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Nissan's all-new minivan, now the largest on the market, is aimed at an upscale audience.

2004 Nissan Quest Road Test
The new Mom's Minivan

Here's our take on an all-new, uniquely styled minivan with a focus on both passenger and cargo capacity

By Bill Roebuck

Aug. 3, 2003 (updated Aug. 25, 2003) -- A new benchmark in minivans is now in dealerships and it's worth paying close attention to. It's the 2004 Nissan Quest, which we wouldn't hesitate to call state-of-the-art in minivan design. 

The Quest is big news, as it's targeted directly at the heart of the import minivan market against the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna. For those who don't like the look of the current crop of minivans on the market, the chiselled, flowing Quest may prove to be a distinguished design solution. Sure, it still looks like a minivan, but at least it's got some style. Highlights
2004 Nissan Quest
Category: Minivan
Seats: 7
Engine: 3.5-litre, 240-hp V6
Fuel Econ.-Cdn:  Litres per 100 km (mpg), city/hwy: 12.4/8.2 (23/34)
Price (Cdn): S $32,900, SL $36,600, SE $43,400. Freight $995.
Pros: Crisp design, flat folding 2nd and 3rd row seats, easy to drive.
Cons: High-end pricing limits accessibility. Rear headrests must be removed when lowering seats.
Nissan was well aware of the aversion to minivans among drivers, who like the people- and cargo-carrying capacity, but not the dull "Mom's Taxi" image. It has made a good attempt to be different. Its design is both innovative and interesting. If you remember the previous Nissan Quest or its sister, the Mercury Villager, this new Nissan-only model is nothing like its much-smaller predecessor.

The Quest comes in 3.5 S, SL and SE models. Nissan is projecting sales of 8,000 to 10,000 units per year in Canada.

Let's get to the meat. One particular attribute is sure to please. While some competitors offer fold-flat third-row seats, the Quest also has them -- plus fold-to-the-floor centre-row seating. The second row doesn't go completely level with the floor, but it's close. It's a boon for people who don't have garages to store seating that's been removed from a minivan in order to make room for cargo.

You could, conceivably, use the Quest as a cargo van to take all the supplies needed to open up your cottage for the season, and at the end of the weekend bring a full load of passengers back to the city. It's a brilliant innovation.

Interestingly, only women were invited to the focus groups in the initial design stages for the Quest. It seems Nissan didn't really care what guys thought about minivans. Its target market is the "modern, sophisticated mom" who would shop at the GAP versus Old Navy, says Ian Forsyth, Nissan Canada's director of marketing.

Our evaluation took us on highways, through small towns, and on side roads. We even took it off-road for a few hundred metres to get an interesting background in a photo, but the Quest bottomed out cresting a mound of grass, a reminder that it has a very long wheelbase (124 in. or 3,150 mm, compared to 3,030 mm for the Toyota Sienna and Chrysler Grand Caravan).

The hood of the seven-passenger Quest slopes down to a split grille and is flanked by sleek halogen headlamps that look like they were borrowed from Nissan's 350Z sports car.

Another image tweak is the SE model's 17-in. aluminum-alloy wheels, which are wrapped with Goodyear Eagle high-speed tires rated to 210 km/h. A tire pressure monitor system is standard on all models.

Inside, the instruments and controls are mounted on a centre console. The instrument cluster includes a 16-cm LCD information display screen (or an optional navigation system) with two dials on the left side for speed and revs that proved easy to see and read. Warning lights are on the right side of the unit. The control panel is angled up almost flat, like a tray, making it easy to adjust the ventilation, information centre and stereo controls.

The shift lever also is on the centre console, yet it's easy to reach and use.

Kids might nickname this minivan Captain Hook, because hangers abound. There's a handy purse holder on the side of the front passenger seat, hooks on the rear of the front seats, grocery bag hooks on the back of the rear seat, and extra-large, sturdy units that fold out from the roof. That's something Alfonso Albaisa, associate director of design, Nissan Design America, created personally, after his wife complained about loading up all his shirts from the dry cleaners.

There are eight cupholders and more storage compartments than we had time to count. Nissan also put one in front of the driver, where the instrument cluster would normally be. There's even a handy slot on the steering column to hold a parking lot ticket or reminder note.

A fully optioned top-of-the-line 3.5SE model features no fewer than five sunroofs, a 10-speaker Bose audio system, a navigation system, and a DVD player. The entertainment system comes with a pair of wireless headphones and either one or two drop-down display screens. Entertainment doesn't come cheap, though. The system is a $2,000 option with one screen, and $5,700 with two, although this includes the navigation system. Even with two screens, however, you can only play one DVD at a time.

The standard audio system is a 150-watt unit with eight speakers and a single-disc CD player. With the SE model, there's a thundering 250-watt Bose audio system that has a six-disc CD player and 10 speakers. The CDs we played in it proved it to be a first-class system. Steering wheel audio controls are standard, except on the base S model.

