Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor
When Nissan designers gathered to revamp the formerly drab Quest minivan, they made a list of things that, traditionally, a minivan couldn't do. But then, to spark their thinking, they reviewed the list taking each negative attribute and asking, "Why not?"
The "why not?" principle became the guiding phrase for the project and, apparently, unlocked the designers' creative juices. The result is a new breed of minivan that fits another guiding phrase Nissan designers used: "Imagine a life less ordinary." This minivan is as far from ordinary as vanilla is from chocolate. Attractive outside; airy and innovative inside and with a super-smooth V6 under the hood. The Quest is a breath of fresh air in an automotive segment that needs a new lease on life.
The Quest follows hard on the heels of the dazzling 350Z sports car, which itself came after the successful redesign of the Altima and Maxima. The idea of building on these successes was intentional, said Nissan designer Alfonso Albaisa. "We wanted people to feel that the Z is running through (the Quest's) veins," he said. To this end, they set the glass inboard from the side paneling, something not usually done in slab-sided minivans. With the body sitting outside of glass, the stance is more pronounced. It looks simple, agile and modern.
Step inside and the real fun begins. Five Skyview windows provide passengers with a panorama unrivaled by anything besides a convertible or the glass-bubble-topped Pope-mobile. Shades conveniently pull across the Skyview windows although we have to wonder if they will eventually become dried by sunlight and crack. An Edmunds editor and mother of a three-year-old daughter said the windows will be a hit with children who currently feel trapped in the dingy cavelike depths of conventional minivans.
But that's not all for the fun features in the interior. A center console runs down the middle of the inside of the roof from which drop down as many as two DVD screens and various storage boxes. The result is an aeronautical look that makes you feel as if you are riding in your own jetliner. Additionally, designers discarded traditional thinking and eschewed heavy side bolstering for lateral support in the front seats. Instead, the front captain's chairs are benchlike allowing easier entry and exits. The side bolstering wasn't missed during a week of test-driving.
One aspect that many people will immediately appreciate is the bounteous placement of storage compartments, shelves and cupholders. A triangular bin is located on the dash board directly in front of the driver. A slotted device on the steering column is perfect for parking lot tickets or maybe to hold handwritten directions. A shelf is located on the passenger side under the dash. Everywhere you look there is just the right place to store your things.
There is a wonderful feeling of spaciousness when you are sitting in the driver seat. The door panel and dash are set low providing a better field of visibility and an airy feeling. It makes you want to set sail for a long trip and find mountainous panoramas. The setup around the dash is unusual with the shifter coming straight up out of an oval center console. The speedometer is center mounted beside the optional navigation screen. However, with such a large dashboard, when sunlight shone on it from certain angles it produced a reflection on the windshield, hampering the visibility somewhat.
The Quest, although not the largest minivan on the market, provides seating for seven people. The center seats are flat folding and the rear seat easily drops into a deep well. It requires some effort to return it to the upright position but it's certainly a whole lot easier than removing the entire seat from the vehicle, as in earlier generations of minivans. Additionally, the well makes a convenient storage area for grocery bags and other items that may need to be contained. One drawback, however, is that the third-row seat isn't split-folding which somewhat limits the hauling capabilities of the van.
Seen from the outside, the belt line of the Quest is low along the driver door allowing greater visibility and an unobstructed view of the road for the driver and front passenger. However, the belt line rises along the second- and third-row seats. In this way designers provided a sense of openness for the front area and added security for the passengers (assumed to be children) by protecting them with sheet metal.
The good news is that Quest's appeal isn't only skin deep. Under the hood lies a 3.5-liter V6 engine producing 240 horsepower that's 70 hp more than the previous Quest and equal to that of the class-leading Honda Odyssey. There is a pleasing feeling of ample power on tap for merging into traffic and climbing steep grades. And when you really kick it there's a satisfying growl to the exhaust. Furthermore, the engine is matched to a seamlessly shifting five-speed automatic (a four-speed automatic comes with the base S and midlevel SL trim levels). Although the five-speed tranny provides better acceleration, the four-speed's lower gearing allows it to achieve slightly better fuel economy: EPA estimates are 19 mpg city/26 mpg highway with the four-speed and 18 city/25 highway with the five-speed.
