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Expert Reviews 1 of 2
By Richard Truett
October 14, 1993
Chrysler claims its Plymouth Voyager/Dodge Caravan minivans are the ''gold standard'' of the industry. OK, I agree. No automaker, despite a decade of trying, has been able to match Chrysler's minivans in sales. But that may be about to
change. You see, Nissan and Ford have done Chrysler one better. The No. 2 American and Japanese automakers have teamed up to produce the new Nissan Quest/ Mercury Villager - and I would call it the platinum standard of the industry. Briefly,
Ford and Nissan engineers huddled for a couple of years and did what they call ''benchmarking.'' That's where an automaker buys vehicles from the competition and tears them apart. The engineers find the best part of each competitive vehicle and design
their vehicle to be better. After talking to owners of both Mercury Villagers and Nissan Quests and putting in a week and about 450 miles on a Quest, a few fairly minor gripes did emerge. But overall, it looks as if Chrysler now has some real
competition. With the 1993 model year about to get the checkered flag, I would have to rank this week's test vehicle, the Nissan Quest GXE, as the best all-round vehicle I've driven this year. PERFORMANCE The Quest is powered with a 3.0-liter
V-6 engine that delivers 151 of the smoothest, quietest horsepower you'll find in a minivan. In fact, Quest sets the standard that Chrysler and the others will have to meet or beat in their next-generation minivans. The engine's low noise and
vibration are not totally muffled - you wouldn't want it that way - but most times you must make the effort to listen for the engine if you want to hear it. The engine, a derivative of the one powering the Nissan Maxima sports sedan, is lively and
responsive all the way up to 65 mph. From a stop, the Quest accelerates quickly and very easily. Unlike some minivans, passing slower traffic presents no problem at, say, 35 mph. Our test vehicle, like all Quests,came with an exceptionally
well-refined computer-controlled, four-speed, overdrive automatic transmission. A switch to operate the overdrive is located at the end of the shift lever on the steering column. It can be operated by the light touch of the driver's thumb. If ever
there was a vehicle that came with a drivetrain perfectly matched to the suspension, steering and brakes, the Quest is it. Fuel mileage in city driving using the air conditioner averaged about 18 miles per gallon. On a road trip, that figure climbed
to about 24 mpg of regular unleaded. HANDLING The Quest's handling is the best you'll find in a minivan. The last time I drove a Chrysler minivan - a Dodge Caravan - I discovered it really couldn't be driven very aggressively without provoking
a racket from the tires. But you can drive the Quest as hard as you please. The body is stiff, firm and able to handle all sorts of maneuvers that would leave lesser vehicles in
the dust. Not many people would drive a minivan like they would a sports car, but I did. I pushed the Quest and pushed it hard. No matter how good a driver you are, it is reassuring to know that if you find yourself in a situation that calls for a
quick accident avoidance maneuver, such as a sharp, fast turn with the brakes applied, the Quest will see you through with no problem. Smooth and balanced are the two words that best sum up the performance of the Quest's suspension, steering and brake
systems. A 39-foot turning radius makes the Quest easy to steer in tight places, like a supermarket parking lot. The front disc/rear drum brakes have an anti-lock system that stops the Quest quickly and without undue theatrics. A MacPherson strut
front suspension and rear live axle help give the Quest a soft but sporty ride. One of the engineers' goals in designing the Quest was to make it carlike in its handling. They not only accomplished that mission but raised
the standards for everyone else. FIT AND FINISH From its smooth and easy-to-use sliding side door to the incredible versatility of its seats, the Quest is the most user-friendly and most intelligently engineered minivan I have yet to test. The
Quest seats seven. From the outside, the Quest doesn't appear as big as other minivans. But on the inside, no one is left wanting for legroom, headroom or foot room. The rear bench seat folds and slides on a track to increase the storage room. Or it
can easily be lifted out. The middle also can be configured numerous ways, or taken out with the quick flick of a lever. Our test vehicle came with everything but a CD player. It had a rear air-conditioning system, a rear control panel for the radio,
power sunroof, electric windows, mirrors and door locks, cruise control, leather seating and many other luxury items. One or two minor improvements would make the Quest a bit better. For instance, you have to use the key to open the rear glass from
the tailgate, even when the vehicle is unlocked. A latch that would unlock it from the driver's seat would have been nice. And several times I accidently turned on the windshield wipers when I pressed down on the turn signal lever. The 1994 models
have arrived at Nissan dealers, and the biggest complaint buyers have voiced has been addressed - the vehicles now have a driver's air bag. Truett's tip: The Nissan Quest and its fraternal twin, the Mercury Villager, are the best minivans
money can buy. Pleasing performance, a terrific interior, attractive styling and flawless assembly are just a few of their highlights.