2013 Nissan Quest LE Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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While at one time minivans made up an important and hotly contested market segment with almost every manufacturer offering at least one alternative, these days there are only a few real competitors and most of them play it pretty safe, seemingly cast from the same mould. Indeed when it comes down to it the Chrysler Town and Country, Dodge Grand Caravan and the Volkswagen Routan really are cast from the same mould, being variants of the same platform, and the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey compete so closely that sometimes it's hard to tell where one of them ends and the other begins. Then there's the Nissan Quest, which appears to drive to the beat of a different drummer, with a near luxury interior experience and utterly distinctive, unapologetically slab-sided styling.

My son said the Quest looked like a tank, but to me it has more whimsy than that, and a distinctly Eastern sensibility. In character it's perhaps closest to the original Scion xB, sort of a grown-up version for growing families. But either way it makes no bones about being a box, and because it sells in Canada at roughly the same rate as the Scion xB (94 Quests were sold here during first quarter of 2013 versus 148 xBs) it is at least an exclusively unique kind of box, so you won't be seeing yourself mirrored at every traffic light or find yourself hunting for your steed amongst lookalikes in the parking lot as you might with the top-selling Grand Caravan (which sold 10,055 units in the first quarter of the year).

While the Quest may be overlooked by most buyers, its designers certainly don't seem to have overlooked any details when it come to the interior, especially if you order yours up in top-of-the-line LE trim like my pearl white test van. In this guise the Quest gets supple, perforated leather seats, powered driver's and front passenger's seats, hard drive navigation, a DVD entertainment system with 11-inch second-row screen, a rich-sounding six-speaker Bose audio system, microfiltered climate control, around-view backup monitor, blind spot warning, and a whole lot more. My van also had a moonroof package featuring big power-retractable glass panes front and back.

It's not just the abundant features that make the Quest experience feel luxurious however, but rather it's the overall interior design and the quality of the materials, with soft-touch surfaces, chrome accents and rich woodgrain trims. The sweepingly curved dash looks like it could have been lifted from an Infiniti, and indeed it makes me wonder if one of the Quest's biggest rivals might not actually be a minivan at all, but rather Infiniti's own seven-passenger JX35 (soon to be QX60) crossover.

In terms of practicality the Quest is a middle-of-the-road kind of proposition. Its second and third row seats can't pull any fancy tricks like folding up into origami sculpture and disappearing into the floor, but rather they stay in place and simply fold forward to provide a perfectly flat, but somewhat raised cargo space. The disadvantage of this is that you lose some cargo capacity due to the reduced vertical space the folded seats allow: cargo capacity is 1,050 litres behind the third row (including a 323-litre under-floor bin), 1,801 litres behind the second row and 3,070 litres total behind the front seats. The advantages are many: First off, folding the seats flat is as easy as can be - pull the correct lever or leash, and done, just like that. No fiddling, no fussing, no lifting floorboards and no removing or fighting with the middle seats. Secondly, it means the hidden under-floor bin behind the third row is always available for use, and doesn't need clearing out to stow the rearmost seats. Third, and perhaps more important, it means that the rear seats - all five of them - are genuinely comfortable even for grown adults, and certainly miles ahead of sitting on the kind of origami sculpture seats that can disappear into the floor (it should be noted here that the Quest is only available as a seven-passenger van, with a pair of captain's chairs in the centre row rather than a bench).

As proof of the Quest's overall comfort, I participated in a five-van comparison test with some fellow auto journalists while I had it in my possession, and when it came time to go for lunch the decision as to which van to take was unanimous: The Quest. No one cared whether the styling statement was on-trend or off the mark, at least not once they'd settled into the comfortable leather seats.

On the road, the Quest continues its bias towards comfort. It handles corners well enough, but definitely feels a little softer (and also a little quieter and more refined) than its rivals. In my driving notes I called the ride "plush." Power is from Nissan's ubiquitous and well-regarded 3.5-litre V6, hooked up to an Xtronic CVT automatic. In this application the engine churns out 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque, and it will hustle the Quest from 0 to 100 km/h in 8.5 seconds. Nissan has stuck to its guns when it comes to the development of CVTs, and this is one of the best applications yet, wafting the 2,072 kg van along smoothly and utterly seamlessly (in my opinion CVTs shine best in large, refined vehicles rather than small hardworking economy cars, and the Quest is a perfect example: the transmission is sublime in this application). Towing capacity and fuel economy are about on par with rival vans at 1,588 kg and 11.0 / 8.0 L/100 km (city/highway). My own personally recorded economy, with strictly city driving, was 14.2 L/100km.

Did I have any complaints? Well, a few perhaps: The safety beepers on the power sliding doors and liftgate are extremely annoying, especially if loading and unloading late at night - one or two brief chimes would suffice. I looked for a way to disable the beepers but couldn't find any, so the best I could do was turn off the power assist entirely. I also found the A-pillars to be much more obstructive than most other vehicles I've driven, and the door pulls are set so deeply in the wide armrests that I found them difficult to grip. Finally the Quest is big, with almost the same footprint as a Cadillac Escalade. Thankfully it has a nice tight turning radius, and combined with the impressive around-view camera made parking reasonably easy.

Luxury doesn't come cheap of course, and the Quest is no exception. It starts out in base S trim with 16-inch steel wheels, cloth seats, four-speaker audio system, pushbutton start, tire pressure monitoring system and a full suite of safety gear for a reasonably competitive $31,748 including destination fees (though this is still well above the most basic Grand Caravan, which starts at $21,490 destination in). SV trim adds alloy wheels, fog lights, power sliding doors, a rearview monitor, six-speaker audio with satellite radio, USB input and Bluetooth connectivity, a leather wrapped steering wheel, tri-zone climate control and heated front seats, starting at $35,148. SL trim bumps the wheel size up to 18 inches and adds leather seating, a power liftgate, power driver's seat and more, starting at $40,648. LE trim includes all the kit from the SL, plus the huge array of goodies described earlier in this review, starting at $48,748 including destination fees. My test van added the moonroof package at $2,000 and three-coat paint at $300, for a total as-tested price of $51,048.

At that price it's certainly on the high side for a family hauler, but equipped in LE trim the 2013 Nissan Quest really is a particularly luxurious and well-appointed take on the family hauler concept.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Minivan, Nissan, 2013, Quest, $30,000 - $39,999, Midsize,

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