- Good offbeat looks
- Steering feel
- Ride quality
- A fairly responsive CVT
- 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
It's less spacious and less flexible than before, but the 2012 Nissan Quest drives better than other minivans.
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.
2012 Nissan Quest
Hip from the front, a little Flexy from the back, the 2012 Nissan Quest looks good.* (*"for a minivan")
In its past, the Nissan Quest has some photos it doesn't want you to see. Remember your middle-school bangs, braces, and football socks? The Quest has in its past some needlessly curvy lines and an interior that made almost exactly no sense.
In the 2011 model year, Nissan dropped all the controversy when it moved the Quest to a new platform. And now it's a faintly hip-looking piece, though you'll always have to cadge that phrase with another one: "for a minivan."
It's hard to disguise boxy unless you just embrace it outright, and the Quest does so half the time. From the front, it does what it can to soften the size of the nose and pull it down visually to the road, with angled lines that curve softly into each other. In some ways, it almost looks like Ford's newest Focus, blown up to minivan scale. As it turns to the quarters and then to a full side view, the Quest goes full-tilt for a look pioneered by the Ford Flex--not terribly successfully, you could add--with big areas of "floating" glass and a resolutely horizontal theme. Big taillamps stud the Quest’s tail, and are faired for aerodynamics.
Inside, the Quest strays a lot less from the minivan norm, but you'd have to sum up the look as modern-retro Japanese, with its stacking of rectangles and plain-looking LCD displays. There’s a wide span of woodgrain trim across the dash for relief from the plastics, and 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.
2012 Nissan Quest
Being small has one minivan payback: the 2012 Nissan Quest has better road manners than any of its bigger competitors.
The 2012 Nissan Quest may be smaller than other minivans in useful ways, but it's also smaller in the psychological way that makes it more entertaining to drive.
That said, it's still a minivan, and as direct as its steering can be, and as well as it damps out road surfaces, the Quest corners and accelerates with almost nothing but safety in mind.
In the power room, there's the usual combination of a mid-size Nissan six and a single transmission offering. In this case, it's a 3.5-liter V-6 with 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque, and for whatever structural reasons, it's smoother and less audible here than in other installations (Altima, etc).
Nissan's continuously variable transmission (CVT) leaves it less wanting than we anticipated. We're still no fans of these belt-driven transmissions, but the Quest doesn't feel out of sorts with the drivetrain, since rapid-fire gearchanges aren't really in the expectations field. More an issue in the Altima, Sentra, and Maxima, and less so here, CVTs can feel rubbery and laggy, and can drive powertrain noise levels to sustained levels of discomfort. Nissan's CVTs are some of the best sold today, and in a minivan, it's easier to forgive the minor vibrations that come on when you floor the gas. The CVT also has some preset "shift" points that simulate a six-speed automatic that reinstate some of the feel of a conventional automatic. Most important of all, the drivetrain's sized right for the package. 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.
2012 Nissan Quest
Comfort & Quality
It's smaller than any other conventional minivan inside, and the 2012 Nissan Quest lacks its former flexibility.
Downsized to globally palatable dimensions, the 2012 Nissan Quest is no longer the all-around winner it used to be, more of a one- or two-trick pony, as far as minivans are concerned.
It's not alone, of course, since no vans other than the Chryslers have the best kind of seat-storing system. But the Quest is smaller inside and has fixed middle seats, something minivans haven't really seen in more than a decade.
It's not that the Quest is so much smaller overall than the Chryslers, the Honda Odyssey, or the Toyota Sienna. It's 200.8 inches long, and rides on a 118.1-inch wheelbase. But it's far down on interior volume, in part because its seats can't be removed from the cabin or folded away, out of sight.
In the front row, the Quest's faults are few. With as much leg room at the Chrysler minivans, it's pretty comfortable even for big adults, with wide and cushy seats that face the dash at an angle that reminds us strongly of the first Japanese minivans that came to America in the mid-1980s. The door openings are wide enough for easy access, too.
