Review: 2011 Nissan Quest

Michael Karesh
by Michael Karesh
review 2011 nissan quest

If you want to become a leading player in a segment (say, minivans), you have a choice: Either do what everyone else is doing, only better, or do something entirely different, and hope that car buyers see the result as better. With the Mississippi-made 2004 Quest, Nissan attacked America’s minivan market using the latter strategy. The styling was bizarre, the suspension tuning was sporty, the seats were French-inspired, and the gauges were centrally located. And even after revisions relocated the gauges and improved the initially abysmal reliability, the gambit failed. That particular Quest came to a slightly premature end with the 2009 model year. Now, following a one-year hiatus, Nissan has launched another Quest. This iteration is very different from the 2004, but still manages to be very different from the competition. Prognosis?

The 2004 Nissan Quest was designed with the American market in mind. The 2011 is a rebadged JDM Nissan Elgrand. Either the Japanese domestic market likes big butts, or someone in Nissan’s design staff does, because the new minivan’s styling accentuates el grande backside. There’s a reason the D-pillars aren’t usually blacked out on minivans. Ditto the rarity of high beltlines in the segment. They don’t get much higher than the new Quest’s, and the minivan’s sides appear unusually tall as a result.

Those attracted by the exterior styling (or at least not repulsed by it) will find the segment’s most luxurious cabin inside the new Quest. The instrument panel is conservatively styled in the luxury car idiom, with a wide swath of faux timber beneath a soft-touch upper. The door panels are thickly padded and include freakishly wide armrests that should serve well on long stretches of Interstate.

Sadly, the ergonomics are awful. Thanks to the small windows, the view forward is far less expansive than in the typical minivan. Or even the typical bunker. I raised the soft driver’s seat to partially compensate. Visibility in other directions is similarly restricted by the high beltline. The infotainment system’s touchscreen is a couple inches out of reach and the IP-mounted shifter partially obstructs the HVAC controls. The switch for the driver seat’s power lumbar adjustment avoids discovery by hiding on the seat’s inside rear pedestal, but this isn’t an issue once you know where to find it.

Functional compromise continues in the rear quarters. As is often (but not always) the case with minivans, the second- and third-row seats are low to the floor. Move the second row all the way back and there’s a minimal amount of legroom for adults in the third—even if the official specs suggest otherwise. There’s considerably more passenger room inside a Toyota Sienna and especially inside a Honda Odyssey, both of which also offer an eight-passenger option that the captains-only Nissan does not.

Though it’s been 16 years since Honda introduced the first stowable seat with the Odyssey, the industry continues to struggle with how to handle the seats in a minivan. Nissan’s solution with the new Quest: fold them flat atop the floor, SUV style. This has the advantage of providing a flat floor without removing any seats. But, since the seats do not stow beneath the floorpan as in the Chryslers, the resulting floor is high. This shows up in the cargo volume specs: only 108.4 cubic feet for the Quest vs. 148.5 for the Odyssey. In all fairness, the former figure excludes a large, 11-cube storage compartment beneath the Quest’s rear floor. If you’ve been wanting a trunk inside your minivan, it’s here, and possibly worth the sacrifice in total volume.

This being a large, front-wheel-drive Nissan, the engine is a 3.5-liter V6 (in this application good for 260 horsepower and 240 foot-pounds of torque) and the transmission is a CVT. The V6 is silent at idle but a little gruff when revved. Acceleration, abetted by a CVT with no qualms about taking the engine to the high side of the tach and then holding it there, is well beyond the needs of most minivan drivers. Precise manual control over the CVT, present in some Nissans, is absent here. But hints about your desires can be passed to the CVT via an OD lockout button and an L shifter position.

The revised Dodge Grand Caravan stakes out the firm, tight extreme of the minivan handling spectrum. The new Quest, in sharp contrast to its predecessor, stakes out the other. The Nissan’s steering is unusually light and numb, even by minivan standards, and the pillow-soft suspension tuning permits copious lean in even moderate corners. Heavy understeer as well. There’s not much mechanical control inherent in the chassis, so it should come as no surprise that the electronic stability control intervenes very early and very aggressively. The ride is smooth in the traditional American luxury sedan way, so uneven roads effect some float and bounce. Even a Toyota Sienna is a driving machine in comparison.

The price for all of this JDM goodness? In the cheapest-dealers-will-stock “SV” trim, with floormats: $31,890. This is $150 above the similarly equipped Honda Odyssey EX, and so about $2,500 more than a comparable Dodge Grand Caravan or Toyota Sienna (based on comparisons using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool). Honda has worked hard to justify the high price of its minivan. Nissan…I’m not sure what they’re thinking.

We’ve been known to bemoan the “domestic market” cars that foreign auto makers don’t deign to offer in the US. “JDM” has a certain cult following here. But the track record with such products, when they are finally imported, is clear. Just consider the Nissans. Second-generation Infiniti Q45? DOA-it never had a chance. First-generation Infiniti M sedan? After some initial enthusiasm—the price was low for an imported luxury sedan with a strong DOHC V8—sales were similarly miniscule. Fourth-generation Nissan Quest? Between the odd styling, poor visibility, tight interior, squishy handling, and high price there’s no reason to expect the outcome to be different this time around.

