The 2011 Nissan Quest marks the rebirth of the model after a year-long sabbatical. The previous one was such a dud, thanks in large part to odd styling which failed to connect with American customers, that many expected the automaker to pull out of the minivan segment altogether, as Ford, GM and Hyundai did before it.
Instead, Nissan has returned with something even more interesting: a van from Japan.
Sure, you may drive a Toyota Sienna or Honda Odyssey, but both of those were designed for the U.S. market and are built stateside, as was the previous Quest. The new one is not only made in the land of poisonous blowfish dinners, but also sold there.
This means that Nissan didn’t need to bow to American tastes when it designed the new Quest, which wears the awesome and incomprehensible name of Elgrand back home. Rather, we get the sloppy seconds of a vehicle that is primarily meant to be consumed by the people who brought you Hello Kitty, buckwheat-filled pillows and the TV show “Silent Library.”
Many of them also engage in a pastime which involves customizing vans so that they look like something from an anime version of "Batman." As a result, the aesthetic for what are known as Multi Purpose Vehicles over there has been skewed to the point that even ones fresh from the factory need to be very much up in your face to succeed, and the Elgrand is the Lady Gaga among them.
The Quest gets a slightly toned-down facade compared to the Elgrand, but remains proudly boxy, with enough chrome trim on its grille and blacked out, wrap-around windows to double South Africa’s GDP, if it were real. While other automakers try to disguise their minivans as something they are not, the Quest fully embraces its lot in life.
Sitting inside of it you wonder if Nissan hadn’t first considered selling the Quest as an Infiniti this time around. The flowing lines, soft materials and liberal use of wood on the dashboard are more in line with the company’s luxury brand than anything else parked next to the Sentras in the showroom. Even the leather upholstery on the high-tech heated seats - which warm your temperature-sensitive hips and thighs first, then spread the love all around your body – is above the minivan norm.
Loaded to the gills in top of the line LE trim, the Quest comes with a hard drive-equipped touch-screen infotainment system, superb Bose audio, a blind spot warning system, dual moonroofs, power sliding doors, window shades and a rear seat entertainment system with an 11-inch monitor and a remote control, which you need because there are no redundant controls on the unit itself. Fully equipped, the price is $43,740, but you can get a stripper for $28,560. If she’s not worth it, a base Quest costs the same.
In either of the vehicular instances, the front-wheel-drive Quest is powered by a version of the 3.5-liter V6 that is also found in the 350Z. Here, it has 260 hp and is connected to one of Nissan’s ubiquitous continuously variable automatic transmissions. The idea behind these “gearless” units is to keep the engine operating at its most efficient speeds in the name of fuel economy. Here, that translates to 19 mpg city and 24 mpg highway -- middle of the road for minivans, but way short of the Honda Odyssey’s near-miraculous 28 mpg highway figure.
Like every Nissan product, the exhaust engineers appear to have spent some quality time with the Quest, endowing it with a throaty, two-packs a day voice that’s very welcome in this largely bland segment. Some of those custom vans are fitted with 10-foot-tall tailpipes, so it makes a bit of sense, but you won’t hear it much if you keep the windows up. It’s quieter than a salaryman’s home at 8pm on Tuesday night. If you know what I mean, Salaryman.
The silence is more apropos of the plush ride of the Quest. This is not a vehicle that likes to be manhandled around jughandles, but it will gobble up potholes with the best of them and has what feels like the turning circle of a compact car.
In fact, in no way does the Quest stink. I mean that literally, the climate control system features a grape polyphenol-coated filter that allegedly scrubs the air of unpleasant odors, including those from dirty diapers. Although I did take my two-year-old for a spin, the occasion to confirm that claim never came up…or maybe it did and I just didn’t know it.
I should probably check, that was over a week ago.
In any event, the filter likely won’t be too challenged as the seven-passenger Quest has LATCH systems for child safety seats in only the pair of second row buckets and the passenger side in the third row. Oddly, the middle seat back there has a top tether, but no lower anchors, and the driver’s side perch does without either. I also found that you need to remove the headrests, or else the kiddie seats and boosters won’t fit flush against the seatbacks. (Ugh, and to think I was driving a $3 million dollar Bugatti just a couple of weeks ago.)
There are also a few other things those seatbacks don’t do. Along with the chairs that they are attached too, they can’t be fully removed from the Quest, and the third row doesn’t fold into the floor. Instead they all just flop forward SUV-style to create a flat, but high load floor, which means maximum cargo space is less than you’ll find in typical minivans, which, of course, the Quest is not.
If you need any more proof, when you are adjusting the air in the tires the Quest has a unique feature that beeps the horn to alert you that the correct pressure has been reached. It works well, but of course not when we tried to film it. Surprising, because the Quest doesn’t seem to shy away from attention.
2011 Nissan Quest
Base Price: $28,560
As Tested: $43,740
Type: 5-door, 7-passenger minivan
Engine: 3.5L V6
Transmission: CVT Automatic
Power: 260 hp, 240 lb-ft torque
MPG: 19 city/24 hwy