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2011 Nissan Quest: Among minivans, a suitable challenger

Posted by Gerry Miles  August 26, 2011 06:43 PM

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(All photos: Gerry Miles for The Boston Globe). Click photo for larger version.

If you actually pay attention to the Nissan commercials — the ones that dare you to change, think, and imagine things differently — you might better understand the 2011 Nissan Quest.

This fourth generation Quest seems to have found its place among the more upstream contenders, like the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey, offering style, creature comforts, luxury, and versatility.

With a more styled front end and high-rise sides that offers blacked out privacy glass around the rear two-thirds of the car, you could envision the Quest, in black, as a quasi-limo for execs or a high-end cab. The front is stylish with a somewhat glaring grille and projector headlights set in a sculpted lower fascia. Arched wheel wells that house 18-inch wheels emerge as the belt line that rises to the back and gives tension to the side.

Styling continues on the backside where the roof ends in a small spoiler and the rear door has wide-styled lamps that provide a mid-line chrome piece to define the midsection. All that's missing are dual exhausts.

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The mainstay of the seven-passenger minivan, storage and personal space, is abundant here. But there's so much more, including 16 cup holders, plenty of leg room, and comfortable seating.

Nissan put the instrument panel back where it belongs, behind the steering wheel, (they moved it in previous years), and everything is right at hand, with the shifter sticking up, pod-like, in the dash's command center. A large video screen behind the shifter displays maps or radio selections that even tired eyes can read without glasses.

Since the main haggling point in minivan wars is often storage — would you like your smelly, wet bathing suits and camping gear in the floor or on it? And can you fit the proverbial sheet of plywood, you know, the one you've never bought? — the Quest delivers nicely.

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To provide a surface for hauling large items, the Quest's seats fold flat, and with its tall sides you can easily fit a mattress, box spring, and headboards with room left over. Knowing there might be some smaller items to stow away, the Quest offers a storage well behind the 60/40-split, rear third row bench seat. The rear seats also fold flat easily by pulling up on a strap, opening up plenty of usable space to hold the week's foodstuffs, odds and ends, or football equipment, post practice.

A tow package is optional if you want to haul people and parcels. The 3.5-liter, 260-horsepower V-6 engine mates to a Continuously Variable Transmission that provides spunky power given the Quest's heft at just over two tons. It was faster than I hoped for, maintained speed easily, and didn't shudder when whipped by winds along Route 101 on the New Hampshire seacoast.

Still, heft comes at a price; thus, the need for a CVT to achieve fuel economy. With economy numbers of 19/24 on the sticker, the Quest's computer said I managed just better than 20 mpg in mixed driving. A 20-gallon tank gives families on an outing an extended driving range. For a front-drive setup, I sensed no torque steer (where the engine's power can pull the steering wheel while accelerating).

Even laden with my neighbor's bed, the Quest rode smoothly. It boasted a wide, sumptuous, and quiet interior. An independent front suspension and stabilizer augment the rear multi-link suspension.

While a rear camera was invaluable for seeing what was behind you, a Blind Side Warning feature was especially welcome. Despite the Quest's large side mirrors, it's necessary to constantly check those mirrors before changing lanes in this vehicle.

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The car's interior had a luxurious feel, almost too high-end for a minivan that would shuttle children to and fro while being assaulted by chips, crackers, and spilled juice boxes. This Quest has a low step-in height and the requisite sliding doors, which reveal second-row bucket seats that tip forward for rear seat access or fold to become a table. Rear seat room is best left to the wee folk who'll think it's cool to ride in back, unaware of the theater-style seating upfront.

Nissan's Intelligent Key means you can keep your hands free to hold groceries while gaining access and even keep the key elsewhere while enjoying a push button start. So much is inclusive that Nissan only offers four factory installed options for the Quest: a DVD Entertainment System ($2,100) that boasts a single 11-inch screen for rear-seat viewing, wireless headsets, remote control, and volume controls; a Dual Glass Moonroof ($1,350) which certainly makes this airy vehicle feel much bigger; a Bose sound system ($1,300), and roof rails ($300).

The tested SL featured the DVD system, Bose sound package, dual moonroofs, floor mats, and a cargo net before finishing at $40,140.

No matter what the errand is, or what the distance might be, Nissan's new Quest is now a suitable challenger in a market that ought to be rightfully nervous.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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