Pros: Comfortable interior; exceptional turning radius; bold styling; decent acceleration
Cons: Massive size makes it a suburb-only affair; limited third-row space
Courtesy of the rash of crossover utility vehicles storming the market a few years ago, the minivan segment has been a quiet one as of late, with many manufacturers pulling out of the segment altogether. Those that have stayed, though, have had to make some changes to their offerings in order to keep them interesting. With no less than six CUV/SUV offerings just within its stable to compete with, Nissan's Quest relies on styling and features to do just that.
The first thing you'll notice about the Quest is its mammoth size. All in, the Quest has a mere 2 inches less in every exterior dimension than the latest Escalade. In fact, we even got stuck behind one of Nissan's NV cargo vans and even with the High Roof option, we felt like our Quest was almost as tall as the commercial van. We can also assure you that with the Quest's week spent in Chicago, every one of those dimensions were felt.
Once you look past the size and start looking at the styling, you get the sense that the Quest's designers really wanted this aspect to be where the Quest stands out from the rest. Where the Quest's competitors are sticking with the familiar shapes and forms of a minivan, the Quest offers bold styling that makes it just different enough. For this fourth-generation Quest, Nissan's designers did away completely with its predecessor's swoopy roofline and pronounced character lines, instead opting for sheerly near-vertical surfaces and few superfluous details.
This is most-readily seen in the rear liftgate, which can only be described as bolt-upright, and meets a nearly-horizontal roofline at the top. Around the sides, a shoulder line and character line are present, but only just, giving way to the expanse of metal used in the doors. These styling details only exaggerate the height even more, making the van feel taller than it already is.
Comfort & Utility
If the styling was Nissan's main differentiator, the interior must've been a very close second. A majority of this comes from the available technology offered in the Quest, but we'll get to that in a minute. In terms of comfort, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better option in the segment. We'd go so far to say that the nearest match to this level of interior comfort can be found in the premium sedan segment.
All of the seats in the cabin are a nice place to perch, with the front seats being the best seat in the house. With superb lumbar support, deep cushioning, and supportive bolsters, a long road trip seems like not only a possibility, but even a preferred use for the Quest. The same can be said for the second-row captain's chairs. The third-row bench is comfortable when talking about seat quality, but we found the legroom to be a bit tight. We'd say the third row is reserved for little ones, and cap the adult capacity at the front four chairs.
The only place where the Quest's interior falls short is cargo area, which is surprising given the van's size. While it will fair well for an extensive grocery run, it may not hold the luggage for a van full of passengers without some creative stacking. The third row can be stowed flat for additional room, but then that eats into passenger capacity, a van's main selling point.
Our tester showed up in LE guise, the top of the Quest line. While this does mean things like leather seats and up-sized alloy wheels, it also means the lion's share of technology features. The crown jewel of the package is an 11" center-roof-mounted LCD screen capable of displaying video off of a DVD or USB device plugged in front, or an RCA connection in back. Additionally, rear passengers can listen to separate audio from those in front through two sets of wireless headphones, and can control their entertainment through a remote control.
In the cockpit there's SiriusXM radio, Bluetooth connectivity with audio streaming capability and an excellent voice-recognition system for tasks like entering navigation destinations. The navigation includes XM's traffic reporting, but still seemed to route us right through the middle of the worst traffic instead of finding alternate routes for directions.
Performance & Fuel Economy
All trims of the Quest come with a 3.5-liter V6 engine paired to a continuously variable transmission, which controls all the gear ratios without actually shifting gears. The combination is good for 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque, which does a decent job of moving the nearly-4,400-pound van from a standstill.
Fuel economy is listed as 19 city/24 highway by the EPA. Throughout the week, we saw closer to 15, but that was on purely city driving with a quick jaunt out to the suburbs to see highway performance.
Standard safety features for the Quest include ABS, disc brakes at all four corners, traction control, stability control, active front head restraints and a multitude of airbags for passengers in all three rows.
The 2012 Quest the highest possible ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in all areas but roof strength, where it received an acceptable rating. The NHTSA has yet to test the Quest in crash tests.
While this car should have no problem in rural and suburban settings, driving it on busy city streets requires a lot of devoted attention to fit the Quest into the openings it's forced to go into. It's easy to imagine a suburban driver who's not used to driving in the city (possibly with a passenger compartment of excitable children as well) could get easily overwhelmed. The turning radius does make the Quest exceptionally easy to park once at the destination, however.
On the highway the Quest is stable and doesn't seem to be under a lot of strain. However on a windy day its slab-sided styling does make it susceptible to strong gusts, despite its weight.
Where the weight does come in handy is ride comfort, where nothing but the largest road seams or potholes seem to unsettle the big van.
Other Cars to Consider
Chrysler Town & Country - The heavy hitter of the minivan game does come with rear-seat entertainment as an option, but doesn't do it as well as the Quest, and doesn't have near the interior refinement of the Nissan.
Honda Odyssey- The Odyssey has gone through similar transformations as the Quest, and is arguably the closest competitor to the Nissan. The Quest's styling is a bit more striking, and if you outfit the Honda with a near-identical spec sheet, it will cost $1,000 more.
Toyota Sienna- Toyota's entry also went through a major overhaul recently, and offers more storage space. However, the Toyota's interior isn't as well-appointed or executed, although it not as expensive as the Quest.
While we really liked the Quest LE, it does get expensive at $42,350. We would suggest the one-step-down SL, which will save you almost $8,000. It still comes with the rear-seat entertainment system, and sacrifices HIDs and the navigation system, which we'd suggest buying a dash-top navigation system for much less.