2011 Nissan Quest Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
January 24, 2011

The minivan buyer prizes space, flexibility and efficiency—and the 2011 Nissan Quest has taken steps back on all those fronts.

If you've been shopping for a new family minivan this year, you're probably confused.

All is forgiven. There’s plenty of action on the minivan front this year. As luck would have it, every minivan model that’s sold in America is being updated or replaced for the 2011 model year. You and other family-car shoppers are faced with completely new versions of the 2011 Toyota Sienna and 2011 Honda Odyssey, for starters. The 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country have been revamped, too, with new interiors and new powertrains. Even the 2011 Kia Sedona gets a new grille and a new drivetrain this year.

But none of these have been so dramatically changed as the 2011 Nissan Quest. The Quest, through the 2009 model year, had been a built-in-Mississippi also-ran in the minivan market. While it had excellent performance, intriguing styling and one of the most flexible interiors in the segment, the Quest didn’t sell well. As a result, the U.S.-made Quest has been discontinued, and the name now is applied to an upgraded version of Nissan’s new Japanese-market Elgrand minivan.

Review continues below

While it's more attractive and more nimble--maybe the best minivan in America, in both respects--the new Quest also is now the smallest, least flexible and least fuel-efficient minivan, when it once trumped almost all comers in all those ways. It looks the part of a smaller, more sporty minivan, but the cabin suffers from some misplaced controls for features added to please American tastes.

The Quest’s new V-6 and CVT powertrain are probably the best combination yet of those pieces in the Nissan empire, and steering and ride quality are high points for the new minivan. Fuel economy’s a low—the lowest among front-drive minivans, tied with the bigger Toyota Sienna.

Functionistas will find the most to quibble with inside the Quest. The old version had fold-away second- and third-row seats that flipped down to expose a huge, flat cargo floor. Now the seats fold, but not into the floor—and they can’t be removed. Much of the interior space has been lost in the changeover, and worst of all, the Quest’s sliding side doors barely open to the width you’d need to load in a car seat.

The Quest hasn’t been scored for safety as of yet, but its features list is tilted to favor the more expensive versions. To get Bluetooth and a rearview camera—safety gear, in our opinion—you’ll spend more than $32,000.

7

2011 Nissan Quest

Styling

The un-minivan? Not quite, but the 2011 Nissan Quest nearly succeeds at turning the family box into a hip piece of design.

There's no mistaking the Quest's smaller, taller packaging. It drops the droopy shoulders of the old American-made version, and goes crisp and angular, early and often. The new Nissan family face pairs acute and obtuse angles, and ends up looking like the new Ford Focus from some views. The Quest’s big shoulders rise under darkened glass behind the front doors, and the blacked-out side pillars lend the glass a floating appearance. The Ford Flex plays the same visual tricks; the Quest apes the Flex's big chrome trim around the glass, too. Big taillamps stud the Quest’s tail, and are faired for aerodynamics. 

Inside, the Quest doesn’t stray as far from the minivan norm. There’s a wide span of woodgrain trim across the dash. It’s not too objectionable, but the shiny gray plastic surrounding the utilitarian-looking climate and audio controls doesn’t match it well. The transmission lever lines up vertically on the center stack, and it blocks the driver's view of some knobs and buttons.

Atop these controls, Nissan parks an LCD screen slots. The screen is offered on mid-level models, where it’s a simpler 4.3-inch LCD. On top models the screen grows to 8 inches and incorporates more audio and navigation controls. A deck of buttons sits at the screens’ feet, piano-key style. If you're not accustomed to playing, you'll wish you'd studied, as you figure out the Quest's audio controls.

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2011 Nissan Quest

Performance

Without all the ad campaigns and gimmicks, the 2011 Nissan Quest simply drives better than most minivans.

The Quest's V-6 power has grown stronger, like some sort of Jedi combustion wonder, even though the 3.5-liter six is essentially the same powerplant as last year. Now rated at 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque, the six sounds tamer than in other front-drive Nissans, with less rumble and roar.

With Nissan's continuously variable transmission (CVT), it poses the same question as the drivetrain in cars like the Altima, Sentra, Maxima and Murano. The gearless transmission uses pulleys to approximate gears. CVTs can be more efficient, but usually they feel rubbery and laggy, and exacerbate noise levels. Nissan's are among the best ever built, and in a minivan, it's easy to forgive the minor vibrations that come on when you floor the gas. It doesn't have the most responsive powertrain—the CVT has some preset "shift" points that simulate a six-speed automatic—but the Quest never feels strained.

With an independent suspension at all four corners, the Quest benefits from a smaller footprint than other minivans. It feels the most nimble of all its competitors, and in big part, that's due to the electrohydraulic steering. Using signals to direct the power steering's hydraulic pump instead of a belt, the Quest delivers the most natural steering feel of its class--though the electronic power steering in the Toyota Sienna is quite good, it doesn't rebound from inputs with the same relaxed feel. The Quest doesn't bound over long bumps like the Chrysler minivans, since its near-equal curb weight seems to be damped more effectively.

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2011 Nissan Quest

Comfort & Quality

Without the fold-flat seats of past versions, the 2011 Nissan Quest loses out on the size and comfort battle.

