2004 Nissan Quest Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Rethinking the minivan.
Sexy is not a word normally associated with minivans. Whether that word can be used to describe the new Nissan Quest is open to discussion, but Nissan has certainly given it a good shot with the 2004 model.
Fans like to point out that minivans are much more comfortable and far more practical than SUVs. But minivans have suffered from the 'soccer mom' image, an image many, including soccer moms, prefer to avoid. Despite this they are still a popular category and several recently introduced models on the market are causing naysayers to rethink their views on minivans.
Of all the new minivans, the Nissan Quest is arguably the most radical and therefore the one that deserves a serious look for those who want a vehicle they can be proud to own and enjoy for its various attributes. It's now the largest minivan on the market, it has the most versatility and it's one of the most fun ones to drive.
We found the new Quest enjoyable to drive. It's fitted with a powerful V6 engine, taken from the 350Z sports car, and is available with a smooth five-speed automatic that would be perfectly at home in an expensive luxury car. Quest has crisp steering and feels more stable in corners than an SUV. Its radical styling carries through inside with jetliner seats, Skyview roof panels and a centrally located instrument panel. It also comes with the latest curtain-style airbags and active safety features.
Nissan Quest is offered in three different models: S, SL, and SE. All are the same length and all are powered by Nissan's superb 3.5-liter V6 engine, which is found in the Maxima, 350Z, and a variety of Infiniti models.
All Quest models get side curtain airbags, which cover all three rows of seats, along with the required front airbags. Traction control is standard on all three models along with anti-lock brakes (ABS).
The base 3.5 S ($24,590) includes air conditioning, dual sliding doors, power mirrors, remote keyless entry, and a 150-watt AM/FM/CD stereo system with eight speakers. It comes with a four-speed automatic transmission and 16-inch steel wheels. An upgrade package adds 16-inch alloy wheels and the rear sonar system ($700).
SL ($27,090) comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, an eight-way power adjustable driver seat, and adjustable foot pedals. The SL also comes with a power sliding door on the right, a power rear lift gate, and power rear vent windows. An upgrade package adds side-impact air bags, heated front seats and the rear sonar system ($750). The SL Leather Package ($1,500) adds leather-trimmed interior and a four-way power front-passenger seat.
SE ($32,990) comes with a five-speed automatic transmission, 17-inch alloy wheels, and a Vehicle Dynamic Control anti-skid system. Inside, it gets leather-appointed seats, a four-way power passenger seat, 265-watt Bose audio system with 10 speakers, front supplemental side airbag system, full-length rear overhead console, power sunroof, Skyview rear roof panels, power left side door, a rear sonar system for parking, and dual-zone climate control.
Standard on all models is a Seat Package that includes the folding rear bench seat with grocery bag hooks and the folding center captain chairs with cupholders and easy entry system.
The DVD Entertainment Package ($1,500) includes a DVD drive mounted under the front passenger seat, a seven-inch color screen, remote control, auxiliary inputs and two wireless headphones. A dual-screen version of the system ($1,900) is available for the SE. A GPS navigation system ($2,000) with DVD storage is available for the SE and features a seven-inch display mounted in the center meter cluster. The navigation system and a six-disc CD changer are available as a bundle ($2,300) for the SL.
Viewed head-on, it's not immediately apparent that the Quest is any different than other minivans on the market. It has a big grill that bears a family resemblance to the sporty Maxima.
Move slightly to the right or left, however, and it becomes apparent that the designers have tried hard to make the Quest look different from a traditional minivan. Gone are the slab sides and flat roof. Instead, the Quest gets bold fender flares that run along the sides with shoulders and curve up as the lines blend to the rear. The result is a vehicle with curvaceous character lines that does not look nearly as big as it is in reality. Part of this illusion is due to the long wheelbase with relatively short overhangs at front and rear that give it a sleek look.
Quest has dual sliding side doors, as expected, but they are four inches longer than in any other minivan. This provides better access, especially to the third row of seats. Due to the hip design of the Quest, the slot for the door runners is in the middle of the bodywork rather than being disguised along the lower edge of the side windows as has become the norm. It's a design flaw in some people's eyes while others barely notice it.
