The Nissan Quest is a versatile seven-passenger vehicle. An excellent choice for families with teenagers, Quest transports four adults in comfort in the front two rows plus three more little ones in the third row. Powered by Nissan's superb V6, the Quest rides smoothly yet feels light and agile.
The 2012 Nissan Quest is essentially unchanged because it was redesigned and re-introduced for the 2011 year. This latest-generation Quest employs styling inside and out that is neither controversial nor conventional, and it merges performance and efficiency well.
All Quests come with Nissan's superb V6 engine, shared with the Z and many other models. Quest's V6 produces a 253 horsepower and is EPA-rated at 19/24 mpg City/Highway. Nissan is a leader in CVT technology and the Quest's continuously variable transmission helps with fuel efficiency.
The 2012 Quest comes in four trim levels, topping out with piped leather, a host of electronic conveniences, a screen as large as some laptops, and rear-seat entertainment options.
The Quest cabin is set up with roomy second row. The third row is smaller than most but more than adequate for small children. The forward four seats are genuinely adult-roomy. There is no eight-passenger, middle-row bench seat version.
Cargo versatility is another Quest strength. The cargo area has a trunk beneath a floor level with a hatch opening. This design will be appreciated by anyone who has had to lift an expedition-size suitcase or big-box store case of drinks out of an 18-inch-deep well.
Quest and its competitors, the Chrysler Town & Country, Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, Kia Sedona, Hyundai Entourage, Volkswagen Routan are large vehicles. Roughly the same outside dimensions as full-size SUVs, the minivans are generally superior people movers.
By design, vans are box-like with smoothed front ends to improve aerodynamics and driver visibility, and the Nissan Quest fits the mold. Roughly the same size as other minivans, the Quest is within inches of the competition in virtually every measure. There is nothing mini about the modern minivan.
Quest is built on a lengthened structure that shares basics with the Murano crossover and Maxima and Altima sedans. However, on standard wheels the Quest needs no more space than an Altima to make a U-turn, and since it's less than six feet to the top of the roof the center of gravity isn't substantially higher than that of the Murano.
Fluid sculpture is what Nissan calls the styling of the current-generation Quest, which was launched as a 2011 model.
The front of the Quest is its most generic aspect, and like other vans could easily be confused with another were it not for the Nissan hamburger front and center. The front is smooth and clean, with a wide bumper section that cants upward at the edges below the headlights. All front lights except the fog lights are in the same housing, chrome is liberal, and the LE gets HID low-beam headlights.
In side view the simple lines continue, the only trim piece used along the bottom of the doors. The window line dips down from the windshield to a low point behind the useful side mirrors, then sweeps upward and tapers to near horizontal at its aft edge. A character line beginning atop the front tire then approaches the window line, ending at the taillight, giving as much wedge as possible in a box.
What sets Quest apart most is the nearly vertical tail that maximizes cabin volume and dark pillars everywhere but the windshield. Combined with the tinted glass the windows appear as a black band all around the car with the roof almost floating on top of it, much like a Mini Clubman or Ford Flex with the alternate roof color. Dark colors don't show it off as well, but they hide the sliding door track in the rear quarter panels better. On models with the power sliding side doors they operate comparably quickly yet without the jerky stop/start of some.
The rear end bears strong resemblance to Nissan luxury-division Infiniti's big QX56 utility and gets its fair share of chromium; the deep bumper also reminds of smaller boxes like Nissan's Cube or the original Scion xB. The big hatch cinches itself shut on all models and is powered on some. The top of the bumper, as on most minivans, has no protection to prevent scratching from hauling cargo in and out, so be careful when loading.
Optional dual moonroofs open independently; three small curb-like protuberances on the closed front moonroof aid airflow over the open rear moonroof to avoid any fuel economy penalty. The rear switch for the rear moonroof can be disabled by the window lock on the driver's door.
