Minivans that don't look like minivans, SUVs that drive like cars gone are the days when we called a spade, a spade. These days we have crossovers, "sports tourers" and other semiradical departures from the old days when what you saw was simply what you got.
The 2004 Nissan Quest is one of the latest vehicles to blur the classification lines. We witnessed the initial unveiling of Nissan's new minivan at this year's North American International Auto Show, and were entertained by Nissan spokesmen using words like "sexy," "sophisticated" and "stylish" to describe a minivan. Although we agree that stylewise it is a departure from the traditional bread boxes one often sees lined up in front of elementary schools in the afternoon, we were still a little dubious of a minivan's ability to be considered sexy.
Months after its introduction, we seized the opportunity to test-drive Nissan's latest people mover near its birth site, the new Nissan assembly plant in Canton, Miss. Our scheduled drive occurred during the same week the first-production Quest rolled off the line. Mississippi pride was shown in abundance as folks stopped us to ask if our Quest test vehicle was "one of their new cars."
"That sure is a good-lookin' ride," drawled a well-dressed man in a Chevrolet Tahoe, as his wife nodded her approval from the passenger's seat. Hmmm, if we were attracting the attention of men driving popular SUVs, maybe there was something to this sophisticated, stylish thing after all.
On the outside, the Quest was designed to take its place in the Nissan family. It shares styling cues with other new models such as the redesigned Maxima, the 350Z and the Murano especially the front grille arrangement. An arching roofline gives the Quest a more dramatic flair passersby will be hard-pressed to confuse it for any other minivan on the market. The Quest also receives Nissan's new Skyview windows first introduced on the '04 Maxima. Four fixed windows are cut into the Quest's roof to give the rear-seating area an open feel.
Under the hood lies a 3.5-liter V6 engine tuned to produce 240 horsepower that's 70 horsepower more than the 2002 Quest. Two transmissions are available a four-speed automatic on the lower-line models, and a five-speed auto for the upper trim. Traction control is standard on all Quests, with vehicle dynamic control available on top-of-the-line Quest models. While the engine felt plenty powerful for tooling around town and over freeway stretches, we definitely prefer the smooth shift pattern of the five-speed auto transmission over Quests equipped with the four-speed.
Built on the same platform as the Altima, Murano and Maxima, the Quest benefits from a four-wheel independent suspension with a rear multilink design, along with front and rear stabilizer bars that provide a balanced, carlike ride. Power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering and four-wheel antilock brakes, BrakeAssist (BA) and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) come standard on all 2004 Quests. Most of our test-drive consisted of smooth Mississippi pavement, but the few times we found ourselves on rougher terrain, we didn't notice a substantial difference in the ride quality, and remained comfortable while the suspension adeptly absorbed the bumps.
Inside, the Quest provides seating for seven passengers (note that Toyota's new Sienna has an eight-passenger configuration). The Quest now claims the widest-opening rear sliding doors, as well as flat-folding seats for both the second and third rows a segment "must-have" these days. The folding seats would be much easier to use if you weren't required to remove and stow all five headrests prior to lowering the seats into place. The third-row seat only folds as a one-piece bench, which makes it a bit heavy to maneuver and limits the available seating configuration. The second-row captain's chairs (no second-row bench is available) tip up to allow easier entry and exit for third-row passengers. Low seat back height and no thigh support make the third-row seat only marginally comfortable, but the legroom is sufficient for quick trips, even for small adults.
Interesting design features abound in Nissan's new minivan. The center-mounted instrument cluster built below the 6.3-inch information display screen is circular in design and provides stereo and climate controls right at your fingertips. There's a front overhead console with a sunglasses holder and dual maplights, and an available full-length rear overhead console to assist rear passengers with additional storage bins, lighting and air vents, but no lower center console between the second-row chairs. The requisite eight cupholders are dispersed throughout the interior, as well as a bottle holder integrated into the door bin on each sliding door. Other locations to stash your goodies include an open storage bin on each side of the center stack, plus a driver-accessible drawer under the front-passenger seat, should you need to hide your valuables from peering eyes. Four 12-volt power points are also located throughout the cabin, ready to power Game Boys aplenty.
The eight-way adjustable driver seat can be upgraded to eight-way power, or all the way to include a driver-seat memory system with seat, foot pedal and outside mirror memory positions, plus heated front seats. Both driver and front passenger get power one-touch up/down windows with a safety reverse feature, in case little (or big) fingers get in the way. Dual-zone automatic climate control is optional, while a rear heating and air conditioning system is standard. Also standard are side curtain airbags to protect the heads of those in the front and rear.
Base model Quest passengers will listen to a 150-watt AM/FM/CD audio system with eight speakers and an optional in-dash six-disc CD changer. Serious music enthusiasts can enjoy the first Bose-developed audio system for a minivan featuring a 265-watt Bose system with a CD changer and 10 speakers. Steering wheel-mounted audio controls are also available.
An available rear DVD entertainment system allows you to choose either one or two roof-mounted display screens (providing both the second and third rows with an optimal view); the DVD drive is located under the front-passenger seat, facing the driver. The audio system has dual-feature capability, which means rear-seat passengers can use headphones to watch a movie while other passengers are listening to the stereo through the regular speakers.
Can't decide how much "sophistication" is necessary? The Quest comes in three trim levels 3.5 S, 3.5 SL and 3.5 SE which afford a variety of options. The base-level 3.5 S can be upgraded to include 16-inch alloy wheels and a rear sonar parking system, and the midlevel 3.5 SL can add front-seat side-impact airbags (all Quests get the head airbags as standard fare), heated front seats and a rear sonar system, plus leather-trimmed interior and a four-way power front passenger seat. All models are available with the single-screen DVD entertainment system, while only the 3.5 SE can add a second display screen. Lastly, both 3.5 SL and 3.5 SE models can have a GPS navigation system with DVD-based data storage and an in-dash six-disc CD changer.
So, stylish? Yes. Sophisticated? Sure. The Quest has plenty of amenities to recommend itself to even the most discriminating SUV buyers. But sexy? That one we still find difficult to swallow. The new Quest goes on sale in early July, and if the price is attractive enough to compete with current minivan goddesses, the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna, then sexy just might be a possibility.
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