Reader Nicholas Naylor submits his review of the Nissan Quest
Minivans are overdue for an image makeover. Crossovers are less comfortable, less spacious, more thirsty, and absolutely zero percent cooler than a minivan (except for maybe the Flex). Yet it seems the majority of attractive MILF’s (Maternal, Image-Loving Females?) that I speak to would still never want to be caught dead driving a minivan. What gives? There’s an opportunity for a gifted designer to embrace what a minivan can do, and make it cool again, via good design, an accommodating interior, and affordability for young families. No one is doing this quite yet—but who is the closest?
After 14 years of driving body-on-frame SUV’s, I found myself with a growing family and a wife who wanted to drive the “big” car despite 20k miles + a year of driving for work. This means no more 16mpg truck, or 16.5mpg Crossover with a sticker on the window that says it should get 20mpg but you’re obviously driving it wrong.
Thankfully, my wife and I are both comfortable with being somewhat anti-cool. Yet I’m still an enthusiast; I still want something with at least a hint of interest about it. In other words, I look at a Town & Country, and despite the B&B’s love for the Pentastar motor, I don’t want to be that anti-cool. You only live once—and the T&C looks like a Wikipedia description of ‘Minivan’, or….a rental car. Chrysler practically is the reason minivans went out of fashion. They can fix that with a proper redesign—and history tells us they’re capable of doing it (although whether or not the Chrysler brand is the right one is arguable).
The Odyssey is suburbia’s default minivan choice, and although more socially acceptable, thus also bores me, despite its competence otherwise. Toyota seems to be the only company that can build a heavy FWD vehicle that doesn’t explode its transmission early, which, after having transmissions replaced in my last three cars in a row, really appealed to me. We rented a Sienna for a week, and for the most part loved it, but it had cheap interior materials, an expensive price tag, and it still was a pretty boring choice. The current Kia Sedona looks like it’s for people who buy discounted expired meat (I used to do that, btw), and is the last vestige of the old, miserable Kia. There’s a new one on the way that looks better, to their credit, although I was hoping Schreyer would do something more bold and embracing of the VAN, rather than the SUV-derivative style it looks to have.
I went to a Ford dealer as soon as the Transit Connect Wagon came out and sat in the spacious, economical, quirky, Spanish-built euro-van. I liked it—it had character. It was unique and affordable, despite fearful reliability concerns. But I couldn’t get my wife to even go near the dealer…she deemed it to be a “Pet Cremation Services Vehicle.” She didn’t want quirky & commercial.
So then we went to a Nissan dealer, and sat in the one, the only current Nissan that I had any sort of positive connotations for—the Quest. Unlike almost all other modern Nissan’s, the Quest is not a victim of bottom-dollar cost cutting, fleet sales, and sub-prime volume. It is still made in Japan, and has a Lexus-like level of craftsmanship to show for it. The Quest sells at only a little over 1/10 the volume of the Odyssey or Sienna, and I think it’s largely because the value-spec models look pretty awful. However, if you can swing an SL or LE, with the chromed out window trim and sharp 5 spoke 18” alloys, the aesthetics improve dramatically.
And then you get inside.
The Quest LE is an Infiniti minivan. I’m not kidding. It has deep, supple leather. Beautiful interior materials and craftsmanship–everywhere. Soft, leather padded armrests on the doors. Large 8” in dash nav, an 11” wide LCD for back seat DVD viewing, and two large moonroofs. The seats in the back are as nicely appointed as the rest of the vehicle. The interior of this car blows away not only any other minivan on the market, but most other large vehicles, period. There are no signs of cost cutting, and the level of comfort is immense. My wife immediately loved it, and I did, too.
The 3.5L V6 is potent as always, and the CVT isn’t anywhere near as transparent or weird in this application as it is in the rental Altima’s I’ve driven in the past. In fact, I prefer the smoothness of this CVT to many of the 6 speed automatics I’ve driven, which are constantly shifting around, and not always smoothly. Reliability on the CVT is an unknown, but at this point Nissan’s been at this for 10 years. Since this world-market Japanese-made version (2011-now) hasn’t sold well, it’s hard to find actual data on record of its reliability (previous version was built in Nissan’s problem-plagued new Mississippi factory, with earlier generation CVT, for North-American market only). 2011 is really still too early to determine much, anyways. For what it’s worth, the dealer told me it is amongst the best Nissans, reliability-wise. I got 24mpg on my first highway trip, A/C on, 70+mph, children enjoying movies in the back. And the ride…I don’t know if it is just that the ride is so smooth, the seats are so good, or the interior is so grand, but when behind the wheel of this Quest, the roads are paved with cream. This is by far the most comfortable vehicle I’ve ever driven.
There is one huge problem with the Quest LE…a $45k sticker. That’s a lot for a family van, but at least it feels like it’s worth it. Thankfully, depreciation is awful, so I swang a 2013 CPO LE for 2/3 the sticker price with less than 20k on the odometer. I’m sure I could have purchased a fully loaded new Town & Country at that price, but I wanted to not succumb to my cheapness for once, and enjoy what I think is a much better crafted and more interesting product. Plus, what you save up front on a discounted Chrysler will largely go away on the back end when you go to resell it.
Due to the price and the styling that only works on $35k plus models, Nissan still doesn’t accomplish the three objectives I suggest to make minivans more socially acceptable –good design, an accommodating interior, and affordability. VW’s Bulli concept, if made into a real 3-row spacious vehicle, is more along the lines of what I’m thinking—with Bauhaus styling that is clean and universally accepted. But for my family, at this time, the Nissan Quest LE is that rare beast—a minivan we’re proud to own and drive.