment in the dash with a triangular-shaped lid. Now while this dash arrangement is different at first. I found it very easy to use. As my eyes would track from the rear view mirror across the instruments in one simple glance.
The instrument cluster is also in plain view to everyone else in the Quest too. While that is a boon to back seat drivers, it does have the benefit of allowing people to help navigate when the Quest is equipped with the optional satellite navigation system. The display is just to the right of the speedometer and tach.
The other big styling difference with the Quest is what I will call the
Auxiliary Control Column. Instead of a center console, the Quest has a
semi-circular column in the center that at the top, on a slanted shelf,
are located the controls for the radio, navigation system and climate
control system. The shift lever is also located on the shelf, just to the
right of the steering wheel, and it sticks up like some inverted pistol
handle. The whole affair is very different than any other vehicle and
striking to look at.
But does it all work? After spending more than two weeks with the Quest, I can say it does work quite well. All of the controls for the Quest are right at hand with no reaching, either for the driver or front passenger. Is this important? Sure it is if you have a passel of young ones in the back and limiting distraction is important. But I liked it because it was just plain cool looking.
There is also innovation in the rest of the cabin. The Quest can be optioned with four skylights and a sunroof at the front. Let me tell you, that really brightens the interior and every passenger has a view of the sky. If you think that means the Quest is a solar cooker, be at ease. The skylights have built-in shades and the air conditioning system is more than adequate to handle the blazing sunshine.
The cabin has the feel of a first-class section of an airliner. Each seat location gets an overhead light, and the optional DVD screen is easy to see from all rear passenger positions. The middle seats are arranged like captains chairs and there is room to go from the front of the vehicle to the rear with ease.
The Quest also features an available BOSE premium sound system, an engineering first for the minivan segment
The rear-most seat also folds completely into the floor, leaving a huge luggage area. The middle seats fold forward if you need even more room. With the third seat in place, there is still a sizable place for baggage. Thatís because when the seat is up, the storage well adds to the room behind the third seat.
Any ďminiĒ van worth its salt these days has power-assisted side doors and maybe even a power tailgate hatch, and the Quest does. The sidewalk (right) side door will open with the touch of a button, and so will the rear hatch. Both have control switches near the doors inside, and at the overhead console near the rearview mirror. The key fob will also open the doors. The street side door though on our tester was not power assisted but it is available as an option.
Speaking of these doors, you will find that the doors on the Quest are the
largest of any minivan, and with its very low step-in height, the Quest is
easier to board than most cars and WAY easier than any SUV. Hey, are you
tired of climbing ladders?
So, now that we have the inside outlined, what is it like to drive. Well, you know how your favorite sporting car drove? The Quest will be close. Sure it isnít a sports car, but its handling feel beats any SUV. It tracks down the Interstate as if it is on rails. Cornering could have the passengers complaining, and the ride is supple with no harshness. We do wish though that Nissan had put a little more sound insulation in as there is more road noise than we liked, but that is really a quibble, not a complaint.
Acceleration is very good loaded and unloaded and the 5-speed computer-controlled transmission seems telepathically connected to the engine as shifts are super smooth and respond quickly to pedal positions. The steering feel is also very good with excellent feedback. And all of this is as it should be as the Quest utilizes Nissan's FF-L platform, also found on the Altima, Murano crossover SUV and the Maxima premium performance sedan.
There is a one handling caveat, the long wheelbase of the Quest does mean you have to watch how you get into some parking places. The Quest turns sharply, but you could easily find yourself somewhat out of position until you get used to it.
Safety is also a big priority with the Quest. Along with the front air bags, standard are also side head curtain supplemental air bags to help protect 1st, 2nd and 3rd row outboard occupants in side-impact collisions.
The Quest is also rated to tow up to a 3,500 pound trailer, so those of you with small pleasure boats or campers donít have to use a bulky SUV or pickup to pull a load.
Overall, the Quest is an impressive package. Its styling may be off-putting to some, but it is not a look that will grow old. The most impressive things about the Quest is how it all works together and is fun to drive. It is also very comfortable, with large roomy seats and tremendous space inside. And if you are someone that is not quite the type to drive a minivan, the Quest has a lot to offer.
Quest 3.5 3.5 Liter V6 $23,450
Quest 3.5 S 3.5 Liter V6 $24,650
Quest 3.5 SL 3.5 Liter V6 $26,350
Quest 3.5 SE 3.5 Liter V6 $32,350