Third Time the Charm for Nissan Quest?

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2011 Nissan Quest.

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” That’s a motto the origin of which escapes me, but it’s one that seems to apply to Nissan and their attempts to carve out a significant piece of the minivan market. And the company is trying yet again to get it right, at least in terms of what American buyers want in a modern minivan. The first Nissan Quest was kind of a three-quarter scale van, which was a twin to the Mercury Villager. Neither one sold particularly well.

The next Quest was standard in size, but kind of weird inside with all the instruments and controls in the center of the dash. Nissan did an update of that one a few years later, ditching the goofball interior layout, but that still didn’t seem to help sales.

Now, we get yet another iteration of the Quest for 2011. It’s, um, different. In a good way? I don’t know. It’s plenty functional, but it’s kind of going its own direction in terms of styling. While Honda’s Odyssey and Toyota’s Sienna minivans have gone for a sleeker look, the new Quest sits up kind of tall and ungainly.

There’s no arguing the functionality of the new shape. The interior is downright cavernous, with the typical seat configuration options for varying amounts of human and non-human cargo. And the Quest goes pretty well, thanks to Nissan’s vaunted 3.5 liter V6 that’s used in many of the company’s products to great acclaim.

The problem is that industry watchers are saying minivans could be seeing a revival after several years of flat sales charts. A new generation of young parents might be ready to put aside van stereotypes and make use of the complete functionality that the rolling boxes offer. And for the most part, designers are starting to figure out how to make them look less like rolling boxes.

The Quest’s best view is from the front, where a bold grill and stylish headlights promise a modern, interesting design. The promise loses validity as soon as you take in the side view. It’s just long and boxy. Period. And the view of the rear doesn’t help at all. The best way to park a Quest is probably to back it into a space between two large trucks in order to hide everything aft of the windshield. Okay, I’m kind of kidding. The Quest isn’t hideous the way Pontiac’s Aztek SUV was, but if you park it next to any of the competitive minivans, they’re all going to look better sitting near it. One reason I’m being a little harsh is that I had a turn in the slightly revised 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan that overlapped my days with the Quest. I’d take the Dodge over the Nissan in a heartbeat.

While the Quest is certainly well built, there are a bunch of little details that escaped design review. For example, the pull handles in the front door armrests seem to be made for someone with hands the size of an NBA superstar. I have fairly large hands compared to most people, but it was just the most awkward reach every time I had to grip the thing when closing the door.

The radio’s also in a weird position, down low on the center stack of the instrument panel. Yes, there are redundant radio controls on the steering wheel, but not on the base model. You have to reach around the gearshift somewhat in order to adjust the volume. For every plus with this van, there seems to be at least one minus.

Actually I think there may be two groups of people who embrace the Quest, and for them it will work out just fine. For fans of the Nissan brand who don’t want to buy another make when it’s time for a big family ride, they’ll be happy there’s a new one at their favorite Nissan dealer.

Additionally, the Quest has a definite “JDM” look, and there are fans of that style who may be starting to have kids. (If you don’t know what JDM is, I don’t have space to explain. If you do, you probably agree with me, or maybe you’ve already ordered your new Quest.)

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz@pacbell.net.

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