Vehicle Overview
In January 2002, just as Nissan was abandoning its original Quest minivan, a striking concept version of a possible next-generation Quest appeared at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. At Detroit’s show a year later, a near-production Quest minivan took the spotlight. Loaded with innovations and intended to stand apart from the pack, it went on sale in July 2003. The Quest is produced at a new plant in Mississippi.

According to Shiro Nakamura, senior vice president of design for Nissan, styling took precedence with the 2004 Quest. “We believe design is the interface between customer and brand,” he said. This new family carrier is more than a minivan — it’s intended to provide “comfortable room in which to share interaction.” Product planner Ken Kcomt calls it “the urban loft” theme — roomy, open, configurable.

Early on, Nissan tackled the image problems that minivans continue to face. A series of early commercials featured young women admitting that they drive one — but extolling the exciting merits of Nissan’s new rendition. According to chief designer Alfonso Albaisa, developers had asked: “Why can’t it be fun to drive? Why can’t it be sexy?” Three trim levels are offered: the 3.5 S, 3.5 SL and sportier 3.5 SE.

Though it is considerably more imaginative in overall appearance than most minivans, the 2004 Quest isn’t quite as dramatic as the 2002 concept. A belt line that sweeps downward toward the front is among its distinctive features, and the arching roofline adds a certain flair. The wheels are accentuated, said Tom Semple, president of Nissan Design America, because “Nissan is about the driving.” The door handles, mirrors and side moldings are body colored. Heated mirrors with puddle lamps are available.

Jack Collins, Nissan’s vice president of product planning, says the new Quest is curvaceous and fluid in shape. It rides the longest wheelbase in its class: 124 inches. Nissan claims that its sliding doors are 4 inches longer than those on any rival, which promises easier access to the third-row seat. They’re actually 6 inches longer than the doors on the previous Quest. Power operation of the sliding doors and rear liftgate is optional. Fog lamps are also available.

Standard tires measure 16 inches in diameter, but 17-inch tires are installed on the 3.5 SE model. The Quest has a fully independent suspension and shares its basic platform with the company’s Altima, Maxima and Murano.

Collins claims that the Quest is “as comfortable as people’s ambitions for their homes” and its interior “feels like high-end furniture.” The Quest is said to be the roomiest of any front-wheel-drive minivan on the market. A “tip-up” feature on the second-row seat helps ease entry into the third row.

Rather than sitting ahead of the driver, the instruments are mounted high in the center of the dashboard. The automatic transmission’s shift lever extends from the instrument panel.

The new Quest seats seven occupants, and the third-row seat folds into a recess behind it. An option group permits both the second- and third-row seats to fold down. Eight cupholders and a standard 150-watt CD stereo system are installed.

A four-panel rear SkyView roof and a full-length rear overhead console are optional. The optional 10-speaker Bose audio system is a first for a minivan. A DVD entertainment system with either one or two roof-mounted display screens will also be available for backseat viewing. Additional options include a leather-appointed interior, Nissan’s DVD-based navigation system and a sonar-based backup warning system that can detect obstacles to the rear while backing up.

Under the Hood
Nissan’s 3.5-liter V-6 engine generates 240 horsepower and 242 pounds-feet of torque. A four-speed-automatic transmission goes into the S and SL models, while the SE gets a five-speed automatic. When properly equipped, the Quest can tow as much as 3,500 pounds.

All-disc antilock brakes that incorporate Brake Assist and electronic brake-force distribution are standard. Nissan says the Quest’s side curtain-type airbags were the first such installation in a minivan; they are designed to protect occupants in all three rows of seats. Traction control is standard, and Vehicle Dynamic Control is optional.

Driving Impressions
More than any other minivan, the new Quest possesses styling and performance traits all of its own. It’s full of pleasant surprises, along with agreeable ride and handling qualities. Though body lean in curves isn’t absent and wavy surfaces are noticeable, the Quest is tightly controlled and recovers smartly when the pavement straightens or smooths. Ordinary imperfections are significantly softened, but larger bumps may yield big bangs from the suspension.

The Quest is highly stable and secure on the highway, and it has a distinctly sporty steering feel that’s well removed from typical minivans. Energetic response from the V-6 engine is coupled with outstanding five-speed-automatic transmission reactions in the 3.5 SE.

Even though the location of the center-mounted tachometer and speedometer is easy enough to get used to, these gauges are a little hard to notice at a glance. Other instruments also require some closer scrutiny.

Windshield glare can be troublesome, and the climate controls are less than intuitive. Highly comfortable front seats have somewhat short bottoms but offer top-notch support. Access to all of the rear seats is as easy as promised. The optional SkyView roof panes add just a bit of brightness to the interior.