Do buyers know there is a minivan again at Nissan?
The Nissan Quest, which had been dropped for a couple years and re-emerged as a fourth-generation 2011 model, is back for 2012 with unique touches.
Seats have special padding and front-seat heaters that arguably are the fastest-acting in the business. An odor-avoidance system goes high-tech with grape polyphenol filtering.
There's no tugging or fighting with electronic sliding side doors in this minivan, because they work without fuss. Nissan says the sliding door entryways also are lower than in other vans, which helps youngsters get inside and out. And no one risks a hernia taking a Quest seat out to make room for cargo. The seats are designed to stow in place and can't be removed on a whim.
The Quest even looks a bit different from other minivans. It has a noticeably flat roof and styling that makes it look larger than it is.
And in top-of-the-line LE form, the 2012 Quest competes as a decked-out luxury van.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $28,560 for the base 2012 Quest S with 260-horsepower V-6 and continuously variable transmission.
The top-selling minivan in calendar 2011 was the Toyota Sienna, which has a starting retail price of $25,870 with 187-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and $27,110 with 266-horsepower V-6. All 2012 Siennas come with automatic transmission. The second most popular minivan last year, the Dodge Grand Caravan, has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $21,830 for 2012. This is for an American Value Package Grand Caravan with 283-horsepower V-6 and automatic transmission.
Why ask if buyers know that Nissan has a minivan again?
Despite its unique features, the Quest's 2011 calendar-year sales of 12,199 were at the bottom of U.S. minivan sales.
Sienna and Grand Caravan each sold more than 110,000 vans last year. Even Volkswagen sold a few hundred more of its Routan minivans than Nissan did of the Quest.
Nissan's Quest can surprise drivers. It's some 16 feet long, but the turning circle is on par with that of a sedan and makes U-turns easy.
The step inside the Quest is accommodatingly low for elderly and younger passengers, and fixed grab handles at the sliding door entryways are positioned just right to help steady passengers getting in and out.
Nissan's tried-and-true 3.5-liter, double overhead cam V-6 delivers capable power for this 4,300-plus-pound vehicle. Drivers won't compare the Quest to a sports car, but the vehicle isn't slow and stodgy, either, as the engine delivers a good 240 foot-pounds of torque at 4,400 rpm. In fact, the test Quest merged with vigor into traffic and maintained its pace in traffic without fuss. Throttle response was quick.
The Quest's torque compares with 245 foot-pounds at a higher 4,700 rpm in the V-6-powered Sienna and 260 foot-pounds at 4,400 rpm in the Grand Caravan.
Nissan only offers the Quest with front-wheel drive, and during some startups, the strong engine power hit the front wheels with force. Drivers had best keep both hands on the steering wheel at these times, because the wheel can feel as if it's tugging to one side or the other.
The test Quest, a top LE, impressed with its airy and spacious feel inside. It rode nicely on virtually all road surfaces. The front independent strut suspension and rear multi-link kept bumps away from passengers, with some vibration coming through now and then.
There is a sense of body mass and weight shifting when the 6-foot-tall Quest goes into curves and around corners, but the ride overall was well controlled and not wallowy.
The interior was quiet except on windy days, when wind noise was noticeable from around the outside mirrors.
The LE came with a good, 13-speaker, Bose sound system that delivered awesome tunes. But the radio volume button on the dashboard was located around the other side of the shift lever when it was in "Drive" in the center stack and was not visible to the driver. Good thing the radio volume also could be controlled by a button on the steering wheel.
With one, quick lift of a plastic lever, second-row seats fold flat. Third-row seats go down just as easily after a tug on each release strap. Even with these five seats folded down, there's a lot more storage space in a cavity in the floor by the back bumper.
Access to the third-row bench seat could be better in the Quest. The two separate middle seats _ no second-row bench is offered _ have seatbacks that tilt forward and then the whole seat slides forward. But it can still be awkward as passengers step up and over the seat tracks to get into the third row.
In the tester, the hard head restraints in the third row were positioned in a bad spot for me. They locked into place in only one position, which put the protruding area of each head restraint at the part of my head where neck meets lower skull cap. I had to recline the seatback more than I would have preferred so I could reduce the pressure that the head restraint put on my head.
The Quest is the only minivan on the market with a CVT, which is designed to maximize fuel economy.
But the Quest's government rating of 21 miles per gallon in city driving and 24 mpg on the highway is lower than the 22/28-mpg rating that the federal government gives the 2012 Honda Odyssey minivan with V-6 and automatic transmission.
And, the test Quest LE averaged just 16.9 mpg in driving that was 70 percent city travel and 30 percent on the highways.