That's not the case in the second row, where the difficulties begin with the Quest's sliding side doors. They're not very wide, and they open on a track that's too short to be as useful as something like a Grand Caravan. The resulting door openings are narrow enough to make car seats a geometry puzzle--not a good endorsement for a family vehicle. There's no middle seat position in the second row, which makes the Quest a seven-seater, and a smallish one at that, while the massive Odyssey can tote eight passengers. The Quest's third-row seat is cramped for adults, acceptable for kids.
In either the second or third rows, the seats themselves are nicely angled and supportive, but they don't move--the seatbacks just fold over when more cargo area is needed. That more than anything makes the Quest feel as small as it is inside, that and its relatively high load floor. The seats fold easily enough, thanks to levers and pull straps. However, if you order the power assist for the third-row seat, know that it 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.
Since the seats no longer store in the floor, as they did in the old Quest, cargo volume is way down. In all, the Quest has 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.
Other compromises are less noticeable, but they're there. There's no telescoping steering wheel with the Quest, though the high seating position makes the most of the situation. It offers up 16 cup and bottle holders, though the pop-out pair under the radio are big enough only for cans.
2012 Nissan Quest
The 2012 Nissan Quest falls short of the best safety scores, an important bogey for minivans.
The 2012 Nissan Quest doesn't yet have all its safety scores in, but an important one from the insurance industry leaves it lagging the minivan competition.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) hasn't yet crash-tested the new-for-2011 Quest. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has released its testing results, and while it finds the Quest to be a "good" performer in front and side impacts, it calls the minivan "acceptable" for roof-crush safety. That means, unlike almost every other minivan on the market, the Quest does not earn a Top Safety Pick award from the insurance-industry-funded group.
The Quest does have a good amount of standard safety equipment, though it's far from class-leading. Dual front, side and curtain airbags are standard; so are anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control. A rearview camera is standard on the top three trim levels, but is unavailable on the base Quest. The top Quest model also has a blind-spot warning system.
Nissan's tire-pressure monitors are standard as well, and they beep a warning at drivers when a tire is low. On models with power sliding side doors, a periodic beep signals the doors' closing.
2012 Nissan Quest
There's not much to distinguish the 2012 Nissan Quest from other minivans, and some of the features we regard as necessities are only available in models costing more than $30,000.
No major innovator, the 2012 Nissan Quest doesn't have many features like the Sienna's wide-screen entertainment system or the Chryslers' streaming TV. In fact, some of the options we'd normally want in a value-oriented minivan are packaged in higher trim levels, and unavailable otherwise.
The base Quest, priced below $30,000, comes with the usual air conditioning; power windows, locks and mirrors; an AM/FM/CD player with a six-CD changer (huh?); and pushbutton start. This model doesn't offer Bluetooth, satellite radio, or a rearview camera, even as an option.
We suggest you move up to the SV--most everyone will, since it has the features regularly found in competing vans. At about $32,000, this Quest comes with power sliding side doors; a USB port and Bluetooth; automatic climate control; a rearview camera; and a 4.3-inch LCD audio display. We're not huge fans of the layout of the audio system. Some controls are grouped under the LCD screen, with the rest bundled down near 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.
For more than $35,000, the Quest SL gets leather seating and 18-inch wheels; a power tailgate and power passenger front seat; heated front seats; heated mirrors; and automatic headlights. Moving beyond $42,000 for the Quest LE adds on 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. Satellite radio is now offered on mid-line Quests. 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.
2012 Nissan Quest
It's all over the place: the 2012 Nissan Quest gets some of the worst highway gas mileage numbers, but it's tops for city mileage.
Gas mileage isn't the strong suit of the 2012 Nissan Quest. It sits at both the top and the bottom of the class, which makes it especially important for you to know how much you typically drive on the highway or in town.
If you're simply looking at highway mileage estimates, the 2012 Quest falls behind nearly all of its family-toting. The EPA numbers are 19/24 mpg. The latest Honda Odyssey posts highway numbers as high as 28 mpg; every Chrysler minivan is pegged at 25 mpg. The Quest's highway number is as low as that of the much larger Sienna, though the Toyota's mileage drops to 17/23 mpg when it's shod with all-wheel drive.
However, for city mileage, the Quest is a leader. Its 19 mpg equal the Sienna and the Odyssey, while Chrysler's minivans check in significantly lower.
No hybrid or diesel editions of the Quest are planned.