Seven-seat is the only configuration offered on the Quest, with two individual seats in the first two rows and a three-seat arrangement for kids in the last row. The Quest feels very open and is quite roomy if used this way, the generous 206 cubic feet of volume tilted in favor of adult comfort; if you frequently put adults in the third row the Honda Odyssey is better. But who does that?
The four forward seats are very comfortable, have good-to-best competitive dimensions and are just as good for short jaunts in the school Grand Prix or interstate cruising. We spent time in the middle row and found them as supportive as the front seats; the main differences are the adjustments and the fact that the second-row seats fold. The middle-row chairs one-up the front row with an individual armrest on each side.
Cloth upholstery is used on the lower two trims, with heated leather on upper trims, and the leather is piped for the high-end look.
Sliding side doors are typical but there is a step just inside them so there's less climbing or halfway-in kids falling back out. It also tends to keep that accumulation of junk on shoes from dirtying the carpet as quickly. Rear-seat entry/exit is decent and the second-row console is easily removed (cupholders remain nearby) for walk-through access.
The third row is split 40/60 with the wide side curbside. It partially reclines, moving the cushion slightly in the process and you could put two adults back there for short trips. Most models have three-zone climate control with overhead vents outboard and the LE has four side-window shades.
Cargo carrying behind the third-row seat is one area where the Quest defies the norm. Rather than the fold-into-floor last row that's commonly used, the Quest presents a cargo floor that's level with the opening at the back. A cover on each side is rated for 220 pounds each, so fertilizer and backpacks can be tossed in but cement or masonry treated more gently. Beneath this cargo floor is open space about the size of a midsize car's trunk, and with the covers out a 35-cubic-foot area behind the third row. With the back two seat rows folded flat, maximum cargo height or volume isn't as much as most competitors but you can still get the ubiquitous 4×8 sheet of plywood inside and keep the concealed cubic-footage under the back. The spare tire is underneath where it has no effect on cargo loading, or unloading to change a flat.
The instrument panel uses a conventional Nissan layout, but it would be easy to mistake a Quest SL or LE dash as from an Infiniti. Gauges are lit white while all controls and console ambient lighting are amber. There is a mood-light option with different colors and highlights for cupholders, footwells, etc.
Analog gauges give the usual information, framed by controls on its ears for dash lighting and trip computer. Power side-door controls are up high driver's left with other vehicle controls below. Steering wheel stalks handle lights and wipers (front and rear) and the wheel itself has redundant controls for the audio system. The key can stay in your pocket because every Quest is pushbutton start. We prefer a traditional key, but that's not an option.
Everyone has a good view out and the driver has few blind spots; a warning system is optional and effective but no substitute for an over-the-shoulder glance. As is often the case, the small triangular front side windows are more useful on the far side.
The shifter is on the left side of the center panel abutment but unlike that in the Odyssey it doesn't impinge on taller drivers' right knee space. The audio system and climate controls are to the right of it, controls for the navigation and such at about 45-degrees to horizontal above the shifter, and everything works as you'd expect. On the lower face are seat heater controls, two beverage holders and a disc-drive below; the drive is recessed so your Big Gulp might not immediately become a big glitch but you'd still have to reach under the cupholders to load it.
Quest forgoes the ultra-wide screen rear entertainment in favor of an 11-inch screen, the largest 16:9 perspective screen in the business; and somehow they did it without the driver losing rear view when the screen is being used. There are only a couple of features the competition offer the Quest does not: The widescreen/dual-image arrangement, ventilated front seats, middle-row lounge chairs, and a coolbox. Quest does have an audio-mute button for addressing unruly rear-seat passengers. Also, when refilling the tires the pressure monitor system will chirp the horn when the pressure is correct, an interesting feature.
Quest's cabin is a major advance from the previous version (pre-2011), primarily because it appears more car-like, even luxurious on upper models, where the previous Quest seemed to stop at fully functional. Apart from the Nissan logo we couldn't find a single part or finish that didn't speak better quality than before.
