A decade ago, the minivan stood at the top of the hill as the most desirable family hauler. For families with kids, the minivan's versatile interior seating and immense passenger capacity, plus convenient features such as power-sliding doors, rear air-conditioning, entertainment systems, and storage containers gave drivers and their passengers the opportunity to take with them on the road all the creature comforts of home.
Today, however, this celebrated ultimate embodiment of the suburban family vehicle has lost its luster.It is no longer considered as cool – it has lost ground to the SUV crossover. The sales numbers are telling. During the past 12 months, the No. 1 selling crossover, the Honda CR-V, outsold the No. 1 minivan, the Dodge Caravan, by more than two to one.
Though today's minivans are better than ever, they are also more expensive. The more minivans have gained in creature comforts and the latest gadgets, the more they've slipped out of the affordability range of many families.
A self-respecting minivan with Bluetooth capability, navigation and a back-up camera now runs buyers north of $35,000 or more. Fully optioned, expect to cross $45,000. That is the case with this week's test vehicle, the Nissan Quest which came fully loaded but with a sticker shocking $44,000 tag.
For that price, you get a very comfortable and practical interior, commendable performance and styling that will stand out in the car pool lane. The Quest is a state of the art vehicle, incorporating some of the latest technologies that enable it to carry a wide variety of occupants, cargo or both, fully isolated from the hassles occupants of lesser vehicles face.
The Quest's exterior design is unashamedly boxy and van-like – yet different enough to be noticed. It sports an upright stance with flared lines in front, a straight-edged passenger box with a full-surround privacy glass out back, and bold front grille. The overall look is distinctive and functional, rather than sleek and stylish.
Quest's theater-style interior layout with raised 2nd and 3rd rows provides occupants with excellent visibility and a good view of the available 11-inch WVGA family entertainment system display monitor. The comfortable 2nd row Captain's Chair style seats include dual armrests, recline, and fore/aft adjustability, while the 3rd row 60/40-split bench includes recline and 3-way adjustable headrests.
Under the hood is Nissan's corporate 3.5-liter V6 engine, a 24-valve unit outputting 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. This direct-injection engine drives a continuously variable transmission turning the front wheels.
The ride is quite decent, and the van handles better than many of its competitors. I drove the Quest on narrow Virginia rural roads and crowded D.C. suburban area streets. In every instance, the Nissan stayed solidly planted on the road. Though its ride wasn't quite as composed as that of the Dodge and Honda competition, but it wasn't bad either.
The Quest's handling feel is provided by the 4-wheel independent suspension, with independent strut with coil springs and stabilizer bar in front and a multi-link design in the rear. Braking is through 4-wheel disc brakes with Anti-lock Braking System [ABS] with Electronic Brake force Distribution [EBD] and Brake Assist. Steering is a vehicle-speed-sensitive power-assisted rack-and-pinion design.
Quest incorporates a number of advanced safety systems including the advanced Blind Spot Warning [BSW] system, which helps alert the driver if another vehicle is detected in the blind spot by illuminating an indicator light in the appropriate outside mirror. If the driver then activates the turn signal, the indicator flashes and an audible warning sound.