Purchasing a minivan may not inspire a lot of enthusiasm — until you're a parent. But then the beauty of the minivan concept — the heft, girth, length and uninspired steering, acceleration and cornering — no longer add up to a yawn. Minivans' interior space is handy for families. Factor in the convenience of the power doors and lift gate when your hands are full of groceries and your children are full of energy and things change. It's why I was excited to test drive the 2012 Nissan Quest.
Zero to 60 mph? The Quest’s 3.5 liter V6 pumps out 240 lb.-ft. of torque and 260 horespower making it among the most powerful minivans. There were no issues pulling into traffic or merging onto the freeway. The continuously variabe transmission (CVT) is smooth and adjusts fast to throttle input.
Accelerating off the line as well as passing on the highway feels natural and confident, and handling in general on such a large vehicle is better than expected. There's body roll, but the suspension does not feel squishy. The high seating position also gives the driver a commanding view of the road and surroundings. Overall, driving the Quest is less-than-inspiring, but it's better than driving some of its competitors.
Short of the A Team GMC Vandura van, I’m not sure styling is a primary factor in picking minivans. The North American Nissan Quest is based on the JDM Elgrand model, except it's wider to fit the U.S. market better. Since its design origins suit the Japanese market, the Quest's exterior styling differs in comparison to other minivans targeted for the U.S. market.
The beltline on the Quest seems extremely high, leaving a vast swath of metal underneath the windows. The rear window is almost 90 degrees versus the slanted look of all other minivans on the market. The front-end design also sets the Quest apart; it's a face only a mother could love.
Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
The 2012 Quest is spacious. There is more head room, leg room, hip room (second row), shoulder room (second row), name-your-own-body-part room than the competition. I had trouble putting my left arm on the door armrest half the time, because there is so much space around me.
The Quest doesn’t feel so “mini.” The space was useful when we installed the child seat and when we put our child into it. It was also easy to move between the front row to the second and third row inside the minivan.
The leather seats are comfortable, ideal for a long road trip. Arm rests on the driver and passenger seats as well as the second row captain’s chairs are positioned at the right height and easy to adjust. The second row seats fold flat, as does the third row 60/40 split seat. The rear storage under the floor behind the third row seats is useful in storing and hiding smaller items.
Controls and dials are ideally laid out and feel expensive, but the gearshift placement blocks access to the climate and radio controls just to the right.
As mentioned, the rear entertainment unit features one 11-inch screen. It's great but not as good as the dual screen option available in the Honda Odyssey. The power sliding passenger doors and lift gate are fantastic inventions. But I wish Nissan could make the buttons larger and easier to activate.
At $37,490 MSRP, the 2012 Nissan Quest SL with the optional DVD entertainment system is priced at comparable levels to the Honda Odyssey and slightly less than the Toyota Sienna. Specs and features are similar in all three vans, with horsepower and torque falling in-between the Odyssey and Sienna.
The Quest gets 19 mpg in the city, 24 mpg on the highway. I averaged just over 19 mpg in combined driving. As far as family transport goes, no other vehicle offers as much space and convenience than a minivan. But once you cross over into minivan territory, there’s no going back to the "cool kids" side. The Quest stands out as a great combination of power, luxury, unique styling and convenience. It's the ideal family vehicle.
• Very spacious cabin
• Good V6 power and smooth transmission
• Power sliding doors and lift gate are a godsend for parents
• Easy-to-operate fold-flat second and third row seats
• Distinctive styling doesn’t suit everyone’s taste
• There’s just one video screen for kids in the rear seats
• Rear side door opening is a bit narrow
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Article Last Updated: April 24, 2012.
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A sports, travel and business journalist for more than 45 years, James has written the new car review column The Weekly Driver since 2004.
In addition to this site, James writes a Sunday automotive column for The San Jose Mercury and East Bay Times in Walnut Creek, Calif., and a monthly auto review column for Gulfshore Business, a magazine in Southwest Florida.
An author and contributor to many newspapers, magazines and online publications, James has co-hosted The Weekly Driver Podcast since 2017.