Brian Evans of Suburban Nissan helpfully provided the vehicle for this review. Brian can be reached at 248-715-2062.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive reliability and pricing data

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  • Busam Nissan Busam Nissan on Apr 12, 2011

    Michael, thanks for writing a review that we really enjoyed reading! Busam Nissan 1501 E. Kemper Road, Cincinnati, OH 45246

  • Seven Bates Seven Bates on May 13, 2011

    Typically, I don't comment when I disagree with a review - but I have to make an exception with the new Quest. I just don't think most of the automotive press agree with your sentiments here. While I've read some reviews suggesting the styling is unconventional and possibly off-putting, the vast majority of reviewers consider it to be outstanding in the looks department. Proportionally, the Quest wins. The high belt-line that you point out, makes for very elegant lines along those doors and windows. That sweeping (and yes, large) rear end, is totally Japanese in the way the Cube and the Scion models are. For a Minivan styling aspect, I and most reviewers find the look appealing. I do agree the vehicle gives a good amount of body lean, but it's a minivan. Anyone remotely suggesting that they're looking for no body lean in a minivan is being unrealistic and wouldn't possibly be a potential customer for this kind of vehicle. Who wants a minivan that has front strut tower braces, and leans into turns? Who wants tight steering in something that big? I like the soft, easy riding, suspension and forgiving steering radius. It keeps kids from spilling their drinks, and long trips are comfy. Also, who expects lots of leg room in the back seat of a minivan? These seats are for kids. If, as an adult, you got stuck in the back of a minivan, it would be an uncommon occurrence at best. That rare inconvenience would be far out-shadowed by the long-term benefits of a smaller "mini" van on your gas budget. To your credit, you did point out that amazing interior trunk. When I test drove the Quest, we stuck a 6 foot man inside the thing, comfortably. I agree with your statement that it's so useful, it more than makes up for the smaller interior cargo space with the seats folded down. With that being said however, the Quest's layout makes more sense to me than most of its competitors. While I feel that removable seats are always the most efficient arrangement, this system is the most flexible. Customers who need a van, need to move people and stuff. How often do you need to just move stuff, and how often would it be more than 108 cubic feet could handle? If you did need to move more than that, why wouldn't you also have people going along? In the end, you have to think like a minivan owner. They aren't going to use the thing like a pickup truck, so their cargo room shouldn't ever be reviewed like it would be. The Quest gives you the ability to keep all your seats in your vehicle, easily folded, while you move equipment along with them. You can shift things around and have the use of the people-moving vehicle it was designed to be. I think when you combine that with the looks, the Quest wins the segment hands down.

  • Denis Jeep have other cars?!?
  • Darren Mertz In 2000, after reading the glowing reviews from c/d in 1998, I decided that was the car for me (yep, it took me 2 years to make up my mind). I found a 1999 with 24k on the clock at a local Volvo dealership. I think the salesman was more impressed with it than I was. It was everything I had hoped for. Comfortable, stylish, roomy, refined, efficient, flexible, ... I can't think of more superlatives right now but there are likely more. I had that car until just last year at this time. A red light runner t-boned me and my partner who was in the passenger seat. The cops estimate the other driver hit us at about 50 mph - on a city street. My partner wasn't visibly injured (when the seat air bag went off it shoved him out of the way of the intruding car) but his hip was rather tweaked. My car, though, was gone. I cried like a baby when they towed it away. I ruminated for months trying to decide how to replace it. Luckily, we had my 1998 SAAB 9000 as a spare car to use. I decided early on that there would be no new car considered. I loathe touch screens. I'm also not a fan of climate control. Months went by. I decided to keep looking for another B5 Passat. As the author wrote, the B5.5 just looked 'over done'. October this past year I found my Cinderella slipper - an early 2001. Same silver color. Same black leather interior. Same 1.8T engine. Same 5 speed manual transmission. I was happier than a pig in sh!t. But a little sad also. I had replaced my baby. But life goes on. I drive it every day to work which takes me over some rather twisty freeway ramps. I love the light snarel as I charge up some steep hills on my way home. So, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Passat guy.
  • Paul Mezhir As awful as the styling was on these cars, they were beautifully assembled and extremely well finished for the day. The doors closed solidly, the ride was extremely quiet and the absence of squeaks and rattles was commendable. As for styling? Everything's beautiful in it's own way.....except for the VI's proportions were just odd: the passenger compartment and wheelbase seemed to be way too short, especially compared to the VI sedan. Even the short-lived Town Coupe had much better proportions. None of the fox-body Lincolns could compare to the beautiful proportions of the Mark was the epitome of long, low, sleek and elegant. The proportions were just about perfect from every angle.
  • ToolGuy Silhouetting yourself on a ridge like that is an excellent way to get yourself shot ( Skylining)."Don't you know there's a special military operation on?"
  • ToolGuy When Farley says “like the Millennium Falcon” he means "fully updatable" and "constantly improving" -- it's right there in the Car and Driver article (and makes perfect sense).