By Emme Hall.
Ah, the mini-van. Long associated with Soccer Moms, kids, and carpools. They aren’t necessarily my transportation of choice, but they serve a purpose to those who have little ones to haul around, be they human, dog, whatever (I once heard a Car Talk episode where a caller needed to haul around baby goats. Click and Clack recommended taking the seats out of a mini-van, something I really want to see in a commercial sometime.) The 2013 Nissan Quest LE and the 2013 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite are two highly praised mini-vans on the market today. And why not? There are more similarities than differences…but oh those differences are huge.
Both cars have a wheelbase of 118.1 inches. Both weigh 4,568 pounds. Both have a turning radius of 18.3 feet, and have a 36-month/36,000 mile basic warranty and 60-month/60,000 mile power train warranty. Both feature 3.5L V6 engines with similar specs: 260hp and 240 lb/ft of torque for the Quest, and 248hp with 250 lb/ft of torque for the Odyssey. They even turn in very similar EPA fuel ratings, 19/25/22 and 19/28/23 respectively.
There are two mechanical differences that you as a driver will notice right away. The Nissan Quest features a continuously variable transmission and electric power assist steering. The Odyssey keeps it old school with a 6 speed automatic and hydraulic assist power steering.
You may be wondering, “So Emme, what is this CVT you speak of?” Glad you asked, Dear Reader. Instead of a set number of gears, a CVT is, well, continuously varying. It adjusts the engine speed to provide maximum acceleration and provides a smoother driving experience while improving gas mileage.
It’s also a bummer to drive. Stomp on the gas and the engine will suddenly jump to high RPMs and stay there until the car gets to the right speed. There is no feeling of being connected with the car. Some engineers try to trick us into thinking a CVT is a regular automatic by providing shift paddles, allowing you to select between pre-defined ratios on the CVT…but don’t be fooled. I will always prefer a manual transmission, but given the option I’d pick the 6 speed auto of the Odyssey over the Quest’s CVT any day.
I also have a bone to pick with the electric power assist steering. Only Porsche has managed to give us a decent electrically boosted steering system. Now I’m not saying that either of these mini-vans should drive like a sports car, but just because you’ve got kids (or dogs or baby goats or whatever) doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to enjoy your time behind the wheel. In general I find electric power steering to be too light, too numb, and without a great deal of road feedback. While you’re certainly not going to be racing through the slalom in the Odyssey, the hydraulic steering keeps it nicely weighted and you can feel more of the road. Of the two, the Honda Odyssey is the more fun to drive.
The Quest also takes a hit when it comes to cargo. When fully loaded with people, you can only get 25.7 cubic feet of space, while the Odyssey allows for 38.4. Maximum cargo space in the Nissan Quest is 108.4 cubic feet, compared to 148.5 in the Odyssey.
Both come with rear entertainment systems, a back up camera, navigation, satellite radio, and cubbyhole storage galore. The Odyssey Touring Elite comes in just a smidge more expensive, at $44,025 compared to $42,640 for the Nissan Quest LE. However, the driving dynamics and cargo space of the Honda Odyssey make it the clear winner.