Nissan Quest Review

Nissan Quest ReviewThe minivan prime directive sounds simple enough: build a big bus that drives like a car and seats seven. Don't worry about being fast, attractive, or unique; history only punishes the deviants (Toyota Previa, Chevy Astro, Mazda MPV, et al). Just keep it user-friendly and reliable, and moms will maul down dealers' doors.

When you've got something to prove and a full charge of energy, suggestions sometimes go ignored. This second-generation Quest of 2004 was conceived right in the middle of its creator's "Nissan 180" rapid revival plan, which in this case seems to have meant running 180 degrees from every minivan expectation. Some advancements are obvious: it's way roomier, finally has a competitive engine, and is now a solo project no longer dragged down by the self-contradictory concept known as Ford build quality. But Nissan took a chance with some deep space styling, then went absolutely out on a limb with the driver controls. It also took the minivan concept to the max - the Quest is a giant - and risked building it in a brand new Mississippi plant filled with hundreds of guys who might have never turned a wrench.

But by that point, they'd already rocked the nation with a new Altima, a new 350Z, and a new Murano. So they must have known what they're doing, right?

Road TestNissan Quest Review
For sure, the team was unified in its quest to make this the performer in its field. The Quest arrived on an elongated version of the Altima/Maxima's FF-L (Front-engine Front-drive Large) platform, which upgraded the old Quest's truckish leaf springs and dead axle for a multilink layout, coils, and stabilizer bars on both ends - definite handling helpers. New big vented disc brakes (with ABS/EBD/BA) clamp down on big wheels to arrest the Quest to a stop, and Nissan fired the tired old 170-horsepower VG-series V6 so its corporate VQ-series 3.5-liter V6 could make its forceful 240-horsepower entrance, giving the Quest the highest redline of them all.

240 horsepower and 242 pounds-feet of torque made for the most motivated minivan of 2004, running to 60 MPH in 7.9 seconds when some still take 10. Honda's 255-HP Odyssey stole those bragging rights last year, but the Quest still stands second out of seven and gives a good shove in the back at any speed. Its slick 5-speed automatic is always on the ball and the snarling engine adds a dash of drama to every passing maneuver. Has "Sport-Utility Bus" (SUB) been taken yet?

Moms who haven't felt anything in too long just might smile at the Quest's handling. It actually generates some real (and realistic) resistance when turned, unlike the video game-like wheel on the other 90% of the van population. And - I kid you not - Nissan actually built some oversteer into the Quest's handling repertoire: chuck it into a corner, hit the brakes, and watch the hind end of this vessel fly. Are we having fun yet?

Hey, among front-wheel-drive, 4,200-pound vehicles in which the driver needs to shout to be heard in back, the Quest is one rockin roller coaster.

No measure was spared in the pursuit of this illusion. Many words have been written about the "touchy throttles" on newer Nissans (in which even slight taps into the pedal cause big acceleration lunges), which I've usually found to be exaggerations. Not this time. Abrupt launches are exacerbated by silly wheelspin in 5 MPH corners; the traction control had to cut off my power more than once. Oh geez. Considering how many Quests are destined for a life of cross-town treks and creepy-crawly traffic, a quirk like this is a fine formula for peeved parents and guzzled gas.

Mostly, though, the Quest doesn't wander too far from the line. Its highway ride is marred by a little impact firmness and an overdose of road noise - both traceable to the newly optional 19-inch run-flat Michelin PAX tires (most models have normal tires spanning 16 or 17 in diameter) - but is still steady and comfortable enough. Wind noise is average and the engine is barely audible, spinning only 1,900 RPM when cruising at 70. The 40-foot turning circle is on the wide side thanks to a longest-of-all 124-inch wheelbase, but a reverse beeper helps with parking and a backup camera can now be had.

