A long, long time ago I used to read an automotive site that was abbreviated TTAC. Long before there was such a thing as CC (and long before I ever started writing online) I rented a car and decided to write a review for submission to TTAC. For reasons that elude me the review never got submitted. In going through some old folders on my computer I came across the rental review I wrote when this car was still new. So when is a Classic CC piece not a rerun? Howabout right now.
Why would anyone care about this van as the 2019 model year begins? From my experience lots of our readers live with ten year old vehicles – which seem to be the new five year old vehicles. Someone shopping for an older minivan might come across one of these. They were never terribly common so perhaps this slightly tardy review might be of some assistance now. I suppose I could wait another ten or twenty years and write it as a CC driving impression, but that would kind of be cheating.
By way of background, I had only fairly recently transitioned from a Ford Club Wagon into a 1996 Honda Odyssey. The Oddy had racked up something over 200K when I bought it. Although it was reliable, it was undersized for any serious travel for my family. When we needed a vehicle for a trip I would rent a nice new minivan.
The occasion for this particular rental was a day trip for six with our two high school age sons and our middle school aged daughter and her friend. The trip was from our home in Indianapolis to Holiday World, an amusement park in Santa Clause, Indiana. Seriously. Given the road situation at the time the drive was about 3 hours and 180 miles each way in order to stay on interstate highways. I give you this history not to bore you, but so that you can see my vantage point. I had then lived with two unique vans from the same era that were polar opposites. The old Ford was big, comfortable and powerful, but very thirsty. The Oddy was nimble, well thought out and efficient, but lacked room and power. One thing they shared, however, was that each was durable and also best-in-class in its unique niche.
At the rental pickup, I was first offered a base Sienna. The Sienna looked OK. Frankly though, it struck me the way every GM car at a rental lot has struck me – nothing really wrong with it, but – – yawn. One problem for us was the Sienna’s middle row of seats. To get 7 passengers, Toyota puts 3 individual seats in the middle row. These seats looked rather narrow and, frankly, not that comfortable. Had we been herding a crew of 7-year olds, the Sienna would have been fine. But with two strapping high school boys (one of them 6-4 and 200 pounds), those narrow little seats were an issue. So, when I asked what else was available, the rental staff showed me a Nissan Quest.
The Quest seemed larger than the Sienna and made a great first impression. The moment my wife saw it, the Quest was for her. This was the 3.5 S model. In Nissan’s 4 model lineup, the S is one step up from the bottom. But make no mistake, the vehicle was very nicely equipped in this trim, including a DVD player, rear radio controls, and a power rear door and cargo hatch. The Quest 3.5 S features twin captain’s chairs for the first two rows, and a rear bench with 3 seatbelts. In truth, the rear bench would have been tight for 3, but was fine for the pair of 8th grade girls who spent the day there. And there were plenty of cupholders for the rear occupants.
For the driver, the seat was comfortable with more adjustments than I knew what to do with. You can adjust the front and back halves of the seat cushion independently. Plus, there is the usual back angle and lumbar support. My only gripe here was a desire for a little more aft adjustment. I’m a pretty normally proportioned guy at 5-11, but I could have used a bit more leg room. But the Quest was hardly the only minivan with this problem.
The instrument panel was laid out nicely and most of the controls were pretty convenient and intuitive (though I did have to search a bit for the rear hvac controls, which I found on the ceiling above the rear view mirror.) The instrument lighting is orange, which is attractive if you like orange lighting. Maybe its an age thing, but the color reminded me of the old orange computer monitors from the bad old days of MS-DOS in the early ’80s. I prefer blue or green instrument lighting, but I understand that this may just be me.
The 2009 van’s instrument panel was WAY nicer than the earlier version of the dash offered in this generation of Quest which tried to sell a central instrument panel to everyone, presumably to make the van ambidextrous for both right and left side drive markets.