Nissan derived the Quest from sporty sedans and a sporty crossover and that paid dividends in driving characteristics. The Quest comes across as relatively light on its feet. It isn't light by any stretch, though it's among the lighter in vans and feels and drives smaller than it is.
Nissan's superb V6 engine has been proven in a variety of sizes; Quest uses the 3.5-liter size. Rated at 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque (using regular unleaded fuel) it is the mildest 3.5-liter Nissan makes, but don't equate that to slow. A Sienna V6 has 266 hp and Chrysler's newest Town & Country 283 but both use a conventional 6-speed automatic transmission; Honda's Odyssey has 248 hp and more torque but uses conventional 5- and 6-speed automatics.
The Quest uses a continuously variable transmission (CVT), dubbed Xtronic, proven in other Nissan V6 products. Rather than six gears to choose from it has an infinite range and can therefore ideally match performance and efficiency parameters for any demand. Floor the pedal at an on-ramp and the engine speed will rise near 5000 rpm, where the engine makes peak power, and stay there until you lift off the gas pedal or reach maximum speed. It's much like a powerboat getting on plane, but instead of the prop slipping the transmission is constantly changing its ratio.
Conversely, around town the CVT uses only the minimum engine revs needed to get the job done. At highway speeds it lopes along with barely 2000 rpm showing at 75 mph and if you need to accelerate there is no gear change felt. The CVT has an Overdrive Off switch but that only locks out the highest range for more sprightly response or controlling speed on long downgrades. If you select Low, the transmission uses engine braking to slow the Quest better than virtually any other van. On the minus side the CVT is very loose at idle and it will not hold the van on a hill without using the brake pedal.
EPA ratings are 19/24 mpg City/Highway for the Quest, matching the Sienna V6. Town & Country gets 17/25, and the Odyssey rates a bit higher at 18/27 mpg (19/28 with the top-line 6-speed model). However, it's been our experience with Nissan and other CVTs that their real-world mileage is often better than EPA calculations, and we expect the Quest to be fully competitive in this regard. Our trip computer showed 22.4 mpg average after a couple of hours of primarily urban driving.
Electric-assist steering is used on the Quest and the feel and operation are on par with conventional systems. Quest is quite maneuverable and requires less than 37 feet to make a U-turn. A three-row SUV or crossover with roughly the same exterior dimensions, smaller cabin and cargo space, and only half-an-inch more ground clearance needs more than 40 feet.
Ride quality is very nice, regardless of what row you're sitting in. Although the Sienna is the only van rated to carry more weight, the Quest doesn't feel overly stiff with just one occupant nor like a tub of Jell-O when it's loaded down. A sporty Sienna SE or Odyssey Touring might handle better than the Quest, but we like the blend of ride comfort, grip, and directional stability Nissan has calibrated here.
We made no observations on braking, which means pedal feel and the van's reaction are both appropriate. The CVT can help control or retard downhill speed.
In terms of performance, the upper models enjoy only the slightest, often immeasurable, advantage in steering crispness, minimum braking distance and cornering speeds because they have one-size wider 18-inch wheels but weigh more. On the other hand, the 16-inch wheels will be less-expensive to replace tires, could be used for a set of winter tires if you upgrade, and might make chain-fitting easier. Ride quality should be a little better with the taller sidewalls of the 16-inch tires, also.
A Quest may be configured to tow 3500 pounds maximum, right in line with other vans. The tow limit is one reason you'd have to step up to an SUV and take a fuel economy hit; the other is if you need four-wheel drive for trail adventures. Otherwise, the van makes more sense than an SUV.
The Nissan Quest does everything a family van should with no shortcomings in performance, efficiency, comfort or environmental features. The Quest drives nicely, with an optimum balance between ride quality and handling and a responsive V6 engine. The cabin is designed well for four adult-sized people plus two or three children.
G.R. Whale filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the Quest around Del Mar, California; with staff reports.