Under freeway driving conditions, the Quest was very pleasant with a soft, compliant ride. Road and wind noise was at a minimum. Visibility is good and the mirrors are extra large so lane changes are relatively stress-free. On mountain roads, we would have liked a stiffer suspension but it cornered nicely nonetheless. On steep descents, we only had one lower gear to use for engine braking. Another reservation we had was how stiff the steering seemed when we were parking the Quest we had to work too hard to jockey it into position.
Although the Quest hasn't yet been crash tested, it offers many safety features. Four-wheel antilock brakes, full-length side curtain airbags, BrakeAssist (BA), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and traction control are standard on all Quests. Nissan's vehicle dynamic control (VDC) stability system comes standard on SE models along with side-impact airbags for front occupants; the airbags are optional on the midlevel SL. The brakes in our test vehicle felt a little mushy when we first hit the pedal. From there, though, they provided a good progressive feeling as it brought the minivan to a full stop.
For those shoppers who like the Quest but want another configuration, they should consider the other trim levels the 3.5 S or the 3.5 SL. The base S comes standard with 16-inch wheels, cloth upholstery, auto up/down front windows, cruise control, remote keyless entry, front and side curtain airbags, a tire-pressure monitoring system and an eight-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo. The midlevel SL adds alloy wheels, a passenger-side power-sliding door, an eight-way power driver seat, steering wheel and rear-seat audio controls, a power rear liftgate, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and power-adjustable pedals. Top-of-the-line SEs are further upgraded with 17-inch wheels, leather seating, dual power-sliding doors, automatic headlights, a power front passenger seat and a 10-speaker Bose audio system with an in-dash CD changer. Available options include a rear sonar parking system, a rear DVD entertainment system and a DVD-based navigation system.
The "test Quest" we drove for a week had one foible the right sliding power door didn't always close. In two cases we had to pull over and press on it to get it completely shut. There was a hollow feeling to the doors which detracted from the general feeling of value to the van. The build quality was very good with no noticeable gaps in the tolerances. Some of the components seemed a little cheap-feeling with plastic flashing still visible. The center console moved slightly when the shift level was put in gear. However, our experience with Nissan vehicles has shown that they are generally reliable and trouble-free. For anything that does break down, the Quest comes with a 3-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper and roadside assistance warranty. The drivetrain is covered for 5 years and 60,000 miles.
Shoppers looking at the Quest will no doubt consider the Dodge Grand Caravan, the Toyota Sienna and the 2003 Honda Odyssey. Toyota offers an eight-passenger Sienna which tops the segment for its sheer people-hauling ability. Furthermore, the Quest's cargo capacity is lowest with 144 cubic feet as opposed to the Grand Caravan's cavernous 168 cubic feet and the Sienna's 149 cubic feet. Comparing the prices of these minivans was difficult because the competitors don't offer a sport version of their vehicles. Suffice it to say that Nissan's vehicles are competitively priced when cross-shopping against Toyotas and Hondas.
The Quest isn't a perfect minivan and it doesn't cover absolutely all the bases (such as the lack of a split-folding rear seat). However, we found the overall design so pleasingly different that it outweighed our reservations. Furthermore, in an admittedly uninspired segment, it was nice to see Nissan take some chances, such as opening up all those windows in the roof so we can see the mountains and trees passing by. Many buyers may find that that design innovation alone is reason enough to bypass the competition and ask themselves just like the designers did "Why not?"
System Score: 8.5
Components: The SE comes with the 265-watt Bose audio system and a six-disc changer. There are 10 speakers with steering wheel and rear audio controls. The system uses a Richbass® woofer, six channels of customized equalization and signal processing. The name of the band or song is displayed while the song is playing.
Performance: The Quest's audio system is capable or punchy lows and clean highs. An adjustment for bass, treble and midrange makes it easy to tailor the sound quality to individual tastes, and the speed control setting compensates for increased road noise as speeds climb (this featured can be turned off). Another strong point was the system's AM frequency reception, which stayed almost completely distortion-free along a stretch of road where power lines often turn AM reception into pure distortion.
Best Feature: The bass has a nice punch to it and creates a feeling of depth to symphonic and rock music.
Worst Feature: The interior doesn't seem to be equally filled with sound especially the lower tones, which get lost at higher volume.
