The minivan is loved and embraced by some parents just as much as it's loathed and shunned by others. Regardless which camp you're in, minivans are still the gold standard for family utility and all-around usefulness.
The Nissan Quest and Honda Odyssey are two we've rated highly in the past. Both were new for the 2011 model year and have seen several rounds of minor updates and improvements since then. In their current forms, the Odyssey has continued its long hot streak of minivan goodness, with better gas mileage and more features, while the Quest has taken several steps back in size, flexibility, and functionality.
Minivans sell on just a few factors: safety, flexibility, and features. In each of those ways, the Odyssey handily wins this face-off. The Quest is smaller a little more city-friendly, and it steers as well as or better than the Odyssey. It's also one of the best-looking of today's minivans, too, with its bulldog nose and its airy greenhouse.
Beyond that, the Odyssey just clobbers the Quest. In safety scores and features, it circles the bases around the Nissan: the Honda's a Top Safety Pick and earns five stars from NHTSA, while the Quest has earned one of the lowest scores yet in the IIHS' newest small-overlap crash test.
Flexibility is key here too, and the Odyssey's three-row seating is much more spacious and useful than the seven-passenger configuration in the Quest. The eight-passenger, three-row Odyssey has a third-row seat that folds flat into the floor to create a longer load space; the Quest's third row folds down but not into the floor, leaving tiered cargo spaces that can be convenient or a nuisance, depending on your needs.
Neither the Odyssey or the Quest has fold-away second-row seats, but the Honda's second-row seats tilt and slide outward for more room. The Quest used to have a cabin with two rows of disappearing seats like Chrysler's minivans, which makes the new one such a letdown.
For entertaining the troops, you'll have to buy more expensive minivans, regardless of brand. Both Honda and Nissan offer goodies like a DVD entertainment system and power sliding doors and tailgates, and neither has the trick features like Chrysler's in-car wireless internet. The HondaVAC vacuum system in the Odyssey Touring Elite wins here; it's well integrated and it's just plain clever.
Finally, for performance, both the Quest and Odyssey depend on V-6 engines for performance. The Honda sports a 6-speed automatic and the Quest uses a continuously variable transmission to eke out better acceleration and gas mileage. The Quest handles pretty well, nearly as well as the benchmark Honda, but its drivetrain emits a little more noise and does much worse on city fuel economy tests than the Honda. Neither model offers all-wheel drive, either: Toyota's Sienna is the only minivan left in that market segment.
Fully trimmed, both vans top $40,000, a number that would make us nervous in the face of future college bills. Moderately equipped, the Odyssey still strikes us as the better buy thanks to superior safety scores and its better interior room. If you want a frugal, flexible minivan with a rock-bottom price, we'd also seek out the base Toyota Sienna or better yet, the value-packed versions of the Dodge Grand Caravan, which leads the functionality and feature race while posting some unimpressive crash-test scores of its own.