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The minivan herd has slowly thinned itself out over the years. It's now down to the Chrysler minivans, the Honda Odyssey, the Toyota Sienna--and the Nissan Quest, now in its third generation.
The latest Quest comes to us as a version of the Japanese-market Elgrand, and with it comes some compromises that makes it the least flexible minivan. It's also the minivan with the best road manners, which makes it an unusual choice--and it also is one without a Top Safety Pick award from the IIHS. It's still better than many crossovers for people-hauling duties, but in its own class, it's playing catch-up.
With an upright stance and lots of flared lines in front, the Quest's straight-edged passenger box bears more than a passing resemblance to the Ford Flex, mostly at its pillarless greenhouse and its almost vertical tail. The interior is more formal and less risky, with woodgrain trim on a plain dash that stacks some controls in unintuitive places. The audio knobs and switches, for examples, are grouped into two locations, some to the right of the shifter, halfway out of sight.
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 second-row 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.
Safety and features are an area for improvement. 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.
As for performance? It's a highlight. 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, though.