Still enough soccer moms around to need minivan

Minivans remain smartest, most practical choice for family duties.

The all-new fourth generation 2011 Nissan Quest

DEL MAR, CA.: It was winter in California. 

Sort of.

The sun was shining, my driver’s side window was down and the air was fragrant with pine, chaparral and sagebrush. 

And in one of those coincidences of perfect synchronicity, when all is right with the world, Sheryl Crow just happened to be singing Every Day is a Winding Road as I slalomed the bends of the Del Dios Highway in my new Nissan Quest, through the hairpins and sweepers of the Laguna Mountains, heading west toward the Pacific coast.

Whoa, wait a minute; back up, you might say. A Nissan Quest?

OK, maybe I lost you at that point but yes; I was minivanning in the mountains, exploring the capabilities of the 2011 Quest, a totally redesigned family vehicle that will be appearing in Canadian dealerships by the end of January 2011.

Now, your first question might be “why bother?” Isn’t the minivan dead?

After all, Quest sales have been in the dumper over the last few years and Nissan didn’t even offer their minivan model for 2010.

But no, rumours of the minivan’s death have been greatly exaggerated. The segment is still large enough to warrant attention, especially in Canada where we seem to be less insecure about the whole soccer mom image thingy. 

Sure, some families have outgrown minivans or moved on to the subtly disguised GM and Ford crossovers that have taken their place. 

But Chrysler is carrying on with their bread & butter Grand Caravan and new versions of the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey have helped reinvigorate the minivan market.

And, staid and stodgy as they may sometime seem, minivans remain the smartest, most practical choice for family duties, offering room and utility without all the macho hype and overpriced markups of SUV substitutes.

“The all-new Nissan Quest ‘gets’ parenting,” said Mark McDade, Director, Marketing, Nissan Canada. “While minivans remain one of the most maligned symbols of adulthood, where some see them as a surrendering of youth and fun, Nissan sees the minivan as a celebration of family life  not only for moms on weekdays, but for fun times with the entire family on weekends.”

The new 2011 Nissan Quest’s “innovative functionality” builds on Nissan’s D-platform, shared with Maxima, Murano and Altima. 

The new Quest is actually slightly smaller than its predecessor but it still offers a roomy enough interior along with a noticeably tighter turning circle and better maneuverability. 

Nissan cites “fluid sculptural elements” in the new exterior design, a marked departure from the low snouted “dachshund” look of the old Quest, more bulldog-chinned up front with the lower jutting bumper. 

A higher front cowl line and squared-off rear combine for a “boxier” package but the strong character lines and the converging laser-straight edges of the beltline and roofline, the windows highlighted in chrome, accent the Quest’s sleek lines, low co-efficient of drag and handsome, striking profile. 

I like it best in black, complimented by the full surround privacy glass, blacked-out pillars and elegant chrome touches. This is about as classy as a minivan can get. Exterior finishing touches include a rear roof spoiler, 350Z-influenced boomerang-style tail lamps, available fog lights and optional Dual Opening Glass moon roofs above the first and second rows.  

The Quest starts as a seven-passenger vehicle with a roomy and comfortable cabin. Nissan has dropped the wonky and distracting interior styling of a predecessor that tried too hard to set itself apart for a more conservative, classier decor. 

Designers chose to work with a simple fold-flat system for the second and third row theatre-style seating rather than engineer more elaborate fold-into-the-floor seats. 

On the plus side, this frees up the rear under floor tub as a permanent storage well for extra cargo.

Under the hood, the 2011 Quest is powered by one of Nissan’s award-winning VQ engines, a 3.5-litre DOHC V6 making 260 hp and 240 lb/ft of torque. 

There’s no lack of oomph with this engine and power is translated through an advanced Xtronic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) with Adaptive Shift Control (ASC). Acceleration is smooth and linear. Fuel economy ratings are yet to be determined.

The 2011 Quest is offered in four trim levels – S, SV, SL and LE.  

The Quest S comes in starter kit with 16-inch steel wheels; six-way adjustable front bucket seats, the fold-flat second and third row seats with permanent rear storage well; first and second row centre consoles; Nissan Intelligent Key with Push Button Ignition; and an AM/FM/6CD audio system with four speakers.

The Quest SV adds one-touch power sliding doors; 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels; Tri-Zone Auto Temperature Control; power driver’s seat lumbar adjustment; fog lights; conversation mirror.

The Quest SL bumps content up with leather on the seats, steering wheel, shifter and door trim; 18-inch alloy wheels; power liftgate; eight-way power driver’s seat; heated front seats; HomeLink; auto-dimming inside mirror with compass; roof rails; auto on/off headlights; Quick Release fold flat 3rd row; outside mirrors with integrated turn signals; 4.3-inch colour audio display; six speakers; USB port with iPod connectivity; Bluetooth Hands-free Phone System with steering wheel controls; RearView Monitor.

And the top-of-the-line Quest LE includes Nissan Navigation System; Bose Audio with 12 speakers and subwoofer; XM-ready Satellite Radio; memory system for driver’s seat and outside mirrors; auto tilt-in-reverse outside mirrors; second and third row manual blinds; 4-way power-adjustable front passenger’s seat; eight-inch VGA colour display (dash mounted); DVD Entertainment System with 11-inch screen and two wireless headphones and remote control; Advanced Climate Control System (ACCS) with auto recirculation feature; Blind Spot Warning (BSW) system; and High Intensity Discharge (HID) xenon headlights.

Prices have not been released yet but, like most of its competitors, you can expect the 2011 to start under $30,000 with a top-of-the-line model peaking somewhere above the mid-$40K mark.

You know, if you look up “Quest” in the dictionary, you find definitions that describe a special mission, a hunt for treasure or, in Nissan’s case, a search for the holy grail of creating a successful competitor in the minivan market.

Nissan struggled with this through the initial Ford Villager rebadged twin stage and into the following generations of a Quest that was a little too unique for its own good.

But with this all-new model for 2011, with a wide range of model choices, technologies and user-friendly conveniences, and with a handsome styling treatment inside and out, it seems like Nissan’s Quest has finally been realized.

Nissan Quest 2011 

Body Style: five-door, seven- or eight-passenger minivan. 

Drive Method: front engine, front-wheel drive. 

Engine: 3.5-litre DOHC V6 (260 hp, 240 b/ft).

Fuel Economy: TBD

Price: TBA 

Web: www.nissan.ca 

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