Gas mileage hovers right around 19 (premium recommended), pretty much the same as the Odyssey, ahead of most other minis, and a mighty 30% improvement over a Nissan Pathfinder. As on the Maxima, the fuel tank sensor needs to be reprogrammed to not sound the alarm when only 15 of its 20 gallons have been used. Also shared with the Maxima is this random fact: Quests with the 5-speed automatic have no overdrive gears, though a modest 2.269 final-drive ratio means you'll never know the difference.

Mostly, you'll also forget the difference between the Quest and a really big car provided you go easy on your drive. Like the better minivans, the Quest is based on one of the better cars, and inherited all the refinement it could. That's about the most one can hope for.

Inside & OutNissan Quest Review
This van's looks were meant to provoke reactions, and reactions they got. Comments ranged from "those SkyView roofs are SWEET" to "I want to be a father now!" Unfortunately, these Quest quotables came from the mouths of butt-scratching 20something males rather than the more sophisticated 30something parents Nissan is chasing after.

The problem with turning 30 is the growing preference for things that make sense, and the Quest raises some queries. Let's start with the center-mounted instrument cluster, the centerpiece in a museum of mistakes. No one on Earth has found it natural to glance off to the right to check their speed (or RPM, turn signals, or indicator lights) - something many of us do every ten seconds - much less gaze over to the other half of the car to view the navigation system. The fact that Toyota and Saturn have employed this ergonomic fiasco for years makes this not only a lame idea, but a plagiarized one.

In the speedometer's would-be place hides a triangular compartment that's too shallow and stratified to be of much use, nevermind its narrow opening, the awkwardness of reaching over the steering wheel to access it, or the fact that no one else in this seven-passenger van can.

The strange eye-pod at the end of the tunnel housing the audio, climate, and navigation controls is all familiar Nissan goodness. Their angle of presentation is a little awkward, though, and the climate controls operate as toggle switches despite their rotary knob appearance (i.e. you must twist the fan knob up to seven times to shut it off, and twist the driver's temperature knob by one degree at a time, and then again for the passenger's), and you always have to glance up at the screen to verify what happened.

Lower on that tunnel is the CD changer - not to be confused with the DVD player sticking out of the passenger seat's left-side floor or the navigation DVD sticking out of his front-side floor - and lower still are a couple more compartments with Tonka-grade plastic, little space, and no padding. A vehicle designed for regular transport of seven people is aching in agony for a center console, yet all that's given is a flimsy tray that serves as the lead singer in a chorus of Objects That Rattle And Squeak Every Time You Run Over A Bump. Storage space wasn't even an afterthought; it wasn't thought of at all. How could they get it so wrong?

At least they got the comfort part right. While Toyota's got the only minivan with a telescoping steering column, I found no need in this Quest, and the pedals are adjustable. The captain's chairs make good seats if you sit up straight, though leaning to relax rearranges your back into the concave shape of the seatbacks. Also, the tall could use more rearward seat travel, and where's my left footrest?

Second-row comfort is excellent in every way. The seats seem to rotate on an axis to any of three distinct positions; most adults will be quite happy in the middle setting, and that leaves lots of room for those behind. The third row has less thigh support due to the raised-up floor (which is probably better for kids), but it, too, matches any mid-size sedan for comfort. Every position also gets a three-point belt and a sturdy, adjustable head restraint; curtain airbags protect all rows. So while it doesn't have the Odyssey/Sienna's eight-man seating option or roll-down rear windows, this is still a great place for seven adults (preferably six), and yes, there are plenty of cupholders: two for the front, four for the middle, four for the rear. Seat material feels less cowskin and more pigskin (think football); hopefully that's your preference.

Entertainment starts off with a 265-watt, ten-speaker, 6-CD Bose stereo with speed volume compensation, which as usual of Bose systems in Nissans sounds pretty ordinary for a "premium" system. It also has no ability to read MP3s or any interest in associating with your iPod.

