With a couple exceptions—as in the Chrysler Town & Country and the Honda—minivans have been vehicles that are becoming less prevalent on the automotive landscape. There was the wholesale departure of General Motors’ multitudinous and not particularly popular minivans; the thing that Ford, which has also departed the segment*, is probably best known for as regards its Windstar is that it has recalled 613,000 of them (model years 1998 to 2003). And others, like Hyundai, have also exited the segment.
There are a couple of factors that contribute to this. One is the seeming stigma associated with the vehicles–the “soccer mom” phenomena. Apparently, just as there are a number of women who would rather suffer with sexy high heels than to go less fashionable, there is a cohort who would rather ferry the kids and gear around in something that isn’t as functional as a minivan. Second, there is an alternative to the minivan that has emerged during the past few years, which is the three-row crossover utility vehicle. While this configuration is certainly better than the traditional two-row SUVs that had gained in popularity at the expense of the minivan, again it loses in the functionality department.
Still, the share of market for minivans has been on a downward slope during the past several years, and this decline in share is expected to continue, according to John Curl, senior manager, Product Planning, Nissan North America, for the next several years, such that it will have gone from 6.6% in 2004 to 3.4% in 2015. However, they’re also expecting that unit sales for the segment will exceed 500,000 in 2011 and stay above the 500,000 mark through 2015—a level not seen since 2008—this is a segment that Nissan doesn’t want to ignore.
And so it is introducing its 4th-generation Quest minivan.
Some may recall the model year 2004 Quest, which even Nissan itself described as “a revolutionary, category-redefining approach to the minivan.” This was the vehicle with instrumentation on a large cylindrical pod between the two front seats and the Vista Cruiser-like skylights along the sides of the roof.
That is not the 2011 Quest. That one was designed—and this almost seems reversed—at Nissan Design America while the ’11 was designed in Japan. Curl admits, “There was a conscious choice to dial back on the design.”
And while the ’04 was manufactured in Mississippi, the ’11 is manufactured in Kyshu.
It is worth noting that while some people might imagine that the minivan is simply an American phenomenon, the Nissan Quest was not only designed and is not only built in Japan, but it has been on sale there since mid-August 2010, where it is known as the “King of Minivans” under the name Elgrand. That’s right: a seven passenger minivan that’s 200.8-in. long and 77.6-in. wide, a minivan that is full-size for the American road (the Town & Country is 202.8-in. long and 78.7-in. wide; the Odyssey is 202.9-in. long and 79.2-in. wide), is rolling on the highways and byways of Honshu and its surrounding islands.
Nissan is proving once again that it has mastered the art of using its platforms for a variety of products. The Quest is a Nissan D-platform vehicle. This front-engine, front-drive platform is also used for the Maxima, Altima, and Murano. And like its brethren, it uses a 3.5-liter, 24-valve DOHC V6 and the Xtronic CVT transmission, though Curl points out that there is specific tuning for the minivan application. The engine produces 260 hp @ 6,000 rpm and 240 lb-ft of torque @ 4,400 rpm (the VQ35DE engine in the Altima produces 270 hp @ 6,000 rpm and 258 lb-ft of torque @ 4,400 rpm; and while mentioning the Altima, a Quest on 16-in. wheels has the same turning diameter (36.1 ft.) as the sedan).
While there may have been a decision to “dial down” some of the more extreme aspects of the design, the Quest’s exterior is based on what they’re calling “fluid sculpture” styling. The front fascia is pulled back, with the grille and large headlamps arcing toward the rear, as well as the forms around the fog lights. In the rear, there is an integrated spoiler at the top of the tailgate and large taillights. The vehicle has a 0.32 coefficient of drag, which is certainly slippery for a vehicle of this type.
If looked at from the side view, there is actually a family resemblance with other Nissan vehicles, including the cube.
Whereas there has long been efforts made to disguise the track in the body side for the sliding doors, that isn’t the case with the Quest, as the slots are in plain sight. But there are a couple aspects of the doors that make that somewhat irrelevant. There is a comparatively low 15.7-in. second row step in height, which facilitates ingress and egress. And there is an available one-touch power door opening function: push a button on the door handle, and the door slides open. (The one-touch feature, which also works on the tailgate, is available starting on the SV trim level, which is one up from the base S. There are four trims in all, also including the SL and the LE.)
What is certainly one of the most clever and functional features offered on the Quest is part of the standard tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS). It’s called the “Easy Fill Tire Alert” (EFTA). Whether it’s a soccer mom driving or whatever the male analogue is, chances are when a tire needs air, 16 cup and bottle holders, a large glove box, and flat-fold second- and third-row seats with storage space behind and below the third, there probably isn’t an air gauge available when the TPMS is activated. So as air is being pumped into the tire at the service station, the four-way flashers illuminate to let the filler know that the system is working, and when the required amount of air is in the tire, the horn sounds. Too much air? It beeps twice.
Like other minivans, the Quest can be fitted out with a DVD system and Bose audio and Xenon headlights and an 8-in. VGA color display in the dash and and and and and . . . And like the minivans that have survived, it is competitive and capable.
*Ford says that it is coming back into the minivan category—sort of, as they’re claiming it is a “white-space vehicle,” evidentially not acknowledging the existence of the Mazda5—with the C-MAX, which it says has 5 + 2 seating, with the two being really tiny in the third row. However, the C-MAX is significantly smaller than what are ordinarily considered minivans, as it has an overall length of 178 in., which Ford says is about the size of original minivans. What are arguably the first North American minivans were the 1984 Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager. They were 175.9-in. long.