published Saturday, May 11th, 2013

Test Drive: Seven-passenger Quest blends power, comfort

The Nissan Quest is a seven-passenger mini-van with some of the best road manners in the class. 
Staff photo by Mark Kennedy
The Nissan Quest is a seven-passenger mini-van with some of the best road manners in the class. Staff photo by Mark Kennedy

FAST FACTS

• Model: 2013 Quest 3.5 SV

• Exterior color: Brilliant Silver

• Interior color: Gray

• Engine: 3.5 liter, six-cylinder

• Horsepower: 260

• Transmission: Xtronic CVT

• Fuel economy: 25 mpg highway, 19 mpg city

• Dealer: Hunt Nissan

• Price (as tested): $33,435

Going down my performance check-list, I decided to punch the gas on my Quest mini-van tester from Hunt Nissan. The sensation was instant power, delivered through one the industry's smoothest transmissions, the Nissan Xtronic CVT.

While I was still savoring the velvety power train, I glanced down at the speedometer. Oops, 80 mph. The Quest is sneaky fast, yet so quiet and smooth that I thought I was only going 65 mph.

And therein lies the highest virtue of this Nissan family hauler. A machine that seats seven adults in comfort is not often a driver's delight. But the Quest breaks the mold.

The knock on the Quest is that it doesn't have a cavernous cargo area. But, seriously, how many times do you actually fold down two rows of seats and attempt to haul a baby-grand piano or a pet Rhinoceros.

Not often? I thought so.

DESIGN AND FEATURES

The exterior of the Quest is rather nondescript, which is another way of saying simple and clean. This fits the no-nonsense persona of minivan class.

The front-end architecture is dictated by a semi-circular hood that blends into a chrome accent bar on the facia. Fog lights and headlamps are nicely integrated into the swept-back design.

The most visually interesting feature is a flat roofline that falls off like a cliff at the rear, giving the Quest a squared-off backside that bears a family resemblance to the quirky Nissan Cube. The reason for this becomes clear when you size up the third-row seats, which have enough headroom for three-fifths of a high-school basketball team. The Quest's dimensions stretch up, not out.

Inside, the Quest's layout features two captain's chairs in row two, and the aforementioned spacious third-row seats. Our test vehicle is fitted with leather-clad seat surfaces, a worthwhile $1,500 option that also includes heated front seats, an 8-way power driver's seat and lumbar support.

It's easy to find a comfortable driving position in the Quest, which will also satisfy drivers who want an elevated perch. Like most new cars, the Quest features a dash layout with horizontal lines that taper into the front doors. I counted 12 cup holders for seven passengers. Go figure.

In general the Quest interior feels upscale, well thought out and built durably for everyday family use. From the leather-covered steering wheel and shifter knob, to the contrasting piping on the leather seats, the Quest is well finished. Hands-free door locks and push button start are also nice touches at this price point.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

All Nissan Quests are powered by a silky 3.5-liter six-cylinder engine that makes 260 horsepower. Motor Trend has clocked the Quest's 0-60 mph time at 8 seconds flat, which is quick for a vehicle with a curb weight of more than 2 tons.

Nissans "Xtronic" CVT is acknowledged by most automotive journalists to be one of the most refined on the market. As I have noted in this space before, readers who traverse mountain roads around Chattanooga will especially treasure a CVT setup, which never has to hunt for the right gear.

The cabin of the Quest is extremely quiet, but you may not notice if your daily driving includes car-pooling with six kids. Steering is well-weighted and the stock Bridgestone all-season tires are nice and grippy.

BOTTOM LINE

For reasons that have to do with design trends and personal tastes, many families who would benefit from a minivan instead choose a full-size SUV.

But highly-evolved vans like the Nissan Quest -- which first hit the road 20 years ago -- are actually more comfortable and practical. Of course, if you plan to go bouldering in your vehicle while pulling a bass boat and transporting a youth soccer team, by all means pick a big 4X4 SUV.

Our test Quest seemed reasonably priced, with a sticker of $33,435 before discounts. Its road manners and impressive performance -- along with 25 mpg highway fuel rating -- add up to a solid value that's worth a look.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOL UMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedy

columnist.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...

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