Car Review

2011 Nissan Quest - New Car Review

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Used 2011 Nissan Quest LE
Used 2011 Nissan Quest
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author photo by Dan Carney July 2011

The very name of Nissan's van, "Quest," seems to unintentionally parallel the company's dogged efforts to crack into the market for family vans. The company started in 1993 by partnering with Ford with a van that was a twin of the short-lived Mercury Villager.

Nissan's product planners concluded that the milquetoast Quest was overlooked in a crowded segment because of dull styling, so the next generation model got unexpectedly spacy, with a bizarre dashboard, swoopy sheetmetal and a pair of long, skinny skylights that alleviated the typically cave-like atmosphere in the back of vans but won few fans. Strike two.

This time, the company has wised up to the fundamentals of the family van segment; it's all about providing the features that parents value for making hauling kids as hassle-free as possible. And if, as is the case with the 2011 Quest, that can be done in a vehicle with formal styling that conveys the attitude of a luxury car, then so much the better.

Now rather than trying to be something a van is not, Nissan aimed to make the Quest the very best at the things vans should be: practical, safe, comfortable and efficient. This new Quest, rather than boasting about oddball styling, touts best-in-class turning radius, so the van is easier to park and the lowest step-in height so kids and grandparents can climb into the back more easily.

Opulent appointments

For the latest Quest, Nissan designers focused on making the interior inviting, and they might have even achieved a degree of elegance in the process. There is a mixture of hard and soft surfaces, but most of the surfaces within reach are high quality, and the hard ones have a rich matte finish that belies their true nature.

The company says that the seats are stuffed with three different kinds of foam, which is meant to assure comfort. This works pretty well, but that super-soft top layer gives a bit of the feeling of falling into grandma's overstuffed couch.

The second and third row seats fold flat by moving forward and down, into their respective footwells. That means that with both rows folded the cargo space stretches from the tailgate to the front seats. It also means that the rear cargo well, which features hard covers to shield the contents from view, is always available, even when the third row is folded down.

Limo lookalike?

Upright, slab-sided design maximizes interior space for a given vehicle size, so it is no surprise that Nissan, Chrysler and Toyota have arrived at similar, boxy, solutions. But limos, old Rolls-Royces and sports stars' Escalades share two characteristics; blocky, upright sheetmetal and midnight black paint.

Our Quest test vehicle also shared those characteristics, which lent the van an unexpected bit of stateliness. Suddenly the notion of pulling to the valet curb outside an exclusive restaurant with a van seemed almost within the realm of reason. Interestingly, every new Quest that we've seen on the road so far has also been black, so it seems like customers agree that the color compliments its styling.

Of course that same black paint was less than ideal for this writer's beach vacation, because it helped bake the van in the sun. But vans are ideal for flushing out hot air with their sliding doors that let any breeze blow straight through, and the Quest's dual sunroofs help vent hot air around the ceiling.

Excellent steering points to the gas station

Nissan's engineers tackled the chore of making their van handle, and they largely achieved the objective. The Quest has a thick-rimmed steering wheel that conveys unexpectedly detailed information about the road to the driver's fingertips, while helping set the course with equally excellent precision.

The vagueness and over-assisted numbness so common in crossovers and vans is totally absent in the Quest, which has steering feel and response that would flatter a sport sedan. Acceleration and braking were equally superlative.

But there were drawbacks. When loaded with the family and beach supplies aboard, the Quest was prone to bounce over expansion joints on a causeway, which it did on often enough that I ordered my motion-sickness-prone 10-year-old to stop watching her movie on the excellent rear seat video system to keep from getting dizzy.

It felt like they could tighten up the rear shock rebound stiffness a bit to keep the back end from bouncing so much. Coincidentally, this was exactly when we spotted another of the black Quests and it was bounding along in the same manner.

The other matter is fuel economy. Make no mistake, today's family vans aren't "mini" in any respect. The Quest is more than 16 feet long, six feet high, weighs 4,500 lbs. and is propelled by a smooth 260-hp 3.5-liter V6. So perhaps we shouldn't expect such large vehicles to sip fuel. But the Quest's 20 mpg achieved in mostly highway driving with the family aboard barely beat its EPA city rating of 19 mpg, and didn't reach its highway rating of 24 mpg.

Hitting its targets

The other guys are more efficient. A Volkswagen Routan, the mechanical twin of the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Caravan, achieved 24 mpg on another recent trip and that was to the mountains rather than the beach, so its mileage surely suffered from the elevation changes.

At $43,740, our tested Quest LE had pretty much every available option, including the dual sunroofs, xenon headlights and an impressive array of infotainment gadgets.

This lofty price mirrors that of its fully loaded competitors, while offering a couple unique features such as the lower step-in height and those nifty covered rear bins that remain available even when the seats are folded down.

Its lavish cabin appointments similarly match those of the Honda Odyssey as well as the Volkswagen, Chrysler and Dodge entries. All of these embarrass the current Toyota Sienna with its blight of hard plastics.

The 2011 Quest succeeds in its, er, quest, because Nissan has provided seemingly every comfort, convenience and safety item possible to ease the chore of shuttling the kids on their appointed rounds. All of the details are well-considered and well-executed, so the Quest ably delivers on the promise of its lengthy spec sheet.

The company aims to claw away market share from its competitors in a segment that has shrunk in recent years, while the other guys have all retrenched with new models meant to defend their turf. But consumers in the van segment are relentlessly pragmatic, which means that they will willingly consider this new alternative to the Chrysler/Toyota/Honda group that has dominated in recent years. As well they should, because the Quest is a superb new alternative to those contenders.

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Used 2011 Nissan Quest LE
Used 2011 Nissan Quest
This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2011 Nissan Quest - New Car Review - Autotrader