By design, vans are box-like with smoothed front ends to improve aerodynamics and driver visibility, and the Nissan Quest fits the mold. Roughly the same size as other minivans, the Quest is within inches of the competition in virtually every measure. There is nothing mini about the modern minivan.
Quest is built on a lengthened structure that shares basics with the Murano crossover and Maxima and Altima sedans. However, on standard wheels the Quest needs no more space than an Altima to make a U-turn, and since it's less than six feet to the top of the roof the center of gravity isn't substantially higher than that of the Murano.
Fluid sculpture is what Nissan calls the styling of the current-generation Quest, which was launched as a 2011 model.
The front of the Quest is its most generic aspect, and like other vans could easily be confused with another were it not for the Nissan hamburger front and center. The front is smooth and clean, with a wide bumper section that cants upward at the edges below the headlights. All front lights except the fog lights are in the same housing, chrome is liberal, and the LE gets HID low-beam headlights.
In side view the simple lines continue, the only trim piece used along the bottom of the doors. The window line dips down from the windshield to a low point behind the useful side mirrors, then sweeps upward and tapers to near horizontal at its aft edge. A character line beginning atop the front tire then approaches the window line, ending at the taillight, giving as much wedge as possible in a box.
What sets Quest apart most is the nearly vertical tail that maximizes cabin volume and dark pillars everywhere but the windshield. Combined with the tinted glass the windows appear as a black band all around the car with the roof almost floating on top of it, much like a Mini Clubman or Ford Flex with the alternate roof color. Dark colors don't show it off as well, but they hide the sliding door track in the rear quarter panels better. On models with the power sliding side doors they operate comparably quickly yet without the jerky stop/start of some.
The rear end bears strong resemblance to Nissan luxury-division Infiniti's big QX56 utility and gets its fair share of chromium; the deep bumper also reminds of smaller boxes like Nissan's Cube or the original Scion xB. The big hatch cinches itself shut on all models and is powered on some. The top of the bumper, as on most minivans, has no protection to prevent scratching from hauling cargo in and out, so be careful when loading.
Optional dual moonroofs open independently; three small curb-like protuberances on the closed front moonroof aid airflow over the open rear moonroof to avoid any fuel economy penalty. The rear switch for the rear moonroof can be disabled by the window lock on the driver's door.
Seven-seat is the only configuration offered on the Quest, with two individual seats in the first two rows and a three-seat arrangement for kids in the last row. The Quest feels very open and is quite roomy if used this way, the generous 206 cubic feet of volume tilted in favor of adult comfort; if you frequently put adults in the third row the Honda Odyssey is better. But who does that?
The four forward seats are very comfortable, have good-to-best competitive dimensions and are just as good for short jaunts in the school Grand Prix or interstate cruising. We spent time in the middle row and found them as supportive as the front seats; the main differences are the adjustments and the fact that the second-row seats fold. The middle-row chairs one-up the front row with an individual armrest on each side.
Cloth upholstery is used on the lower two trims, with heated leather on upper trims, and the leather is piped for the high-end look.
Sliding side doors are typical but there is a step just inside them so there's less climbing or halfway-in kids falling back out. It also tends to keep that accumulation of junk on shoes from dirtying the carpet as quickly. Rear-seat entry/exit is decent and the second-row console is easily removed (cupholders remain nearby) for walk-through access.
The third row is split 40/60 with the wide side curbside. It partially reclines, moving the cushion slightly in the process and you could put two adults back there for short trips. Most models have three-zone climate control with overhead vents outboard and the LE has four side-window shades.
Cargo carrying behind the third-row seat is one area where the Quest defies the norm. Rather than the fold-into-floor last row that's commonly used, the Quest presents a cargo floor that's level with the opening at the back. A cover on each side is rated for 220 pounds each, so fertilizer and backpacks can be tossed in but cement or masonry treated more gently. Beneath this cargo floor is open space about the size of a midsize car's trunk, and with the covers out a 35-cubic-foot area behind the third row. With the back two seat rows folded flat, maximum cargo height or volume isn't as much as most competitors but you can still get the ubiquitous 4x8 sheet of plywood inside and keep the concealed cubic-footage under the back. The spare tire is underneath where it has no effect on cargo loading, or unloading to change a flat.
The instrument panel uses a conventional Nissan layout, but it would be easy to mistake a Quest SL or LE dash as from an Infiniti. Gauges are lit white while all controls and console ambient lighting are amber. There is a mood-light option with different colors and highlights for cupholders, footwells, etc.
Analog gauges give the usual information, framed by controls on its ears for dash lighting and trip computer. Power side-door controls are up high driver's left with other vehicle controls below. Steering wheel stalks handle lights and wipers (front and rear) and the wheel itself has redundant controls for the audio system. The key can stay in your pocket because every Quest is pushbutton start. We prefer a traditional key, but that's not an option.
Everyone has a good view out and the driver has few blind spots; a warning system is optional and effective but no substitute for an over-the-shoulder glance. As is often the case, the small triangular front side windows are more useful on the far side.
The shifter is on the left side of the center panel abutment but unlike that in the Odyssey it doesn't impinge on taller drivers' right knee space. The audio system and climate controls are to the right of it, controls for the navigation and such at about 45-degrees to horizontal above the shifter, and everything works as you'd expect. On the lower face are seat heater controls, two beverage holders and a disc-drive below; the drive is recessed so your Big Gulp might not immediately become a big glitch but you'd still have to reach under the cupholders to load it.
Quest forgoes the ultra-wide screen rear entertainment in favor of an 11-inch screen, the largest 16:9 perspective screen in the business; and somehow they did it without the driver losing rear view when the screen is being used. There are only a couple of features the competition offer the Quest does not: The widescreen/dual-image arrangement, ventilated front seats, middle-row lounge chairs, and a coolbox. Quest does have an audio-mute button for addressing unruly rear-seat passengers. Also, when refilling the tires the pressure monitor system will chirp the horn when the pressure is correct, an interesting feature.
Quest's cabin is a major advance from the previous version (pre-2011), primarily because it appears more car-like, even luxurious on upper models, where the previous Quest seemed to stop at fully functional. Apart from the Nissan logo we couldn't find a single part or finish that didn't speak better quality than before.