Dan Frio, Automotive Editor
Let's face it, most fathers don't buy a minivan, they surrender to one. Committing one to the driveway is a pragmatic choice that rewards Dad with torture and anguish every time he's reminded of the BMW or Cadillac CTS he could've bought. The 2011 Nissan Quest soothes that angst, however, with a salve of power, utility and offbeat design.
When you need to move people and their attachments, the new Quest is a large, comfortable box. When you don't feel like pitching a tent, its fold-flat second and third rows make it a mobile motel room. It seats you up high with a commanding view of the road and vital controls at your fingertips, captain of your destiny. Factor in its strong, obedient V6 ox underhood and you have a man van for the recently emasculated.
Overhauled and redesigned, the 2011 Nissan Quest vaults over its predecessor as a legitimate contender in the minivan discussion. Of course, it's still not as quick to 60 mph as the Toyota Sienna or Honda Odyssey and weighs more than both. Also, the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan offer more cargo room thanks to their disappearing (and now more comfortable) second- and third-row seats.
Yet despite its shortcomings on the stat sheet, the 2011 Nissan Quest binds the strands of minivan ownership — Swiss-Army-knife versatility, midsize-pickup brawn — into an experience that Dads can embrace rather than one to which they must be resigned.
Built on the same underpinnings as the Altima sedan and Murano crossover, the 2011 Nissan Quest handles as adeptly as its siblings. The steering is precise and the Quest follows its lead without resistance. Given some gas through long, sweeping curves in the road, this Nissan minivan feels composed, cornering with more body control than you'd expect of a rolling box that's 73 inches tall. Electronic aids step in when the twisting road gets tight, offering additional confidence in bad weather (or when Dad simply gets overzealous with the throttle).
It's easy to get enthusiastic with the Quest's gas pedal. Its 3.5-liter engine comes from the same family of V6s that power the 370Z, Maxima and Infiniti G series. Much of the quick-witted engine's 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque develops early in the power band, and the shifting and sliding of belts and pulleys inside the Quest's continuously variable transmission (CVT) is so transparent that you're unaware of any transmission trickery until you discover that it ensures a burst of acceleration is always on tap. Whether sprinting around unpredictable city traffic or ascending gradual grades at 80 mph, the Quest never feels agitated or labored.
That's not to say it's particularly fast. In Edmunds testing, the Quest ambles from zero to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds, a slower pace than its rivals (nearly a full second behind the Sienna, in fact). Its additional baggage — about 100 pounds more than the Honda and the Toyota — doesn't help acceleration or stopping distance. In Edmunds brake testing, the Quest stops from 60 mph in 134 feet, a below-average result for this class.
The 2011 Nissan Quest's fuel economy is on par with its rivals at an EPA-estimated 19 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway plus 21 mpg combined. Properly equipped, it can tow up to 3,500 pounds.
Inside the cabin of the 2011 Nissan Quest, wide and supportive leather-wrapped front seats — with heating elements for cold bottoms and eight-way power adjustments for the driver — invite you to lounge behind the wheel and command this mini RV to points unknown. A thick band of wood trim sandwiched between the upper and lower sections of the dash contributes to the cabin's premium feel.
Second-row seats comfort you in similar fashion, offering dual armrests and the ability to recline, while the narrower third row provides decent legroom and a reclining seatback. Both rear rows use slightly elevated stadium-style seating. The view out the windshield might be nice, but taller passengers will feel the roof encroaching on their headroom.
The 2011 Nissan Quest sacrifices a measure of maximum cargo volume to its competitors with some 108 cubic feet compared to the Sienna's 117 cubic feet, yet the Quest delivers compensation in convenience and packaging flexibility. Pulling on tabs and tugging on straps flattens both the second and third rows, opening an expanse useful for those times when a trip to the local warehouse store has gone awry and you've acquired more stuff than you anticipated (a power-folding third row is optional). With both rows folded, there's an impressive 7.5-foot load floor from front seat to liftgate.
There's no option for a second-row bench seat, which effectively makes the Quest a seven-passenger van. But the dual captain's chairs do slide and recline, the better to keep kids close to Mom's watchful paw or give third-row passengers more legroom. Two adults can sit comfortably in the back row, three if they know each other well. The third-row seat reclines and offers enough support for most trips of a couple of hours. Kids won't likely mind sitting back there, especially when the optional 11-inch widescreen DVD entertainment system is in full glow.
On the command deck in front, a thick bulkhead behind the engine compartment houses the Quest's operating and entertainment controls, all intuitively placed. In the center stack, map and navigation functions cluster below the dash-mounted monitor, and cascade into climate control switches, LCD display and retro-styled audio controls — complete with chrome rings on the volume and tuning knobs.
Design/Fit and Finish
Nissan designers seem to have started with new clay for the 2011 Nissan Quest, perhaps to erase from memory its predecessor's odd silhouette, so like a misshapen egg. The Quest's profile now resembles a more traditional minivan, with its steeply raked windshield bending into a flat roof line and ending abruptly at the liftgate, yet its crisply boxed shape and expansive wraparound grille could come from nowhere else but Japan.
With so much slab-sided metal surrounding them, the 18-inch wheels don't quite look to scale. But inside, leather upholstery and wood-grain finish contribute a premium feel to the cabin environment, which feels even more expansive when ordered with the dual sunroof option. The latter choice combines with the rear-seat DVD entertainment system to bring the price of our base Quest SL to $38,610 (including destination).
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2011 Nissan Quest is a minivan in every form: shape, size and intention. And it represents an evolutionary leap from its predecessor. But it's not the fastest in its class, nor does it make the most power. It doesn't even offer the most available cargo room. Instead, the Nissan Quest simply does all the important things well. It fluidly converts from passenger vessel to box van and back. It delivers constant, seamless power on demand. And it encourages you to chart your course with everything you need at your fingers.
The Quest's looks won't suit everyone's tastes, yet its future-shock Tokyo visage makes a nice contrast to the soft, portly wedges common to other vans. Dad might still pine for a 3 Series, but in the 2011 Nissan Quest, he'll at least have a commanding view of his dreams — that is, until the kids are out on their own.
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