2011 Nissan Quest

October 21, 2011

The 2011 Nissan Quest hits the market after taking 2010 off. Nissan clearly took that year off to do some serious examination of what the minivan lacked and what it could do better to be a real contender in the market. The result is a 2011 Quest with a unique exterior and an upscale interior that combine to make this a minivan that could give the outstanding Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna a run for their money.

This is an all-new Quest, and it's not just the outside that's gotten a spicy new look; the interior has also been restyled and verges on downright fancy with its faux-wood and metal-looking accents.

Of course, nothing is perfect and driving the Quest wasn't as exciting as its new looks. While the driving experience wasn't wholly inspiring, the Quest's V-6 was quite competent in tackling the curvy, steep roads through the Rocky Mountains for a trek to Breckenridge, Colo. However, it seemed to labor more than necessary when cruising city streets.

The Quest has a starting MSRP of $27,750. The model I tested, the SV, starts at $30,900, but with the addition of roof rails, floormats and a cargo net, the price came to $32,240.

EXTERIOR

Automakers have been trying to spice up minivans recently. There isn't a whole lot one can do with the form of a minivan in order to preserve its function. That said, the 2011 Nissan Quest actually does a decent job of mixing up its exterior looks, especially compared to previous years. It looks like the love child of a Ford Flex and a previous-generation Nissan Quest. This alleged coupling produced a car whose looks may not be for everyone, but they definitely stand out in the minivan crowd.

The 2011 Quest is shorter than its predecessor, putting it at almost the same length as a Sienna and just a couple inches shy of an Odyssey. It's also got a few tweaks to give it an edgier look. The windows are now tinted, the pillars on the sides and rear are black and the roof sits atop these pillars, giving it that Flex-like floating-roof appearance. The new grille and door handles are chrome, and there is a spoiler at the rear. My test car was the midlevel SV trim. It came with standard 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels. Upper-level trims come with 18-inch wheels.

A power moonroof, power liftgate and one-touch power sliding doors are all available features to make any family's life in the Quest more pleasant. My test car did not come with any of these features, but one-touch doors that automatically unlock and slide open after you've swiped your hand over a button on the exterior door handle sound brilliant.

The rear cargo space includes a 60/40-split covered storage well that brings the total cargo space behind the third row up to 37.1 cubic feet, which is on par with that of the Sienna and Odyssey. The 2011 Quest does fall short in overall storage capacity with 108.4 cubic feet of total volume; the Sienna and the Odyssey each have almost 150 cubic feet. Of course, if you have children in child-safety seats like I do, total cargo volume isn't as important since your kids are always strapped into their car seats, and the seats are not going to be folded down anytime soon.

The 2011 Nissan Quest has a 3.5-liter V-6 engine that produces 260 horsepower; it's paired to a continuously variable automatic transmission. During my weeklong test drive, I could hear each and every one of those horses working. The Quest gets an EPA-estimated 19/24 mpg city/highway and uses regular unleaded fuel.

SENSE AND STYLE

Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Excellent

Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some

INTERIOR

The Quest's redesigned interior is easy on the eyes. The interior's faux-metal and wood-like trims evoke images of Nissan's luxurious Infiniti brand and create a warm feeling throughout the Quest's cabin. The center stack is intuitive to use, and while my test car did not have it, a rear entertainment system is available with an impressively large 11-inch flip-down screen.

The seats are comfortable, even for longer rides, and the fabric upholstery, though not beautifully patterned, was super easy to clean. How do I know this, you ask? Well, it's like this: During my test drive, it was the beginning of cherry season here in the Rocky Mountains. My children are bananas for cherries, so I couldn't keep them from eating cherries in the car. A cherry or five found refuge on the upholstery and left a mark or two, which came off easily (even after a few days!) with the quick swipe of a baby wipe. I was amazed. Leather upholstery is also available.

The number and variety of cupholders and cubbies also make the 2011 Quest family-friendly. There are 16 cupholders, a clever cubby near the center stack that is perfect for a smartphone or iPod, and several other cubbies located throughout the car that are useful for storing books, toys and snacks. There are also two great little hooks positioned on the back of the driver and front passenger seats. These hooks could be used for something expected like dry cleaning, but my children quickly decided these hooks were the ideal spot for their backpacks and lunch boxes. They had easy access to their stuff for every car ride.

My only real issue with the Quest's interior is the removable console in the second row. It is not easy to remove and ended up becoming more of a step stool into the third. With child-safety seats installed in the second-row captain's chairs, going over that center console was the only option for getting to the third row as it's too much of a hassle to take it out and reinstall it every time you get the kids in and out of the car. The console itself offers adequate space for drinks and snacks, but I would prefer a clear path to the third row and another solution for refreshments.

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT

Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample

Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample

SAFETY

The 2011 Nissan Quest scored the highest rating of Good in frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It hasn't undergone IIHS' roof-strength or rear crash tests. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration hasn't crash-tested the 2011 Quest.

The Quest is filled with the usual array of standard safety equipment — antilock brakes, an electronic stability system, traction control and six airbags — to ensure that you and your precious cargo are protected. The Quest also has standard front-wheel drive and active head restraints in the front row. One standout standard feature is the tire pressure monitoring system with Easy Fill Tire Alert, which flashes the car's hazard lights when a tire is being filled with air and then sounds the horn when the tire has reached its required pressure. While I didn't have occasion to put this feature to use, the mere idea of ending the guessing game when inflating car tires made me giddy. A blind spot warning system is another cool safety feature, but if you want that, you'll have to pay extra.

The Quest has three sets of lower Latch anchors — two sets in the second row's captain's chairs and the third set in the third row. The anchors' accessibility and ease of use are average; they didn't cause me to break a nail or a sweat, but I've seen better. A rear-facing infant-safety seat, convertible car seat and a booster seat all fit well in the Quest.

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