Anyone who has ever owned a minivan will tell you that the most important aspect of the vehicle is the interior. Unlike SUVs, which are more often than not just used as a passenger car for carrying one or maybe two passengers, minivans get used for carrying kids and stuff. Flexibility is the key. Gradually, minivan designers have improved the versatility and ease in which the interior can be arranged.
Nissan has taken versatility to new levels with the Quest. The third row of seats can be lowered into a large carpeted well in the floor to provide loads of storage space with a flat floor. But in a new twist the two center-mounted captain's seats can also be lowered down almost flat with the floor to provide a space more than big enough for the proverbial sheet of plywood. There's no need to remove the seats, and one person can easily fold the seats down, useful for an impulsive stop at the home-improvement center.
The seats feature an unusual design. Far less bulky than normal, they take on the appearance of airline seats when viewed from the side. These folding seats are part of the standard Seat Package.
One of the most controversial design aspects of the Quest is the cockpit. The instrument cluster is centered on top of the dashboard instead of its usual location ahead of the steering wheel. This move has allowed the designers to make the top of the dashboard much lower for improved forward visibility and a feeling of spaciousness. A minor touch but one that can be appreciated is a small slot located ahead of the steering wheel for holding a photograph or map or notes. It's an ideal location for glancing at something important while driving, which is why the instruments are normally located there.
The climate and audio controls are located on top of an angled flat oval-shaped area that looks like the top of a barrel. It's a distinctive part of the design, but it is not quite as easy to operate the big knobs and buttons as in a normal location, at least for the driver. The screen for the optional navigation system is located in front of this in a pod alongside the gauges.
One of the neatest features, available only on the SE, is the Skyview glass roof, first seen in the 2004 Maxima. There are four glass panels over the rear seats that cannot be removed but can be covered by a sliding blind. They help make the rear seating much less claustrophobic by opening up the sky and letting the kids (and adults) see trees, airplanes and mountain tops.
Outfitted with the central roof console and optional DVD entertainment system with two monitors, sitting in the back of the Quest feels just like being seated in a jet liner, in first class to boot. This is one minivan where kids may fight to see who sits in the back seats.
Minivans have rarely been regarded as being fun vehicles to drive. (On the other hand, neither have SUVs, at least not on the highway.) However, Nissan has injected characteristics into the Quest to make it more of a driver's vehicle.
For starters, Nissan's V6 is one of the nicest engines from any manufacturer. Quest gets essentially the same V6 used in the 350Z and Infiniti G35. Retuned slightly, it produces 240 horsepower with a decent torque curve. It provides enough power to let the Quest accelerate onto on-ramps and pass slower vehicles on two-lane highways at a respectable rate. The available five-speed automatic transmission provides good smooth shifts, more in line with luxury cars.
Another aspect of a driver's car is good crisp steering. Quest delivers here as well with just the right amount of feedback to let the driver feel connected to the road, but not too tight for round town use.
The suspension provides good handling for what is a big vehicle. No, it doesn't handle as well as the Maxima, but the Quest certainly feels much more stable in corners than a sport-utility.
Can the Quest actually fulfill Nissan's quest to re-invent the minivan market? If you like the looks of this minivan and appreciate the versatility and design features of the interior take a long look at the 2004 Quest before opting for an SUV. If you enjoy driving you'll draw pleasure from owning this minivan as it delivers performance and handling to match its snazzy looks. The Quest is a Maxima in minivan clothing.
In fact, sitting in the very back seats with the middle seats folded down there's tons of leg room and with a DVD entertainment system and leather seats it's much more comfy than being stuffed into the back seat of a Lincoln Town Car. In this set up the Quest could easily be described as the limousine of minivans.
3.5 S ($24,590); 3.5 SL ($27,090); 3.5 SE ($32,990).
Options As Tested
Dual screen DVD Entertainment system ($1,900) includes DVD drive mounted under the front passenger seat, dual 7-inch color displays, remote control, auxiliary inputs on DVD drive faceplate, two wireless headphones, quick reference card; Navigation System ($2,000) includes GPS system with DVD-based data storage, 7-inch color display, DVD drive.
Nissan Quest 3.5 SE ($32,990).
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