MSRP
$33,650
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2006 Nissan Quest Expert Review:New Car Test Drive

Sporty and innovative.

Introduction

The Nissan Quest is the minivan for people who can't bear to own a minivan. Its powerful 3.5-liter V6, the same engine used in the Nissan 350Z, outperforms any other minivan on the road. Its smooth five-speed automatic would be perfectly at home in an expensive luxury car. With crisp steering, responsive handling and good high-speed stability, the Quest is a kick to drive, something that can't be said of many minivans. 

The Quest is radically styled, with looks that Buck Rogers would have admired. Its space-age styling carries through inside with jetliner-style seats, and optional Skyview glass roof panels. The centrally located instrument cluster is equally radical, often surprising shoppers the first time they sit in the driver's seat. An oval pod in the middle houses the shifter and secondary controls. The cabin is comfortable and innovative. Its back seats are roomier, more comfortable, more functional and more interesting than those in other minivans. 

The Quest has a longer wheelbase, and is higher and longer than other minivans. It's also one of the most versatile, with a radically arching roofline that contributes to its practicality. Its sliding doors open wider than those on other minivans. It boasts all the latest features, including power sliding doors and a power liftgate, power rear-quarter windows, a sonar park-assist system and overhead mood lighting. With the towing package, it's capable of towing up to 3500 pounds. 

Quest comes with the latest in safety features, including curtain airbags for all three rows (for head protection), the required frontal airbags, active head restraints, electronic stability control (VDC), traction control (TCS), and anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist, plus a tire-pressure monitor. Side-impact airbags (for torso protection) are optional. 

Nissan introduced the Quest as an all-new model for 2004. There are no significant changes for 2006, though new options and improved quality add to its value. 

Lineup

The 2006 Nissan Quest is offered in four trim levels: base 3.5, 3.5 S Special Edition, SL, and SE. All are the same length. All are powered by Nissan's superb 3.5-liter V6 engine, all are front-wheel drive. 

The Quest 3.5 ($24,000) comes with a four-speed automatic transmission, cloth upholstery, eight-way manually adjustable driver's seat with lumbar support, four-way manually adjustable passenger seat, cruise control with switches on the steering wheel, AM/FM/CD audio with eight speakers and RDS, power windows, power door locks with remote keyless entry, two 12-volt power points, cornering lights, dual sliding doors, and P225/65HR16 Goodyear Eagle LS all-season tires on 16-inch steel wheels. 

The 3.5 S Special Edition ($25,300) adds a power right-side sliding door, a power liftgate, power third-row vent windows, in-dash six-disc CD autochanger, upgraded audio speakers, rear sonar back-up warning system, and illuminated steering wheel audio switches. 

SL ($26,900) substitutes a five-speed automatic transmission and adds an eight-way power driver's seat, power-adjustable pedals, leather-wrapped steering wheel with cruise control and illuminated audio switches, rear-seat audio controls, upgraded stereo speakers, electrochromic rear-view mirror, HomeLink transmitter, front-row folding center tray table with cup holders, and 16-inch aluminum wheels. The SL can be upgraded with a Special Edition package ($1,150), which adds some of the features of the SE, including a power left-side sliding door, RearView Monitor, rear sonar back-up warning system, and the in-dash six-disc CD autochanger. The Leather/Bose package ($2,500) upgrades the SL with leather trim in first and second row seats, heated front seats, and 265-watt Bose sound system with 10 speakers and a six-CD in-dash changer. 

SE ($33,500) adds the RearView Monitor with a seven-inch screen, plus leather seats in the first and second rows, heated front seats, four-way power for the front passenger seat, memory function for the driver's seat and pedals, front-seat side-impact airbags, dual power sliding doors, 265-watt Bose sound system with 10 speakers and a six-CD changer, Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC), automatic headlights, fog lights, and P225/60HR17 Goodyear Eagles on machine-finished 17-inch aluminum rims. 

The Seat Package, which nearly every Quest has, features fold-flat captain's chairs in the second row, with cupholders and an easy-entry feature, a fold-flat bench in third row with grocery-bag hooks, 3-point seat belts, and LATCH-style child safety seat anchors. 

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, rear-seat audio controls and two wireless headphones. A dual-screen version of the system ($1,900) is available exclusively for the SE. A GPS navigation system ($1,800) with DVD is available for the SL and for SE models with Bose audio. It features a seven-inch display mounted in the center instrument cluster. 