What was NOT just me is the design of the front seat cupholders. The first leg of the trip, I had a briefcase between the front seats so I could catch up on a little work while my wife drove. This worked fine until I opened a can of juice and discovered that I had no place to put it down. The only cupholders are on a tray that pivots and locks between the front seats. No tray, no cupholders. I was forced to cram the briefcase between my feet in the footwell. Not comfy, and the briefcase barely fit there. My 2012 Sedona suffers from the same shortcoming, FWIW.
Later, it was my turn to drive. I was, in general, happy with the driving dynamics. The 3.5 V6 seemed well-matched to a 5 speed automatic. Truth is, I had to look up the number of speeds – the shifts were so smooth that I never really noticed how many gears we had. (But being used to my 96 Odyssey, virtually any automatic shifts smoothly). A rough calculation showed that our fuel mileage was in the mid 20s on the highway, which is not bad for a vehicle this large. I had only 2 gripes. First, there was a strange little vibration that transmitted up through the accelerator. This was a minor annoyance (and my wife did not notice it) which could be a quirk of this particular car.
The second complaint strikes one of my raw spots – the van was unable to maintain 70-75 mph on a modest grade without downshifting. We drove across I-64 in northern Kentucky. Time after time, the hill and the gearing would overwhelm the van’s torque, the tranny would shift to 4th, then shift to either 4th lockup or 5th with the torque converter unlocked, then back to normal as we crested the hill. Then repeat. Every few miles. I hated this characteristic in my 85 Crown Victoria AOD (in fairness, the Vic’s downshifting was way more intrusive) and I hate it just as much now.
I had a few other niggles. First, I don’t like power doors. But again, this may just be me. The curbside rear door and the cargo hatch were power. Why not both rear doors? You have to move up to a higher model. Also, the DVD system featured a single small screen that flips down from the ceiling. One small screen for two rows of passengers is inadequate. Again, a more expensive trim level solves this dilemma. Finally, what’s with the injection molding nubbies at 12 and 6 o’clock on the back side of the soft plastic steering wheel, right where you put your fingers when you squeeze the wheel. I know, I know, 10 and 2 is what they told us in drivers ed. But I found this to be an irritating little detail that I have not experienced in my Hondas (or anything else that I can recall.)
All in all, however, the Quest was a nice van. It has a unique look that
will not please everyone is an acquired taste, but it kind of grew on me over the time we had it. The Quest gave me most of what I had with my Club Wagon except obscene rear storage and torque at 2k rpm, but made up for it with much better gas mileage. And it drove as nicely as my old Oddy (OK, nicer), but with much more power, room, and creature comforts. In a sea of Siennas, T&Cs and Odysseys, the Quest was a unique alternative that was a pleasant and comfortable family hauler that did a lot of things well. But in a dwindling world of minivans (which are not so mini anymore), Nissan provided a worthy offering. I had never really thought about a Quest before, but noted that I would at least consider one as a possibility the next time I found myself in the van market.
So that was my impression from 2009. Have we learned more about the Quest with a decade or so in the rear view mirror? Quite a bit, unfortunately. From what I can tell the Quest of this generation (2004-09) was only a little bit more trouble prone than a Ford Windstar. So, yeah, these kind of turned into a “run away like it is going to explode” kind of thing. These seem to have distinguished themselves for weak transmissions and other powertrain issues. They did not sell well to begin with and do not seem to have outlasted the bigger players as can often happen with niche products. This has sort of been my impression of modern Nissans in general, although perhaps those with more firsthand experience will chime in.
Knowing what I knew then I would have shopped one if I had been in the market. But in a bad news/good news sort of thing that torqueless engine and shift-happy transmission might have saved me from having to repair both of those components as the car aged by sending me to the competition. Hindsight tells me that the 3rd/4th generation Chrysler twins or an early second generation Sedona would have been more to my liking.
Verdict: It was a great short-term rental. But would probably not have made the cut for a space in the JPC garage in 2009. And it absolutely would not in 2018.
None of these photos is of the rented vehicle. All photos are from Wikimedia Commons or from Nissan promotional materials.