Nissan tried to radically restyle its people mover once before — in 2004 when it relocated the Quest's driver's-side gauges and housed the controls in a center pod. That experiment didn't last long, and the van didn't sell well, ending its run after 2009. Fast-forward to 2012 and the new van, which has make-no-apologies (boxy) styling.
Appearance: Unlike the previous generation Quest, which looked vaguely futuristic, this one looks cumbersome. Lyra likened it to a rolling "loaf of bread." Its short nose is dominated by a wide grille, and the profile is large and heavy. The back end is tall and squared. The rear third of the Quest reminds Peter of Ford's large crossover, the Flex. Still, don't let the looks scare you off.
Performance: We like Nissan's V-6, a 3.5-liter, 260-horsepower engine that pulls the 4,500-pound van effortlessly. Part of the reason for that performance is the transmission. We haven't always been fans of continuously variable transmissions, but Nissan's Xtronic CVT is a keeper. There's no gear-fishing or loss of power between gears as with a regular automatic, and this one is much quieter than other CVTs thanks to thicker carpeting and sound insulation. The Quest has strong acceleration from a stop, and has more than enough power for overtaking on the interstate. It takes hard acceleration to even induce some torque steer. The speed-sensitive power steering makes it easy to turn and gives it a surprisingly tight turning radius. Our tester, the top-of-the-line LE trim, came with a blind-spot warning system (with audible alerts), which is a must for a van this size.
Interior: All the surfaces are soft-touch or solid with luxurious wood-tone trim and chrome accents. The seats are plush yet supportive and seem made for long drives. They are arranged theater-style, with the heights for second and third rows staggered higher — the better to see the 16:9 DVD screen. The Quest's second-row seats are captain's chairs instead of a bench, so it holds seven instead of eight as in some vans. Both the second- and third-row seats are easy to fold, but the cargo space (119.8 cubic feet) comes up short compared with the competition. The Quest has power sliding doors and a power lift gate, which are much appreciated. The audio system features 13 Bose speakers, which were loud enough to be heard over the laughs of Lyra's son and his soccer buddies as they watched a movie. Parents, there also are inputs for video games. Some of our LE tester's perks included Xenon headlights, a slightly bigger touchscreen (8 inches versus 7 in other trims) with voice recognition and sunscreens for the side windows.
Our 3 favorites
Cup holders: There are — count 'em — 16 of them.
Interior: It feels more upscale than you expect in a minivan.
Front end: It makes a bold statement.
Seats: Plush and comfortable, yet has great support.
Smooth cruiser: Strong off the line. But watch the speedometer.
Ease of use: It's a breeze to put the seats down for cargo space.
The bottom line: The competition may hold more passengers or cargo, but Nissan is counting on minivan buyers who appreciate a little more comfort and luxury. We like the tradeoff. It depends on your priorities.