The Skyview Roof is available on the SL and SE ($1500). It consists of a power glass sunroof over the first row plus panoramic glass panels over the second and third rows; the package includes sunshades and a full-length overhead console. 

A Michelin PAX run-flat tire package that provides a 125-mile driving range on flat tires is available for the SL ($1,200) and SE ($850). 

Other factory-installed options include satellite radio with XM or Sirius receiver ($350), and a tow package that gives Quest a towing capacity of 3500 pounds (adequate for a small boat, wave runners or snow mobiles). 

Eight port- or dealer-installed accessories are available, including running boards ($560), roof rack cross bars ($240), and cargo organizer ($210). 

Walkaround

The challenge in designing the Quest was to create a minivan that didn't look like one, while keeping it practical. By lengthening the wheelbase and shortening the front and rear overhangs, designers produced a swooping roof line while enlarging the interior space. Bold fender flares give it a sporty-looking front-end. Blacked-out side pillars provide a window line that goes from the front wheel arches to the taillights in a bold arching arrow. The result is a vehicle with sleek character lines that does not look nearly as big as it actually is. 

The long wheelbase gave the designers the opportunity to lengthen the sliding rear doors. That makes getting in and out easier, especially to the third row of seats. The power sliding doors work very well, and will open simultaneously from a distance when the buttons on the remote are pressed, though we found them reluctant to respond at times. The sliding doors have pinch protection, but seemed to push pretty hard before reversing direction. Due to the swept-up hipline, 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. 

The power tailgate works well, though it was slow to respond to the remote. It's possible to interrupt its opening by pressing the remote again, useful when you notice that you've backed up too close to a wall or tree for it to clear. 

Interior

The Quest is not a typical minivan, and its cabin draws remarks from people climbing in for the first time. You don't get this with a Toyota Sienna or a Dodge Grand Caravan. Some of the Quest's interior schemes are downright wild, particularly the Rouge leather, with seats that look like they were made from baseball glove leather and a dash that looks and feels like the material on a basketball. It's bright, fun and will wake you up better than a grande cappuccino. Doors are trimmed in an alcantara-like cloth that feels nice to the touch, along with black vinyl and aluminum-colored plastic. 

Most unusual is the instrument cluster centered on top of the dashboard instead of in its usual location ahead of the steering wheel. This move allowed the designers to make the top of the dashboard much lower for improved forward visibility and a feeling of spaciousness. It takes a little acclimatization as most of us are used to looking through the steering wheel for the instruments, but the Quest isn't the only vehicle on the market that takes this approach. Another advantage to this design is a small slot ahead of the steering wheel that's useful for holding directions, a map, a to-do list, or a photograph. Nor is the shifter where you'd expect it, instead mounted on top of an oval-shaped pod in the center dash area. The screen for the optional navigation system is located in this same pod, just to the right of the gauges. 

The flat, oval-shaped pod that houses the climate and audio controls and shifter rises like a barrel from the center of the dash and is finished in a black material that's soft to the touch. The buttons and knobs for the climate controls are big, but seem more awkward to operate than a traditional design. Not so unusual is the functional but mundane steering wheel, similar to what's found in most Nissans. For 2006, the steering wheel gets illuminated controls when equipped with remote buttons for the audio system. The Quest's cabin may not be to everyone's taste, but it's innovative and sporty in appearance. 

The SkyView roof features a pair of long, rectangular glass panels that appear from the inside as four glass panels over the rear seats. The glass panels cannot be opened or removed but can be covered by a sliding blind. They help make the rear seating area less claustrophobic by opening up the sky and letting passengers see trees, airplanes and mountain tops, adding to the airiness of the spacious cabin. Nissan chose opaque shades to slide over the glass panels, much better for blocking unwanted sunlight than the mesh covers used by some manufacturers. The SkyView package comes with a traditional power glass moonroof between driver and front passenger. 

When equipped with the central roof console and DVD entertainment system with two monitors, you feel like you're seated in a first-class Learjet. This is one minivan where kids may fight to see who sits in the back seats. 

The interior dimensions are enormous, making the Quest feel incredibly roomy. Yet rearward visibility is good from the rearview mirror and cleverly shaped outside mirrors, though the available sonar back-up system will help avoid small children, pets or tricycles below the line of vision. 

The seats are an unusual design. Far less bulky than normal, they look like airline seats when viewed from the side. The second-row captain's chairs are a popular option and, in spite of their spartan appearance, are more comfortable and more supportive than the cushy seats in uplevel models of the Toyota Sienna. The arm rests are positioned at a comfortable angle on both sides of the second-row seats. 