Conclusion: There is little of the richness that characterizes a truly great sound system. Philip Reed
Road Test Editor Brian Moody says: I really want to like this vehicle. The first thing I think when I see the Quest is, "Oh, I get it now; Sienna equals older customer, Quest equals younger family." So fine, the exterior styling and innovative interior arrangement are really hip and cool but the Quest's handling leaves me cold. The soft suspension is nice on the open road, but around town and on even mildly twisty roads it leans so much the fun is sapped for me. The power is there and acceleration is certainly brisk it would have been nice to have a slightly sporty ride to go along with that powerful engine.
I really like the Quest's interior and dash arrangement. It feels like I'm piloting some kind of electric-powered space pod or something the whole dash look/feel is very futuristic and in that way the Quest succeeds in offering a unique driving experience. The functionality of that dash is not always so cool, however. I found the CD player to be poorly placed and I had to look down to see the slot where the CD slides in. The sound quality of the stereo was also disappointing to me. With all the high-tech-looking stuff combined with the more plush nature of this new minivan, I was really expecting a killer sound system at best it simply sounds average.
The newly redesigned Quest is such a vast improvement over the old one that I've had to start looking for a new butt for my automotive one-liners. In a world of plush and extended length minivans, the Quest and twin Mercury Villager were obviously the worst vans on the market. The new van is a viable, although not perfect, contender in a class where old assumptions are proven false on almost a daily basis.
Road Test Editor Erin Riches says: The Quest left me with mixed opinions. If I were the parent of two small children, I would definitely consider it. Besides offering the fold-flat third-row seat, spacious interior, large easy-to-use controls and smoothly operating power-sliding doors and liftgate that harried parents want, this Nissan is by far the most fun-to-drive minivan on the market, surpassing even the Dodge Grand Caravan in this regard. Excellent low- and midrange acceleration from the 3.5-liter V6, quick shifts from the five-speed automatic, perfectly weighted steering, a tightly controlled but comfortable ride, progressive brakes and the superb forward visibility afforded by the center-mounted gauge pod all combine to create a driving experience that would be enjoyable even if this were a midsize sedan.
Great driving dynamics are always desirable, but ultimately, they're a secondary concern for minivans. My main reservation about the Quest has to do with its single-piece third-row seat. Aside from being heavy to maneuver, this all-or-nothing arrangement for the third row just won't work for families of five when they go on road trips in this situation, you want to be able to put a child on one side of the third row and luggage on the other. I know that the Honda Odyssey doesn't offer a split-folding third-row seat, either, but it's an older design, and now that the '04 Toyota Sienna and SUVs like the Honda Pilot and Ford Expedition offer a split-folding seat back here, it seems silly that Nissan would send the Quest to market without it. My other complaints have to do with the second-row captain's chairs that don't slide together, the lack of a folding center tray or removable center console in the front, and the low quality of some of the interior plastics (no worse than what you'd find in the Altima, but still ). Make no mistake, the Quest is a very good minivan and worth consideration just make sure you thoroughly assess your family's needs before taking the plunge.
"Worth the wait for my family. The Skyview roof decided Quest over Sienna. Great for long drives." Ranjan Bhai, Sept. 9, 2003
"I looked at several minivans both foreign and domestic, but when I saw the Quest, I was in love. I was going to settle for a Chevy Venture LT loaded because of the price and rebates, (my father worked for GM) but I just couldn't do it. I narrowed my choices down to the Odyssey and the Quest because of their quality. I was able to get the Quest for $29,800 out the door." Dale Weathers, Sept. 2, 2003
"The speedometer quit working at 902 miles. Dealer replaced. One of the sky windows leaked and damaged a rear seat. Dealer replaced and repaired window. Gas mileage not what I expected." southman, Sept. 2, 2003
"I absolutely love the look of this vehicle. It certainly doesn't look like all the other minivans. As parents of two teenage boys and a baby girl, we were looking to purchase a vehicle with lots of room. We looked at the competition, Honda and Toyota, but we weren't impressed. The Quest is perfect, with plenty of room for baby equipment and generous legroom in all three rows for our almost 6-foot-tall son. I love it!" Happy Mom, Aug. 30, 2003
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