Nissan still calls its Quest a minivan. But there is nothing “mini” about it. The 2012 Nissan Quest LE driven for this column is more like a bus, an expansion of size variously attributed to the widening girths, populations and egos found in the North American markets in which it is sold.
No offense is intended here.
Choose any available medical report on weight and obesity, including the latest (May 2012) by the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine. Succinctly stated, the findings are that Americans are fat and getting fatter — nearly two-thirds of adults and one-third of all children in the United States are overweight or obese. By 2030, the institute, a collection of 65 of the nation’s most esteemed medical doctors and health research scientists, estimates that 42 percent of the nation’s citizenry will be overweight or obese.
That’s a lot of weight. It is affecting health costs in the United States and Canada — an estimated $300 million annually for weight-related diseases. It also affects the size and fuel economy of the vehicles we drive.
It’s simple. You don’t develop sardine cans to transport whales.
The Nissan Quest bus is a case in point. The first generation of that vehicle entered the United States in 1993 as a joint-venture product between Nissan and Ford Motor Co., sold as the Mercury Villager. It was a smallish thing, a minivan in the truest sense of the word, although capable of carrying seven people with some deft maneuvering of cabin seats. It barely stretched 16 feet in length. It had a curb weight, poundage minus passengers and cargo, of 3,815 pounds. It was narrow, urban-maneuverable and, with the exception of several long-ago-corrected defects, an ideal people hauler for a small- to moderate-size urban American family.
We’re now in its fourth generation. You can be pardoned for not recognizing the thing. It’s big — nearly 17 feet long, 6.5 feet wide and 6 feet high. Step-in height is 15.7 inches to 16.1 inches, depending on whether you choose 16-inch-diameter or 18-inch-diameter wheels. (Hint: You get slightly better fuel economy with the smaller wheels, but you get better handling and ride with the bigger ones.)
The new Quest LE, the top of the Nissan Quest line, weighs in at 4,658 pounds — a large portion of that weight attributed to a super-tufted, amenity-laden vehicle with motorized, automatic everything — power sliding side doors, power automatic rear hatch, power seats and glass roof, and electronic infotainment and connection systems. Meet the bus/minivan as motorized castle.
Why all of those changes? It all depends on who you listen to at Nissan. But the best answer can be found in a distillation of those heard around the global car industry.
First, the new Quest is based on the platform of the Nissan Elgrand — a tall front-wheel-drive luxury minivan sold by Nissan in Japan, China and Thailand. Those Asian markets are becoming the largest retail zones for Nissan and many of its rivals, meaning that vehicle platforms developed for those markets are likely to be used in the still-lucrative North American arena to save development and production costs.
Quest modifications for North America required a widening of the body, by about five inches, to reduce the high, narrow appearance of the Elgrand, which makes sense on narrow streets in countries such as Japan but might seem ought of place in American West and Midwest.
Finally, much of the new Quest’s larger size is related to its occupants’ body size and psyche. Car manufacturers and marketers aren’t stupid. They work with whole corporate divisions dedicated to research. Scientists say that the body is getting fatter and that the mind is indulging itself in a profound sense of entitlement — more space, more stuff, more power and more fuel economy . . . if possible.
The new Quest LE comes through with more space, stuff and power. But with best-guess federal fuel-economy numbers of 19 miles per gallon in the city and 24 on the highway, it still has a way to go in the mileage marathon.
In its fourth-generation presentation, the Nissan Quest has become something of a niche vehicle — big and rich enough to please and service affluent, well-fed large families, but much too big to make sense for daily urban commuting for one or two people or a small family of three or four more interested in fuel economy and parking ease than in prestige or clan-carrying ability.
The new Quest LE is no easy piece of work when it comes to driving. It has one of the world’s best V-6 engines (3.5 liters, 24 valves, 260 horsepower and 240 foot-pounds of torque). But that engine is linked to a sometimes iffy continuously variable transmission (no fixed gears). It is also pulling lots of weight.
I’m not terribly sorry to see this one go back to the manufacturer. But I’ll mute my criticism because we’re facing a long summer in the Brown household. We have relatives aplenty. They like to visit. And when they do, they expect local and regional transportation in a motorized leviathan with a super-cushy ride. The new Nissan Quest LE fits that bill perfectly.
Bottom line: Large families will love it. It has lots of space and cushy comfort. Small families don’t need all that and will probably ignore it.
Ride, acceleration and handling: You can get a speeding ticket in the Quest LE. I unfortunately proved that, without trying, in my suburban Virginia community. Otherwise, the Quest LE has acceptably decent handling and an OK ride — nothing spectacular.
Head-turning quotient: It has all of the allure of a city bus.
Body style/layout: The 2012 Nissan Quest is a full-size, front-engine, front-wheel-drive bus/minivan/wagon based on the luxury Elgrand “minivan” sold by Nissan in Asia and other overseas markets. The new Quest is sold in the United States in four iterations — the base S, the better-equipped SV, the popularly equipped SL and the full-luxury LE.
Engine/transmission: The Quest comes with a 3.5-liter, 24-valve, double-overhead-cam V-6 engine with variable valve lift and timing (260 horsepower, 240 foot-pounds of torque). The engine is linked to a continuously variable automatic transmission (no fixed gears) to help improve fuel economy.
Capacities: Seats up to eight people, depending on seating arrangement. Kick out at least six of those people to get a cargo capacity of nearly 108.4 cubic feet. With all three rows of seats in use, your cargo capacity drops to 25.7 cubic feet. The Quest can handle a payload of 1,270 pounds and be equipped to pull a trailer weighing 3,500 pounds. The fuel tank holds 20 gallons of gasoline (regular grade is recommended).
Safety: Standard equipment includes four-wheel vented disc brakes, four-wheel anti-lock brake protection, electronic brake-force distribution, electronic stability and traction control, a whiplash-protection system of head restraints for both front and rear passengers, and air bags.
Price: The base price of the 2012 Nissan Quest LE is $42,350. Dealer’s invoice price on that model is $38,774. Price as tested is $46,275, including $3,115 in options (power dual glass roof, roof-rail cargo bars, splash guards, cargo nets and other goodies) and a $810 destination charge. Dealer’s price as tested is $42,211. Nearly $3,000 in customer rebates were available at this writing.