The third-row seats are a revelation. They're among the most comfortable we've experienced in any vehicle, and among the very few suitable for one or two adults. The third-row seatbacks recline for added comfort and there's a decent amount of legroom. We found them roomier and more. 

Driving Impression

The Quest is fun to drive, more fun than other minivans. Its suspension is taut, so it's more responsive than other minivans. The Quest leans less in corners, the nose dives less under braking and the rear squats less under acceleration. The steering is crisp, with just the right amount of feedback to let the driver feel connected to the road. Its high seating position offers good all-around visibility. 

Quest shares chassis components with the Nissan Maxima, Altima and Murano. Its suspension provides good handling for a big vehicle. Granted, the Quest doesn't handle as well as the Maxima, but it feels more stable in corners than a sport-utility and it handles better than a Toyota Sienna. 

Quest's 3.5-liter engine is one of the best V6s on the market. It's essentially the same engine used in the 350Z and Infiniti G35. Tuned for the Quest, it's rated at 240 horsepower. Nissan's variable valve-timing system helps optimize efficiency at a wide range of engine speeds. The torque curve is relatively flat and peaks at 242 pound-feet at 4400 rpm. This provides the driver with responsive performance, whether driving around town or cruising on the freeway. The Quest accelerates onto on-ramps with gusto and passes slower vehicles on two-lane roads at a respectable rate. At times, the throttle seemed a bit sensitive at tip-in, however, so you need a delicate touch initially when accelerating from a stop. 

The available five-speed automatic transmission delivers the smooth shifts of a luxury sedan. Quest rates an EPA-estimated 19/26 mpg City/Highway with the standard four-speed automatic and 18/25 mpg with the five-speed automatic. We checked the overall gear ratios and noticed that, even though the five-speed provides slightly more relaxed top-gear cruising, the five-speed's three lowest gears are significantly more aggressive than those used in the four-speed. We suspect that's how that 1 mile per gallon gets lost on all but the straightest, flattest roads. By the same token, the five-speed automatic should offer better acceleration performance than the four-speed automatic, better response around town and smoother shifting. Overall, we were very happy with the five-speed and recommend getting it. 

In a period of higher fuel prices, it's nice to know that Quest will run on regular unleaded gasoline. The engine controller dials back the ignition timing when it senses regular gas to protect the engine from damage. As a result, power drops to 230 horsepower and 238 pound-feet of torque, but for most daily driving that's more than adequate. When you want all the available power, just pump in high-octane premium and the engine happily increases its power output. 

The available Michelin PAX run-flat system is superb and we highly recommend it. Traditional run-flat tires use super-stiff sidewalls and, as a result, suffer from a hard ride. The Michelin PAX system uses a special wheel and a support ring that prevents the tire from deflating or coming off the rim even if all the air is removed and you are driving at 55 mph. Changing a tire or waiting for a tow truck can be dangerous, particularly in high-crime areas and this system virtually eliminates that concern. 

Summary

The Nissan Quest boasts brisk performance and handling that makes it fun to drive. It's like a Maxima in minivan clothing. Its radical styling inside and out may be a love it or leave it proposition, but the cabin is innovative, roomy and comfortable. Passengers will be comfortable and happy no matter where they're sitting. Opting for the leather upholstery, DVD entertainment system, Skyview roof and other features turn it into a first-class cabin. Early 2004 models suffered quality glitches, but Nissan has since addressed these issues. 

New Car Test Drive correspondent John Rettie filed the original report from Santa Barbara, with editor Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles. 

Model Lineup

Nissan Quest 3.5 ($24,000); 3.5 Special Edition ($25,300); 3.5 SL ($26,900); 3.5 SE ($33,500). 

Assembled In

Canton, Mississippi. 

Options As Tested

dual-screen DVD rear-seat entertainment system ($1,900) includes dual 7-inch color displays, two wireless headphones, remote control, DVD drive mounted under the front passenger seat, auxiliary inputs, quick reference card; Navigation System ($1.800) includes 7-inch color display, GPS with DVD-based data storage; SE Seat Package ($750) includes fold-flat second-row captain's chairs and fold-flat third-row bench with grocery-bag hooks, 3-point seat belts, and LATCH-style child safety seat anchors; Skyview roof panels with power glass sunroof ($1,500). 

Model Tested

Nissan Quest 3.5 SE ($33,500). 

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