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After a long drought without new products, the minivan segment saw every one of its competitors replaced or refreshed in the 2011 model year. That's epic change--or so it seems. For the best sellers--Sienna, Odyssey, the Chrysler minivans--the changes were more updates than reinventions. Not so for the Nissan Quest, which changed everything, from the place it was built to the way it offered up seating for seven. It wasn't all for the better, and though the Quest is still one of the top choices for families that want one vehicle to do it all, it's fallen back in the pack.
The latest Quest is smaller and taller. It loses its droopy look for an upright stance and lots of flared lines in front, with a straight-edged passenger box that's more than a little like that on the Ford Flex crossover, with a pillarless look down its sides and a blunt, almost vertical tail. It's crisp and angular, and clearly derived from its home market, where it's been on sale as the Elgrand for a couple of years. The interior design is more formal, less risky, too, with lots of woodgrain trim across a fairly plain-looking dash that stacks some controls in unintuitive places. The audio controls are split into two locations, and some switches are to the right of the shifter, halfway out of sight.
A 3.5-liter V-6, coupled to a continuously variable transmission, is the Quest's only powertrain. It doesn't grumble as much here as it does in some other Nissans, and it's pretty perky for such a large vehicle. The steering has good feedback, the CVT has some pre-programmed "shift' points to cut down on typically rubbery response, and body roll is tempered more than in other big minivans. In all, the Quest has the best handling of its kind, which follows its slightly more compact footprint. Gas mileage is among the lowest of the front-drive minivans.
The Quest's use of space is a little disappointing. It's still a big vehicle in the grander scheme, and front-seat passengers won't lack for leg or head room, or for storage of small items. From there, the Quest slips behind other minivans, first with sliding side doors that don't open wide enough to load in large people or objects. The last time around, the Quest had fold-away seats in the second and third rows. Now the seats fold forward, but don't disappear into the floor, and they can't be removed. The third-row seat folds flat, too, but stays in place while every other minivan's third-row seat folds away to create a flat cargo floor. A lot of usable space is lost in the process, and in a type of vehicle that places a priority on seating, space, and safety, it's a letdown.
The IIHS says the Quest earns "good" ratings for front and side impacts, but gives it "acceptable" scores for roof crush. The base van comes with the usual airbags and stability control, but all-wheel drive is not offered, and to get Bluetooth and a rearview camera--essential safety items, we think--you'll have to spend more than $32,000. With major options--such as power side doors and a power tailgate; leather; satellite radio; and a DVD entertainment system--it's possible to spend nearly $40,000 on Nissan's minivan.
- Good offbeat looks
- Steering feel
- Ride quality
- A fairly responsive CVT
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- The smallest minivan interior
- The lowest minivan gas mileage
- Seats don't fold away, or go away
- Side doors open too little
- Placement of audio controls