Even though the American public may currently be obnoxiously in love with the SUV, there is still no denying the incredible and intelligent hauling capabilities of the minivan. Born in the 1980s, the segment was created for the purposes of being a member of the family and since then, things have only gotten better. Nissan may have seven crossovers and SUVs to satisfy all types of households, but their one and only minivan is there to do battle in a rather crowded segment. Because of this, the Quest must be able to do a lot of things and do them rather well as a minivan usually serves as a mother or father’s sole vehicle. Using one thing for hauling, transporting, loading, entertaining and commuting day-in and day-out doesn’t need to be difficult so the 2012 Nissan Quest is out to prove that owning a minivan is simply easy.

Created as a joint venture vehicle with Ford in the early 1990s, the Quest took two generations to become strictly a Nissan. The current, fourth generation model debuted as a 2011 when it brought to the American minivan world a true taste of Japan. Styled like no other segment competitor, the Quest borrows numerous cues from the oddly popular modified minivan culture found outside of the U.S. Looking as if a box truck married a space ship, the van’s outward appearance is definitely hate-it or love-it. The signature, diamond grille lands nicely between the sculpted, angular headlamps while the profile is so flat that it is borderline two-dimensional. At the rear, the Quest seems to have been sketched out with a ruler as it adds to everything else so that a truly unique minivan can exist. It may appear odd to some, but the Nissan will never be mistaken for a Toyota, Dodge or Honda.

The Quest is offered in four trim levels from base S to loaded-out LE. Last year, we drove a second-to-best SL and missed such features as navigation and blind sport monitoring. This time around, our tester rolled off the Los Angeles factory floor as all-out 2012 LE. With a base MSRP of $41,350, the LE is a startling $6,000 more than the base price of the SL. For that extra cash, buyers get such standard features as leather seats with heating for the powered fronts, wood trim, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, Bose supplied stereo, satellite radio, rear seat DVD entertainment system, advanced climate control system and navigation with real time traffic and weather. The only extra cost option offered on the LE is the $1,350 dual moonroof which are tester came equipped with. Add in some $250 carpeted floor mats and with destination charge, the final MSRP for our 2012 Quest came to $43,715. That’s about $4 grand more than the SL we tested in 2011.

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Just like the last Quest we drove and all other fourth generation models on the road, our 2012 tester uses the tried-and-true, award-winning and dead reliable VQ V6 engine. With 3.5 liters of displacement, the dual overhead cam block uses variable valve timing and simple, port fuel injection so it can get stuff done for miles on end. Spinning the front wheels through Nissan’s continuously variable transmission (CVT) is 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque. By no means a stop light drag racer, the Quest does manage to get out of its way and do so with enough gusto that it never feels underpowered. Though the CVT may have its reliable certainty up in the air, Nissan has been putting these gearless transmissions into use the longest and if any manufacture can get it right, it’s the folks who put the Quest together. The responsiveness of the transmission is surprising and miles ahead of any other manufacture’s attempt. Even still, the Quest can get a bit hung up and does manage to lack the fun and frisky swagger found in the Chrysler LLC’s Pentastar infused offerings.

It may look as if it would tip over if you sneezed near it, the Quest is surprisingly agile on its four feet. Sharing DNA with other quick-witted front drive Nissans such as the Maxima and Altima definitely helps the van’s case as turn in is quick and almost spring-loaded. Grip is good for a minivan and the Quest will tell you when its time to slow down. Ride quality produces minimal shakes and quivers while road noise isn’t as bad of an issue as its tall shape would suggest. What does make itself known is the VQ which isn’t the quietest engine on the market today; especially in 3.5 liter form.

Just like the 2011 Quest we tested, the 2012 raised our eyebrows the most in terms of hauling ability. Last year, we said the only load to possible challenge the Quest wouldn’t even be considered without a heavy-duty pickup truck. This year, we still believe this to be true as in less than a minute, the Nissan offers a fully flat cargo area. Nothing has to be taken out, nothing has to be stowed and nothing must be contorted for a wealth of space to become available. Even with all of the seats up, interior volume is very generous in all rows including the rear which doesn’t have to be reserved for children. Inside our LE fitted tester, the Quest manages to be supple as well as spacious. The leather seats are top-notch, the dual moonroofs are novel and entertaining while the navigation is Nissan’s best work to date. If the steering wheel badge was to be replaced with an Infiniti logo, no one would know the wiser.

Nissan put the fourth generation Quest on the market with a goal. Instead of being a place holder for the automaker’s line up, they wanted it to be a sales maker as well as an overall smart buy. On the surface, the Quest may follow the rules of all other successful minivans, but it does things in an oddly unique way. It doesn’t look like a rebadged remake and is so innovative appearance wise that it sometimes doesn’t even look like a Nissan. Add in the hauling ability of a pickup with the comfort of a car, and the Quest should make all the minivan icons proud. Other rivals may be less expensive, more sporting and better looking, but the Nissan holds numerous high points that should put it on any minivan shopper’s “research” list. It is rolling justification for the segment and does everything that makes these vehicles so smart for family use. If landed in a driveway, the 2012 Nissan Quest would make an excellent addition to any American household.

Photos: © Copyright 2011 Ossamah Shabbir