“The rumours of the minivan’s death have been greatly exaggerated” as Mark Twain once famously wrote.
Or, wait a minute, I might have got that quote wrong…
In any case, pundits have been predicting the minivan’s demise for some time. Some manufacturers, like Ford and GM, surrendered to forecasts of doom and gloom, gave up on their failing family haulers and replaced lineups with new crossover choices.
Kia and VW dropped out temporarily, promising to return. And a few hung on to continue to exploit the diminishing but still sizable minivan market.
Chrysler, with a lock on the niche for over 25 years, still dominates with over half of all minivan sales in Canada, while Toyota and Honda, distant second and third place holders respectively, have held their ground with overhauled versions of the Odyssey and Sienna.
Even Nissan, a small time contender in this class, refused to throw in the towel, returning for another round with a new, fourth generation Nissan Quest, redesigned for the 2011 and still carrying on today.
The Nissan Quest takes a slightly different approach.
Yes, there are the usual requisite minivan elements—the big box dimensions, the higher driving position, sliding side doors and rear liftgate, along with three rows of seating with cargo/passenger layout flexibility.
And the Quest starts off simply enough, sharing Nissan’s “D” platform with Maxima, Altima and Murano. The Quest is taller but, at the same time, smaller than some of its competitors, not quite as long or as wide.
Character lines and “fluidic sculpture design” break some of the potential monotony of the Quest’s expansive sheet metal sides. And, while its slab-sided exterior makes it look bigger than it is, a smallish turning circle also makes it surprisingly maneuverable.
The most eye-catching styling aspect of the Quest design is an unbroken sweep of the full surround privacy glass. Accented by black sash molding and chrome trim, the Quest strikes a distinctively classy pose. It looks best in black but passes itself off nicely in the silver shade tested here.
Inside, you’ll find evidence of the slightly different approach. Rather than adopt a flop-into-the-tub third row, or a removable or fold-into-the-floor second row, Nissan has opted for a simpler fold-flat philosophy.
Quick-release seats make that conversion easy and, although the overall cargo space is less than in some competitors, the resulting flat cargo floor offers good access and plenty of space.
The tub behind the third row acts as a permanent rear storage well hidden under a sturdy 60/40-split multi-position removable cover.
Quest’s family-friendly design includes power-sliding side doors and a lower than average step-in height intended to ease access for children or older adults getting into the second or third rows.
It would help if the door openings were wider as well.
Up front, the Quest offers room, comfort, and a wealth of options available in a traditional instrument layout that dials down the kitschy eccentricities of earlier generations.
The shifter protruding from the dash blocks some of the driver’s view of HVAC and audio buttons, and a little more range in tilt-telescopic steering extension would be nice but, overall, the interior ergonomics work well.
Under the hood, Nissan’s 260 hp VQ35DE 3.5-litre DOHC V6 engine makes more than enough oomph to get the Quest up to speed. The front-wheel-drive power is smoothly translated by an Xtronic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) with Adaptive Shift Control (ASC).
Fuel economy is rated at 11/8.0L/100km (city/hwy). I managed 10.4L/100km on a 200 km highway run and averaged 13.6L/100km in real world, combined driving.
The 2013 Nissan Quest comes in four trim levels—S, SV, SL and LE—and carries over relatively unchanged, although price reductions for 2013 are listed below.
The Quest 3.5 S, at $29,988 (price unchanged), starts with A/C, 16-inch steel wheels, rear roof spoiler, six-way adjustable front bucket seats, fold-flat second and third row seats, permanent rear storage well, first and second row centre consoles, Nissan Intelligent Key with Push Button Ignition and a four-speaker AM/FM/6CD audio system.
The Quest 3.5 SV, at $33,398 (- $2,380) adds 16-inch alloy wheels, One-Touch power sliding doors, Tri-Zone Auto Temperature Control, power lumbar, fog lights and a Conversation Mirror.
The Quest 3.5 SL, $38,898 (-$180), adds leather and heated seats with eight-way power adjust for the driver, 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, power liftgate, HomeLink, auto-dimming inside mirror with compass, roof rails, auto headlights, Quick Release fold-flat third row, outside mirrors with integrated turn signals, 4.3-inch colour audio display, six speaker audio with USB, Bluetooth Hands-free Phone System with steering wheel controls and RearView Monitor.
And the Quest 3.5 LE, at $46,998 (-$1,580), as tested here, tops the list with Nissan Navigation, Bose Audio with 12 speakers and subwoofer, XM prep, driver’s seat & mirror memory, auto tilt-in-reverse outside mirrors, second and third row blinds, four-way power-adjust front passenger’s seat, 8-inch VGA colour dash display, 11-inch DVD Entertainment System with headphones and remote, Advanced Climate Control System (ACCS), Blind Spot Warning (BSW), HID xenon headlights and a new-for-2013 AroundView Monitor.
Only three option packages are offered—DVD Entertainment System (SV & SL), Bose & Dual Opening Glass Moonroofs (SL), and Dual Opening Glass Moonroofs (LE), although a long list of accessories are available.
Some may think that minivans are on their way out, like Mark Twain’s steamboats, a fading icon of an earlier age. But the new crossover choices of today are just evolutions on the same theme, whether they are tall wagons, five-door mini models of the minivan, or same-size SUV versions with more machismo and padded profit margins, but with the same unibody sedan platforms and functionalities of the minivan.
I think the cycle will continue to turn and the minivan, in whatever form, will remain the most sensible and versatile solution for Canadian families.
And for now, the 2013 Quest offers a minivan alternative for Nissan loyalists shopping at their local dealer. And with four trim level choices and a wealth of available options and accessories, the 2013 Nissan Quest also offers a different flavour and unique take on the family transport challenge.
Nissan Quest 3.5 LE 2012
Body Style: full-size minivan
Drive Method: front-engine, front-wheel-drive;
Engine: 3.5-litre 24-valve DOHC V6 (260 hp and 240 lb/ft of torque).
Fuel Economy: 11/8.0L/100 km (city/hwy); As tested 13.6L/100km (comb)
Cargo Capacity: 190 litres (6.7 cu.ft.) under floor; 728 litres (25.7 cu.ft.) behind third row; 1801 litres (63.6 cu.ft.) behind second row; 3070 litres (108.4 cu.ft.) behind first row
Prices: Quest 3.5 S $29,998; Quest 3.5 SV $33,398; Quest 3.5 SL $38,898; Quest 3.5 LE $46,998
Rob Beintema, contributor.