Wednesday, October 26, 2011

2011 Nissan Quest: Big & Modern

The Nissan Quest has a new look for 2011, and like the previous design, it isn't going to appeal to every one. I'm OK with that because the Quest drives like a much smaller vehicle, is incredibly smooth, and the technology inside overshadows the odd external styling. The 2011 Quest has creature comforts just right for an active family (including more dedicated storage space), and the drive is comfortable and enjoyable.

Here's how I think about it: how much time do you spend looking at the exterior of your own vehicle? Most of your time is spent inside, enjoying the creature comforts and actually driving the thing. 

  • Permanent cargo space in way back
  • Easy fill tire alert (horn beeps when you've reached the right pressure)
  • 16 cup holders standard
  • Dual opening moonroof option
  • CVT transmission is smooth & quick (no shift-lag)
  • Speed-sensitive steering tightens up as you go faster
  • Keyless entry & push button start
  • Auto-closing lift gate
  • Theater seating (3rd row slightly higher than 2nd row) for better viewing
  • Blind spot warning system
  • 19 MPG City/24 MPG Highway
  • Nissan's The Snug Kids Child Safety Seat Fit Guide (

The Exterior
My theory about considering the vehicle interior over the exterior only works in a situation where the buyer isn't influenced by what other people think of their car. That's not generally the case, and it certainly isn't me. (One of the reasons I wouldn't be caught driving a Pacer.) I'm a sucker for beautiful design inside and out. But I'm also a sucker for cool features that make life easier. The Quest has an odd shape, I'll give you that. It looks like two different Nissans stuck together: with the very square rear end of the 2012 Nissan NV1500 commercial van welded to a wider, toothier, silver mustached Maxima grill. I think the designers tried to bring out some fun in an otherwise large expanse of metal by sculpting the taillights to stick out on the corners like the Murano. (And the brake lights are in a cool curvy pattern.) But it's still an odd shape.
Nice Smile

The trim line at the bottom of the side panels doesn't help with the overall look of the Quest. That line actually makes most Quests look like a wheelchair accessible van. If that line weren't so prominent with the shiny trim piece, or placed higher or lower, the overall lines of the van would flow more gracefully. Taking all of these criticisms into account, my favorite color for the best looking 2011 Quest is the Dark Mahogany.

The Quest is five inches taller than the Toyota Sienna and the Honda Odyssey, but that doesn't mean the entry height is high, it just means more headroom inside. Those five inches, however, will make it a challenge for anyone shorter than 7' to access any items attached to the roof racks. Hopefully there is enough dedicated space inside the van so that you won't have to use the roof for gear. To access all your passengers or gear, the rear doors slide automatically and slowly as does the tail gate (with beeping as it goes up and down that three year old kids will love). All automatic doors have standard pinch protection and can be operated by the driver, the 2nd row passengers, or the key fob.

I am concerned about the lack of daytime running lights on the Quest (and all other vehicles newer than 2000). I understand that driving with the fog lights on all the time is a good fix, and luckily Nissan did add automatic on/off lights so you don't have to worry about running the battery down if you leave the fog lights on. I assumed there were daytime running lights on the Quest when I drove it, but yesterday I was driving in the fog and passed a 2011 Quest that didn't have any lights on at all. Dangerous.

Dedicated Storage Space 
Permanent Storage Space
3rd Row & One 2nd Row Seat Folded Flat
Let's jump right to one of the things that separates the Nissan Quest from the pack: The dedicated storage space behind the 3rd row. All other minivans on the market have this nice deep well behind the 3rd row that holds strollers and ice chests and groceries. Until you want to fold and store the 3rd row - then you have to empty out the storage space in order for the seats to fold into that space. The Quest has one deep compartment behind the third row with two hinged lids (matching the 60/40 split of the 3rd row) so you can store your gear, groceries, secret purchases and never have to move them if you need to fold the back row. It is simple and more convenient and certainly more flexible.

One complaint I saw online was about the storage space lids and how they don't stay open without holding. According to the Quest owner's manual, "To open the cargo floor box lid, pull the strap A [the strap on the cargo lid]. To hold lid open, secure the strap B [the long strap on the 3rd row seat back] to the hook on the under side of cargo floor box lid." Ta-da! Problem solved. (And I can't think of any others; but I now have the owner's manual just in case).