It continues with an optional DVD system with two wireless headphones and two headphone jacks, composite audio/video input jacks (PlayStation, anyone?) and one 7-inch screen, joined on the 3.5SE model by a second 7-inch screen, which Nissan points out no one else offers. The kid in the left-middle gets to play with everyone's entertainment controls; the tyke on the right assumes command of the rear climate system, provided the front row doesn't lock him out. And it's plenty of fun for everyone to gaze up through the four SkyView roofs.

Patient types will love the power rear doors and hatch, all of which open/close with a press of a button; each door gets its own dedicated button on the key fob. They operate pretty slowly and resist manual manhandling, but hitting the "Off" switch on the ceiling disables them and lets you go back to quick slamming.

The Quest's newfound ginormous-ness lets it play moving van much more convincingly than before, thanks to the decision to ditch the old "Quest-Trac" seating system in favor of the more expected approach of disappearing seats. But the ease of conversion leaves some to be desired. The third row only folds as one piece (instead of 60/40), and it's a pretty convoluted process that involves reaching, stretching, and quite a bit of force. The second row, with a little work, now folds nearly flat into the floor as well (unlike many other vans), though having to remove and store five head restraints before doing any of this gets a bit old.

But enough whining. Get through the dirty work and you can expand the Quest's 32.7 cubic feet of space (already twice as much as an Altima's trunk) to an awesome 88.2, and finally to a Suburban-shaming 148.7 (slightly less for Quests with SkyView roofs), aided by the longest-opening doors on any minivan. That's a hair short of the Sienna but edges out the Odyssey and Grand Caravan and absolutely whoops the Kia Sedona, Chevy Uplander, and Ford Freestar (a paltry 130.7).

Other ThoughtsNissan Quest Review
The Quest's price spreads $9,900 wide. The base model, introduced last year to set a lower entry point, is the first of four at $25,105. It's got no power doors or liftgate, no flip-out rear windows, no 6-disc CD changer (still has a player), and no "premium speakers" (still has eight).

The $26,405 "S Special Edition" has all that.

The $28,005 SL upgrades the 4-speed automatic to a 5-speed, changes the 16-inch steel wheels to alloys, and adds heated mirrors, HomeLink transceiver, power driver's seat and pedals, leather steering wheel, folding front tray, steering wheel audio controls. (Strangely, it throws out the CD changer and sonar system.) This is probably the one you want.

Lastly, this $35,005 SE adds 17-inch alloy wheels (all Quest wheels are 6.5" wide), automatic headlights, fog lights, puddle lights, side mirrors that tilt down when reversing, power sliding left-side door, rearview backup monitor, power sunroof, SkyView rear roofs, a bigger monitor with a colored information center, dual-zone climate controls, power passenger seat, heated front seats, driver's seat memory, leather, Bose stereo, and front seat side airbags.

Among the bigger options are navigation ($1,800), DVD entertainment ($1,500, or $1,900 on the two-TVed SE), front-side airbags for the SL ($250), SkyView roof for the SL ($1,500), XM or Sirius satellite radio ($350) on the SL/SE, running boards ($560), floor mats ($160, sigh), tow package ($560), and run-flat tires on the SL/SE ($850, which throws in cargo organizer and stability control). The SL also has two big packages to make up for lost content to the SE.

That's pretty much the same price range set by the Sienna and Odyssey, this segment's obvious leaders. All three vans have about the same levels of engineering, performance, space, and comfort, and together they lead the pack. One would assume they also lead the reliability race.

That would be one assumption too far; the Quest's quality represents a rare Nissan hiccup. Apparently that new Mississippi plant tried to make too many all-new vehicles at once and ended up making all of them terribly. The bugs have supposedly been fixed by now and you could give them the benefit of the doubt, but since when has there been room for doubt at Honda or Toyota?

Even if that's taken care of, that leaves convenience and interior design as the last stand, and there's no question of who's on the bottom. Minivans are meant to make life easier, and the Quest's senseless instruments, storage shortcomings, and recalcitrant seats represent a collective cardinal sin. [source :]


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