In our youth-obsessed culture, nobody wants to be seen in a minivan, which represents the responsibilities of middle age. But to a past generation, the Volkswagen bus became iconic as a vehicle embodying the freedom of the open road. Can the 2011 Nissan Quest take a similar place in our cultural panoply, making the minivan cool?
Despite its name, which puts one in mind of far-ranging adventures that might include golden chalices and desperate damsels, the Quest lacks the quality of uniqueness enjoyed by that earlier Volkswagen bus. It sits in a crowded field occupied by the Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, and Chrysler Town & Country, which all draw from a similar feature set.
Similar to its brethren, the Quest is a lumbering box on wheels, but it does manage a win on design. From how the headlight casings and grille fit together with jigsaw precision to a clean line down the side, ending up at the massive refrigeratorlike rear, the Quest employs a cohesive look. Every part seems to belong to the same car.
Power sliding doors are an upscale minivan standard, and found on the Quest in its SL trim. Middle-row captain's chairs are suitable for adults, with a wide bench in the third row for the kids. And the cargo area looks like it can take the biggest square carton you can wheel out of Wal-Mart. Add to that a sizable well hidden under the cargo floor, a smuggler's hole if you like, and the Quest does not lack for carrying capacity.
Keeping kids quiet
Minivans put as much focus on rear-seat comfort as a stretch limousine, in order to keep the kids quiet on long trips. Here the Quest struggles to keep up with the competition. The dual sunroof is a very nice touch, with its second panel of retractable glass over the middle row. But that sort of feature won't have the kids dropping video game controllers to rush into the minivan. It also lacks a switch in front to open and close it.
The rear-seat entertainment system is the backbone of the modern minivan, but the Quest's remains in the previous decade. Where the Sienna and Odyssey both went to dual screens, the Odyssey even adding an HDMI input, the Quest only has a single 11-inch screen. The kids will still have to compromise over what to watch or play.
The DVD system checks off other boxes, such as having wireless headphones, a remote, and jacks for external devices. But it lacks separate source control, meaning parents will be stuck listening to the latest cartoon inanity or driving in silence while the kids use the headphones.
Audio dribbles out through a six-speaker system barely capable of projecting into the farthest reaches of the Quest, at least with any clarity, or an optional 12-speaker Bose system. Our review vehicle did not include the Bose option, and we missed it. Anything must be better than the base system, which produced muted, compressed sound.
The DVD player for this system sits in the lower part of the center stack. Above it sits a set of classic radio controls, and farther up is an LCD, which would normally show navigation information. However, Nissan only makes navigation available in the top trim, LE, where it comes standard. You cannot option navigation in the lower-trim Quests.