2011 Nissan Quest LE Review

New Quest has what it takes to get off the sidelines and into the action in the minivan segment

2011 Nissan Quest LE Review
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The original Nissan Quest was, at best, a bit player in the minivan segment, selling a tiny fraction of the units moved by its Japanese rivals. Much of that had to do with its design. To call it polarizing would be a compliment.

FAST FACTS

1. All Nissan Quest models come with keyless access and a push-button ignition.

2. Powered by a 260-hp 3.5L V6, fuel economy is rated at 19/24-mpg. We saw 20-mpg average.

3. All but the base model get standard Bluetooth, USB and iPod hookups, as well as a back-up camera.

4. An Easy Fill Tire Alert, notifies you with a beep of the car’s horn when the tires are at the ideal pressure.

5. Pricing ranges from $27,750 to $41,350 with an excellent mid-range luxury-filled SL trim level priced at $34,350.

After a one-year hiatus the Quest is back in an all new body that can at least now be described using similar terms like divisive; which is to say more than 5 percent of the population doesn’t hate it.

We don’t often dedicate much space to design critiques in reviews here at AutoGuide, mostly because it’s just too subjective to waste words on. The Quest’s originality does, however, deserve a few comments. The pug nose isn’t the best example of how Nissan could have stylized the front of the vehicle, but tremendous credit is due for not shying away from a boxy utilitarian design, with just enough brightwork to make luxury SUV buyers take a second look. But what really adds luxury punch to this people mover are the windows. Glass seems to cover nearly half of the van, with blacked-out pillars and a curved rear section – a design cue adapted from the Cube.

With both hits and misses (370Z to Juke), Nissan doesn’t shy away from letting its design team take the reigns. And in cases like this, we’re glad.

Having had some initial seat time behind the wheel of the new Quest a few months back we arranged a proper, more thorough test, complete with a lengthy road trip, and my two small kids.

WHAT ALL MINIVANS SHOULD HAVE

The very first thing you’ll notice about the Quest is the “Nissan Intelligent Key”, which allows you to open the doors without ever touching the fob, and start that car thanks to a push-button ignition. Neither Honda nor Toyota offer this on their vans, and while available on the Chrysler Town & Country, you have to pay extra for it.

All but the base S model come with power sliding second row doors, which also slide open or closed with just the lightest press of a button on the handle – much easier than fiddling with a fob when you’ve got your hands full with groceries, or a toddler after her first melt-down at the mall. Even the rear liftgate can be opened without the use of the key fob.

A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO CARGO SPACE

Installing child seats is a cinch, with two captain’s chairs in the second row. Oddly, Nissan doesn’t offer a second row bench option, meaning the Quest is a 7-seater at best. We say at-best because you won’t find ample space for adolescents and above in the 3rd row. It’s adequate back there, but not like the Odyssey.

When it comes to space behind the third row Nissan takes a different approach to cargo than minivan rivals. Rather than have the third row seat fold down into the cargo well, it flips forward, creating a large flat surface, while sturdy panels cover the well making space for items below and on top. One complaint we discovered, however, is that there’s no way to keep the boards in the up position, meaning that they’ll fall on your hands or head while you’re trying to load items in the hole. Some simple hooks or Velcro would solve this. When compared to segment rivals, this layout means that Nissan’s cargo space doesn’t measure up on paper, but when you consider competitors calculate their figures by removing rows of seats (something almost no one does, and if they do it’s only in rare circumstances), the Quest isn’t far off.

When activating the power sliding doors and the rear liftgate an audible warning is sounded, much like what you’d expect from a reversing truck. While a nice safety feature, with Nissan using the same sound for both, that tone is also unnerving. That may sound hyper-critical, but try standing under the rear liftgate while your spouse closes one of the side doors. The sense of impending doom when you expect a giant mechanical slab the size of a garage door to hit you on the head is enough to make you flinch, again, and again, and again.

At least there’s enough space to fit under the big hatch – even at 6 feet tall – which is more than we can say for the Odyssey.

ON A QUEST

Driving the Quests is both enjoyable and at times a little annoying. It is huge, so it’s nice that there’s a rear view monitor included on all but the base model. Changing lanes with so much behind you may require some getting used to for those new to the minivan segment. There is a blind sport warning system to help, but it comes only on the top trim model and isn’t even offered as an option on the rest of the range – a serious oversight as we have to think this safety feature would be an easy up-sell for any salesman worth his commission check. Absent is a reverse sensor system with audible warnings.

The CVT transmission, which we found surprisingly nice during our first drive of the Quest, proved less ideal during a prolonged test. While it does deliver an incredibly smooth driving sensation, adding to the Quest’s already near-luxury characteristics, the lack of a consistent throttle response during day-to-day use proves irritating. Somewhat simulating the characteristics of a traditional automatic, apply throttle and the CVT delivers a bit of power, but then immediately fades off as though a gear shift has occurred. In order to maintain the same rate of acceleration, more and more pressure on the gas pedal is required.

One advantage to the CVT is supposed to be fuel economy, with Nissan claiming a 19/24-mpg rating. We were unimpressed with our first test, managing just 19-mpg. This time we hit a 20-mpg average, although that was almost entirely highway.

Perhaps the best aspect of the Quest’s driving experience, even more so than the smooth ride, is the turning radius, which matches the Altima sedan. This one small characteristic makes navigating parking lots hassle-free .

NEAR-LUXURY INTERIOR

As with the ride quality and the car’s design, the Quest has a luxury feel inside – when equipped appropriately. Lower grade models are understandably less lavish, but opt for a mid-to-upper SL or LE trim and it’s nice to see Nissan is taking pointers from its Infiniti luxury division.

Our top-trim LE test model came complete with all the goodies you’d expect including a power driver’s seat (standard on all models), plus Tri-zone climate control, USB and iPod hookups, Bluetooth and a back-up camera (standard on the $30,90 SV trim). Plus there’s full leather, 18-inch wheels, a power liftgate, heated front seats and a quick-release 3rd row, which all comes on the $34,350 SL trim. Add on to that navigation, a 13-speaker audio system, 4-way power passenger seat, an 8-inch display screen, Hid headlights, blind spot warning and a DVD entertainment system for a total of $41,350. It even gets 2nd and 3rd row sunshades, which again sounds like something trivial, but means parents don’t have to buy ugly or flimsy aftermarket ones.

THE VERDICT

Attractive, with a smooth ride and premium interior, the Quest is perhaps the most attractive minivan to luxury buyers who might otherwise opt for an SUV that doesn’t quite meet their people-moving needs. Apart from some complaints about what it does and doesn’t have on some trim levels and that CVT transmission, if there is a reason to not recommend the Quest it’s because what it doesn’t do. The numerous family-friendly innovations found in the Odyssey are lacking here.

LOVE IT
  • Stand-out good looks
  • Smooth, quiet ride
  • Premium interior
LEAVE IT
  • CVT transmission
  • No reverse sensors
  • Blind Spot Monitors only on top trim

RELATED READING

2011 Nissan Quest Review
2011 Honda Odyssey Review - First Drive
2011 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite Review [Video]
2011 Toyota Sienna: First Drive
2011 Chrysler Town & Country Review
2011 Chrysler Town & Country Review

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