There's seating for seven with captain's chairs up front, two individual centre seats, and a three-person bench in the third row. The latter is roomy enough for two average-size adults or three children. The second row seats adjust fore and aft, allowing plenty of leg room without cramping the third-row space. The front seats are heated, even in the base model. Leather comes with the 3.5SE.

Extra-wide sliding doors on both sides of the Quest made access to the third row unchallenging. The door opening width is almost 34 in. (858 mm), four inches wider than the Honda Odyssey. The sliding doors are manual on the base 3.5S model; the passenger side is powered on the 3.5 SL, and both are powered on the 3.5SE. With kids in mind, Nissan made the grab handle for the centre row narrower at the bottom, where little hands would use it to pull themselves into the vehicle. Because of the space between the first- and second-row captain's chairs, you can walk through from the front to the back of the van.

The third row seat is a bit heavy to move. You reach in to grab a strap, push a button on the back of seat, then pivot it backward and push it into the floor. It takes a good pull on the strap to lift it from the stowed position, but then it's easy to snap it back into the raised position. In comparison, the 2004 Toyota Sienna's third-row seats split and fold so you can leave one side upright. They also have two labelled straps and are spring assisted for easy folding, up and down. It's definitely superior.

In the Quest, the third row headrests must be removed before the seat can be folded away. Nissan provides a sack to store the three headrests in, along with a hook to hang it in the rear cargo area, but it is an inconvenience.

Regarding the third-row headrests, a Nissan employee said the company anticipated a headrest design that didn't have to be removed to stow the seat would eventually be banned in the U.S. because regulators may think they would often be left in the down position, making them ineffective. However, I think it's just as unlikely that the removable headrests would always be reinstalled when the seat is raised. (In comparison, the 2004 Ford Freestar minivan has third-row headrests that do not need to be removed to stow the seat into the floor. They're small, though.)

Safety features on the Quest include the first North American application of the Nissan Advanced Air Bag System, which monitors the size and location of front seat occupants to determine the deployment force. Also standard are head curtain supplemental air bags to help protect outboard passengers in all three rows from side-impact collisions. Supplemental front-seat side-impact air bags also are available. ABS brakes with brake assist are standard in all the Quest models

Each seating position has height-adjustable headrests. LATCH-type child seat anchors are built in.

An optional overhead console runs down the centre of the ceiling, and includes air vents, reading lights, storage compartments and space for the DVD displays. Rear ventilation and sound system controls are mounted at each side of the second row.

The optional Skyview roof, a pair of long glass panels, creates the effect of four sunroofs in the passenger compartment, in addition to the standard, opening sunroof above the driver's area. It creates a bright and airy feeling in the interior.

The Quest is the largest minivan on the road (Summer 2003). Cargo volume behind the third row is 926 litres (33 cu ft). Behind the second row with the third row folded, it expands to 2,498 litres (88 cu ft). Total cargo volume with both rows folded is 4,211 litres (149 cu ft) and that configuration can accommodate a 4x8 ft sheet of plywood with the liftgate closed. Liftover height is just 630 mm (25 in.). Towing capacity is up to 1,588 kg (3,500 lb).

On the road, the Quest drives as smoothly as a sedan. It feels heavy, though not underpowered. The engine, a 240-hp, 3.5-litre V6, is linked to a four-speed automatic. A five-speed version comes with the top SE model. Traction control is standard, by the way.

We drove both SL and SE models and the difference between the transmissions wasn't notable. We noted that the Quest's engine revved quite low -- around 2,000 rpm at 120 km/h -- which should benefit fuel economy. The low revs mean the automatic has to downshift on hills, but the shifting is smooth and quiet, so is not an annoyance.

Fuel economy is reported as 12.4/8.2 litres/100 km city/highway (23/34 mpg) with the four-speed transmission. Pricing, with freight included, ranges from $33,895 to $44,395 and you can bring a Quest to just over $50,000 by adding the dual-screen entertainment system and navigation setup. By comparison, you can reach the same price range by loading up a Chrysler Town & Country Limited minivan to the gills.

Ride and handling benefit from a new four-wheel independent suspension, along with front and rear stabilizer bars. The Quest is very car-like, especially on the highway. The standard antilock brakes feature brake assist and electronic brake force distribution. When we jumped on the brakes hard, the van stopped quickly and straight, as expected, with no wheel lockup.

Despite its size, wind noise was minimal, and there were no squeaks or rattles from the inside, attesting to the high build quality that Nissan's new plant in Canton, Mississippi, hopes to achieve.

"Minivans have always been a rational purchase decision, rather than an emotional one," says Nissan Canada's Ian Forsyth. "But not anymore. The Quest is a minivan for people who might never have considered a minivan before."

Considering the flexible cargo and passenger configurations it offers, along with its interesting design, we think the Quest could bring many naysayers back to the minivan market.

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© Copyright Bill Roebuck, 2004.

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