Downsizing hasn't been kind to the Quest. With all the change sweeping around it, the minivan has gone from big to small, from an all-around winner to more of a one-track mind.

With a 118.1-inch wheelbase and an overall length of 200.8 inches, the Quest doesn't seem too far off the big numbers posted by the other minivans. The interior volume tells the story: the Quest is now the smallest minivan of all, by a good measure. Its seats can be folded down but can't be removed, and that shaves valuable cubic feet off its spec sheet.

In front, the Quest has ample room for adults, and easy The Quest has 36.7 inches of second-row legroom--that number shows whether four adults will be comfortable in any minivan--while the Chryslers are a fraction smaller, and everything else at least a couple of inches more spacious. Dual sliding side doors are standard, but the openings are considerably more narrow than on any other minivan on the market, making it much more difficult to get in and out than in other vans.

Cargo volume puts the Quest far in back of the pack. It has about 35 cubic feet behind its third-row seats, 64 cubic feet with the third row folded, and 108 cubic feet with the second row folded. The next Kia Sedona has folding second-row seats like the Quest—but still offers up 32 cubic feet, 80 cubic feet, and 142 cubic feet of space. The Chryslers have their class-leading, fold-in-the-floor seats on some models—and with them, they can boast of 33 cubic feet, 83 cubic feet and 144 cubic feet, respectively. The humongous Sienna has 39 cubic feet, 87 cubic feet, and as much as 150 cubic feet of space with the second-row seats folded up and the third row tucked away, respectively. The Odyssey has 38 cubic feet, a vast 93 cubic feet, and 149 cubic feet of space behind the respective rows.

The Quest simply feels smaller inside, and the higher load floor and fixed seats are the reason. At least its seats fold easily, thanks to levers and pull straps--though on some models, the power assist for the third-row seat stops short of raising the seat all the way. Oddly, it gives up at the vertical position, leaving owners to use a cloth strap to finish the job.

Other compromises are less significant. The Quest does without an eighth seating position, like the ones found in the Odyssey and Sienna. It also omits a telescoping steering wheel, though the driver's close, high seating position makes up for it, mostly. It offers up 16 cup and bottle holders, though the pop-out pair under the radio are big enough only for cans.

8

2011 Nissan Quest

Safety

The 2011 Nissan Quest comes with the usual safety features and offers some new safety tech as options, but it hasn’t been crash-tested yet.

Every 2011 Quest comes with the usual doses of safety gear. Dual front, side and curtain airbags are standard; so are anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control. Nissan's tire-pressure monitors are standard as well, and they beep a warning at drivers when a tire is low.

Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has yet tested the new Quest. Both agencies also have changed the criteria for their crash-test ratings—so we'll update this review when more data is available.

A rearview camera is standard on the top three trim levels, but unavailable on the base Quest. The top Quest model also has a blind-spot warning system.

On models with power sliding side doors, a periodic beep signals the doors' closing.

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2011 Nissan Quest

Features

It’s no daring innovator, and the 2011 Nissan Quest bundles most of modern must-have features in models costing more than $30,000.

With a decent array of features and options, the Quest should satisfy most owners--at least those who pay for the pricier trim levels.

For $28,550, the base 2011 Nissan Quest S has pushbutton start, power windows/locks/mirrors, and a six-CD changer. Bluetooth is unavailable, and neither are satellite radio, nor a rearview camera.

The $31,700 Quest SV is essentially the starting point for most family-van buyers. It has power sliding side doors; automatic climate control; a USB port and Bluetooth; a rearview camera; and a 4.3-inch LCD audio display. The audio system groups some controls under the LCD screen, and some down on the console, below the gear selector. It's confusing at best, as you must scroll through audio functions up top, and choose radio presets and volume functions down low.

Opt for the $35,150 Quest SL and leather upholstery becomes standard, along with 18-inch wheels; a power passenger front seat and power tailgate; heated front seats and heated mirrors; and automatic headlights. For several thousand more dollars, the $42,150 Quest LE specifies a standard navigation system; satellite radio; power assist for the third-row seat; a DVD entertainment system with a sharp 11-inch screen; blind-spot detectors; and xenon headlights.

The Quest offers few options. The DVD player is available on the SL version, and so is a Bose speaker package. Dual sunroofs are available on the SL and LE models. Nissan says it has no plans to add more USB ports for 3G-to-WiFi connectivity, and won't offer iPad mounting kits for back-seat passengers.

6

2011 Nissan Quest

Fuel Economy

The 2011 Nissan Quest scores near the bottom of the minivan ranks for gas mileage.

The Quest lags nearly all its competition, when it comes to fuel economy.

 

The 2011 Quest is rated at 18/24 mpg in all versions. That ties it with the Toyota Sienna for the lowest highway fuel economy numbers of any front-drive, V-6-powered minivan (the Sienna with all-wheel drive drops even lower, to 16/22 mpg).

 

The Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan have lower city numbers, but earn an EPA-rated 17/25 mpg overall.

The Quest is not offered with any alternative powertrains, such as a hybrid or a diesel.

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