It's a year of change in the auto industry--as usual--but in the minivan market, it's as radical as it gets.
Every minivan offered to American family car shoppers is new or revamped this year: the 2011 Toyota Sienna and 2011 Honda Odyssey are striking in their reinventions, the Chrysler minivans have great new interiors and new powertrains. The Kia Sedona gets a new grille and powertrain, too.
None are as "brand-new," however, as the 2011 Nissan Quest. Last year's family hauler hailed from Mississippi, sported fold-away second-row seats, and sold rather slowly despite its neat handling and nifty packaging.
For the new year, Nissan's rationalized some of the features of the Quest to line up with its global cousin, the Japanese-market El Grande. In the transition, it's been moved to a new production facility in Japan.
It's also stepped back in one key way--the new 2011 Quest no longer offers fold-in-the-floor seats, leaving the Chrysler minivans the only ones with that ultimate flexibility feature. It's a minor distinction, but in Chrysler's minivans, the second- and third-row seats stow under the floor line, leaving lots of vertical cargo room and with the seats up, a deep cargo bin in back. In With the Sienna and Odyssey keeping their third-row, fold-away seats, the new Quest shapes up with an interior more like the Kia Sedona than its predecessor.
There's more change under the hood, where the 3.5-liter V-6 teams up with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The gearless gearbox is found in other Nissan vehicles, but aside from a handful of Audis and conceptually some hybrids, it's relatively uncommon technology, versus a standard automatic gearbox.
Lastly, the Quest's styling continues to take a more stylish riff on the minivan shape. There's much of the Ford Flex in the Quest's rear end, but the front has a crisper, more angular look that puts more distance between more upright vans from the competition.
With power sliding side doors, entertainment features and fuel economy of 18/24 mpg, the new Quest jumps into the thick of the crowded, slow-growing minivan niche. We're driving it today outside San Diego, so follow us here or on Twitter @CarConnection as we figure out if its new take on utility works for your family.