There might be plenty of room inside most minivans, but will there be enough room for all of the newly reconstituted models that have recently emerged from hibernation?
The Nissan Quest is the most recent member of the minivan group to awaken from its dormant state. Many pundits thought it might never return, since there was no 2010 edition. With an early 2011 due date, the Quest joins the newly altered Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey people movers. They enter the fray alongside Chrysler's one-two punch: the Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan minivans that have also been refreshed with better engines and upgraded interior and exterior styling.
Compared to the awkward-looking Quest of old, the styling of the 2011 version is far more pleasing. The overall design has added curves and sculpting to the hood, doors and rear quarter panels that lessens the typical minivan's boxy appearance. The wraparound rear glass allows the liftgate to neatly blend in with the rest of the body, despite its extreme upright posture.
Along with the Quest's new suit of clothes, the designers cut the distance between the front and rear wheels by about 15 centimetres, bringing that number more in line with the competition. This should make the Quest more manoeuverable in tight spaces without too great a sacrifice in ride quality or passenger room.
Likewise, the new interior mixes function and form, with bigger and bolder gauge pods, more clearly defined switches and, with the shifter mounted high up on the instrument panel, plenty of passthrough access between the front doors.
As with most minivans, there are three rows of seats, but the Quest comes standard with second-row high-back buckets instead of a more typical bench. Also unique is the split-folding three-place third row that tilts forward to create a flat load surface. This is instead of folding into the rear well below the floor, which in the case of the Quest is now always available for discrete stowage of smaller items.
The Quest's 3.5-litre V6 is the workhorse engine for a number of Nissan cars and trucks. In the Quest, it makes 253 horsepower, up from 235 horses.
Directing power to the front wheels is handled by a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that has become another Nissan favourite. It replaces the previous Quest's five-speed automatic. The CVT varies its "gearing" to keep the engine in its most efficient rev range. When driving, a CVT feels like a normal automatic transmission that's slipping: the revs change out of lockstep with the rate of acceleration.
Nearly every minivan offers at least one very unique trick up its sleeve and the Quest's entry in this category is called an Easy Fill Tire Alert. Attaching an air hose to the valve stem on the wheel causes the hazard lights to flash, signaling that a proper hose-to-stem connection has been made. A short beep from the horn indicates that the correct tire pressure has been attained.
The rest of the standard gear in the base S model includes the expected air conditioning, power-operated controls and basic four-speaker radio/CD player in addition to roof rails and keyless push-button start.
Moving up to the SV adds tri-zone air conditioning (driver, passenger and rear seat), power sliding side doors, fog lights, heated front seats and a six-speaker audio package.
The close-to-the-top SL pushes the content up further with leather seat covers, power driver's seat, 18-inch wheels (16-inchers are standard) and a power liftgate.
The top-rung LE is finished off with a 13-speaker Bose-brand sound system, touch-screen navigation, rear-seat DVD player and power-folding third-row seat. The LE also gets Nissan's new Advanced Climate Control System that includes a special air purifier and filter that reduces undesirable odours and allergens invading the cabin.
Being out of the minivan game for the 2010 model year while its competitors were busy bringing out new products could potentially hurt Nissan's attempts at a comeback. Fortunately, the latest Quest has plenty of style and substance that should resonate with shoppers in this bracket. For those folks, it's a Quest very much worth considering.