Two Sippy Cups Per Passenger
The Quest shatters the record for number of standard cup holders in a minivan with 16. (The Odyssey has 10-15, and the Sienna has 6-12 depending on the model.)  With seven passengers, each person has access to at least two cup holders (when the center console is installed in row 2). That should be plenty of space and should help eliminate - or at least reduce - the "he stole my water bottle" screams from the back seats.

Seating Arrangements
View from 3rd Row
We have two kids spaced 4 years apart, so we never needed two massive Britax Marathon car seats installed at the same time. For those people needing three or four LATCH-equipped seats in one vehicle at the same time, you'll have to do some thinking and re-arranging in most minivans. In the Quest, three of the five rear seats are LATCH-equipped (both seats in the second row and the passenger-side outboard in the third row). Granted, if you need to install four car seats, you can do so using the safety belts instead of the LATCH system. My concern with the Quest is how older kids get out of the third row if car seats are installed in the second row - the way the seats move forward and fold forward slightly at the same time leads me to believe that you'll have to remove the second row console so kids can move around the fixed seats.

To address this issue in the Honda Odyssey, the second row seats can move side-to-side and forward and back so kids can squeeze in and out behind the second row without any folding of the seats (and five seats are LATCH equipped). The Toyota Sienna has three LATCH seats as well (second row and middle third row) with a configuration that may make it even more difficult to move around from the third row to the exit.

As for reclining seats, the Quest allows for both the second and third rows to recline. For our family, this feature appears to be most useful on trips lasting more than two hours or on Friday's after a long, difficult day in 6th grade. Hopefully your kids aren't quite as dramatic as mine.

Entertainment System
Most minivan and SUV buyers I talk to are very interested in how the installed entertainment systems work. The Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Caravan and VW Routan have two screens (one for each back row). The Toyota Sienna and the Honda Odyssey have extra-wide screens in front of the second row that can show two different movies or games at the same time. In all of these minivans, the kids in the back row(s) can open, close and generally mess with the DVD screens. In the Quest, there is one screen in front of the second row, but the third row is slightly higher (they call it "stadium seating") so the kids in the way back can see the screen better. This one screen is bigger than the Chryslter-Dodge-VW, but not as wide, nor does it have the split option like the screens in the Sienna and Odyssey. However, the kids can't open the Quest's screen on their own. I love this feature. The driver or front passenger uses controls on the dash to turn the screen on (and it opens) and turn it off (and it closes). If the kids are being brats, or won't turn it off when you say (or they open it without asking), you'll want to have the control. Most kids who are spending time watching movies or playing Wii's in vehicles will begin to associate a car ride with screen time. I say we try to keep them from looking at screens while riding in cars - or at least make them wait until it's been 30 minutes. Or until the fighting and whining make you want to drive off the road. Luckily, the Quest with Entertainment system includes two wireless headsets so you don't have to listen to SpongeBob.

Happy Driving
I read about the Nissan CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) before driving the Quest, but didn't think it'd make that much difference in how the van drove. I was wrong. Nissan describes CVT as "Quest's virtually 'gearless' and smooth transmission." Instead of shifting between gears, and feeling that short lag in power, the CVT is described as a "wave of power." The standard V6 is strong and gets you up to cruising speed quickly and with very little effort.

Safety features are standard and as expected. The front airbags are dual-stage and the front passenger air bag has an "occupant-identification sensor" so a child in the front seat won't be injured by a full-force air bag deployment.

One aspect of the Quest (and Nissan's in general) that I really appreciate are all the standard features and the lack of options packages. There are only three options packages for the Quest: DVD Entertainment system; Dual opening moonroofs; Bose sound system. How easy. Who's got time to figure out options packages? The Quest I drove was an SL model and had the Entertainment system. The sticker price was $37,980. According to the Nissan USA website, the four Quest models range in price from $27,750 - $41,350.

Go to your local Nissan dealer, test drive a new Quest and let me know what you think. My thanks to Mark Brill at Northbay Nissan in Petaluma, CA, for letting me take a Quest for a spin.

Photos courtesy of Car Mama and

(c) Copyright 2010-2016. Erika JN Fish. Car Mama. All Rights Reserved.

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