As the long-time emcee of the Oscar telecast, comedian/actor Bob Hope famously pursued his own acting Oscar; that, of course, didn’t happen. A seemingly similar pursuit, in search of the minivan market’s sweet spot, has been maintained by Nissan since 1993. And despite an extremely credible effort with the (4th generation) 2012 Quest, introduced to the U.S. market in the 2011 model year, the company has yet to find that sweet spot. The strides made by the new Quest suggest, however, the company shouldn’t give up; hope, it seems, springs eternal.
Introduced for the 1993 model year, the first Quest was a joint venture with the Ford Motor Company, produced by Ford, powered by Nissan and sold as both a Nissan Quest and Mercury Villager. The Quest/Villager was notable for clean sheetmetal, a maneuverable platform and relatively modest sales. With Nissan’s own Quest, introduced for 2004, the Japanese manufacturer – now aligned with Renault – swung for the fences, with signature sheetmetal fully matched by Nissan’s own take on interior features and furnishings. Regrettably, the market was unmoved, during both the redesign’s introductory period (2004-2006), or after a refresh for 2007. In 2009, the last year for this model, Nissan moved fewer than 10,000 units.
Despite a market presence that is but a few units above ‘niche’, the newest Quest comes with a lot to recommend it. Unlike its more established competition (Chrysler Town & Country, Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey), the newest Quest owes less to the American market and more to the Japanese. Sharing its platform – and most sheetmetal – with Nissan’s Elgrand, the 2012 Quest carries itself with a JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) demeanor, boasting proportions that seem at once both more narrow (the Town & Country is two inches wider) and taller than the Chrysler, Honda or Toyota. The end result is attractive, with quietly expressive sheetmetal, a reasonably expansive greenhouse and comfortable access to both its cabin and luggage area. But it’s different…
Inside, we’re impressed with the overall quality of materials in our Quest LE, the top-of-the-line variant. The LE features leather appointments on seat and door trim, along with a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift lever. Front seating was adequately comfortable, while wishing for more supportive seat backs. Notably, the Quest’s middle row is outfitted with two buckets only; there is no provision for a second row bench and the 8-passenger capacity that would come with it. Those second row seats do allow for easy access to the Quest’s third row, will adjust as necessary for increased (or decreased) legroom, and fold for additional storage.
Perhaps the biggest seating surprise was provided by the third row. There, forty inches of headroom (without available moonroof), the same amount of legroom and almost fifty inches of hip room provided comfortable accommodation for three adults of average size. You probably wouldn’t elect to go cross-country in the rearmost row, but it certainly worked for a lunch run or quick trip to the lake. And with the third row seats fixed in their ‘up’ position the Quest provided almost 26 cubic feet of luggage space behind the third row, along with a storage well offering between 6.7 and ll.4 cubic feet of concealed storage; the lower figure represents the storage sacrifice made to accommodate the Bose audio system on the SL and LE models.
Over the July 4th holiday we regularly carried between five and seven adults; all were comfortably accommodated, and all spoke to the almost serene environment Nissan’s Quest provides. That serenity (per Frank Costanza: NOW!) is helped in no small way by the Quest’s drivetrain, comprising a Nissan’s well-regarded 3.5 liter V6 and Xtronic CVT. Although any number of critics have aimed critical shots at the CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) genre, no one seemingly does the CVT better than Nissan. We found the engine – with 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque – smooth and the transmission responsive. To be sure, we wouldn’t have confused this drivetrain with that of Audi’s S6, but we did find it relaxed in stop-and-go driving, and possessing enough urge on the open road to allay any anxieties. Were we at 10,000 feet elevation the conclusions might have been different, but then, so would have the scenery.
If the powertrain delights, enthusiasm registers less fully when considering the Quest’s suspension. To be sure, all of the right pieces are in place: 4-wheel independent suspension, directed by a speed-sensitive (and electric) rack-and-pinion steering system. But for around-town hauling everything seemed to be a bit lethargic. We didn’t, of course, expect the Quest to be trackday-capable, but we would have liked a slightly more flickable demeanor in combination with the relatively responsive engine and trans. To the Quest’s credit the steering was well-connected, body lean kept in check and braking response from the Quest’s 4-wheel ventilated discs reassuring.