In a sea of new sheet metal and new models, there are older models that deserve consideration, even if they don't have a lot of visible changes. Two vehicles that see minor changes are Nissan's Quest minivan and Honda's Accord. NISSAN QUEST Chrysler fired the first shot in the minivan door wars when it offered its redesigned minivans with a left-side sliding door to complement the one on the right side. Nissan's Quest doesn't have one, so quickly will be pushed aside on many people's shopping lists. Too bad, for despite the age of the design, the Quest (and it's identical cousin the Mercury Villager) handle with a car-like ease, something increasingly common among minivans. With a 151 horsepower V6 tugging around nearly 4,000 pounds, this vehicle is no speed demon. Yet from behind the wheel, its doesn't seem sluggish in the least. There's good power from low speeds, despite the a single-overhead-cam engine, a design that usually lacks good low-speed torque. Handling is as good as any family car, the suspension absorbing Third World-like road shocks with little trouble. The smallish front disc, rear drum brakes have anti-lock at all four wheels. Anti-lock is optional on the base XE van, standard on the top of the line GXE. For 1997, the Quest was treated to a makeover, with new door panels, switch gear and fabrics. The two trim levels, XE and GXE, differ mainly in equipment levels, but both get the same drivetrain. The interior is an odd amalgamation of Ford and Nissan parts. They all work together somehow, and you'd be hard-pressed to tell which company produced what. The drivetrain is all Nissan, but its built in a Ford plant. The chair-high seats provided good support and comfort. The middle row of captain's chairs were also quite comfortable. The rear row had average space, although it was far from overwhelming. Like many third rows, it was somewhat awkward to access gracefully. The test vehicle was a GXE model, with all the power options any respectable family hauler has. Security system, keyless entry, 80-watt AM/FM/Cassette/CD audio system, steering-wheel mounted audio controls, extra power outlets, folding seatback tray tables and lots of cupholders are standard in the $26,049 base price. Also standard are anti-lock brakes and dual airbags. Gilding the lily is the Luxury Package (automatic climate control, power sunroof and 6-CD changer) and a leather package (leather seating surfaces, 4-way power passenger seat, simulated leather door trim). Those packages brought the tariff to a healthy $29,366. EPA ratings are 17 mpg city, 23 mpg highway. Mixed driving brought a respectable 19 mpg. The seating is amazingly flexible. Both rear seats slide forward, in addition to folding flat creating, small tables. There's the usual assortment of cubbyholes, extra air outlets and an extra audio outlet, so you don't have to listen to what currently passes for pop music. It's all very convenient and comfortable. There are few better ways to transport your cargo. With its flexible seating, big interior yet modest exterior, car-like handling and copious options list, it's little wonder that minivans have found their way into the hearts of soccer moms everywhere. And even if other minivans have higher profiles and new sheet metal, the Nissan Quest has plenty to recommend it against newer competitors. Just don't ask for an extra door. HONDA ACCORD When it comes to trying to sell cars, most automakers -- foreign and domestic -- will go to great lengths to pitch their product. The big trend now is to hire brand managers who oversee the message that is sent out regarding a car or truck, making sure it has a consistent image. But it's really a whole lot simpler than that. Just build a great car. Sounds simple, right? Just ask Honda. The people who ask you in their advertising to simplify, manage to sell m re Accords than just about any other sedan. Is it their low-key advertising? Their nifty brand marketers? Nope. What makes the Accord so popular is the car. It's just about right. The styling is conservative yet classy and manages to pull off a deft balancing act -- at home, at the club or at Kmart. It's clean and contemporary, yet never manages to look cheap, something that can't be said of it's competitors. Inside, the low seating position and low-slung dash make an optimum driving position. Although you're sitting on the ground, it accentuates the car's handling. It has a slot-car feel, and it invites you toss it around. While the six-cylinder can be tons of fun, the four cylinder accounts for itself pretty well. With just 130 horsepower (versus the six's 170), you won't be winning any stoplight gran prix, but it won't feel winded going uphill. Unlike some cars that call themselves mid-size, this one truely is. Not as small as a Prism, yet not as large as Lumina, this car will hold four comfortably, five in a pinch. The dash itself is artful in its simplicity, almost elegant. The seats are supportive and covered in an oh-so tasteful cloth. But you knew all this already. So what's really news about the Honda Accord? Just this: if you're looking for one, check out the SE model. This is a Special Edition that takes a four-cylinder Accord (already equipped with an automatic transmission, air conditioning, power windows, locks and mirrors, cruise control, fold-down rear seat-back and rear defogger) and groups it with a special options package that you usually can't find in a four-cylinder Accord at a lower price point. The options include alloy wheels, AM/ FM CD player, leather-wrapped steering wheel, security system, keyless entry, fake wood trim and a power moonroof. The bottom line is $21,925. So what you get is a lot of goodies in a tidy package at a decent price. Add in good mileage (the EPA rating of 23 mpg city, 30 mpg highway was met with a solid 24 mpg) and you have a car worth checking out. If you're a driving enthusiast, however, you'll find this is more a luxury-oriented package than a driving-oriented one. The lack of rear disc brakes and ABS availability is a negative. So is the loud security system, which sounds the horn too loudly. But with the average price of a new car now at about $21,000, a car this well equipped for that price is worth checking out. Give it a look.
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