The Nissan Quest is like an old friend - one we almost don't recognize and no longer feel so comfortable hanging around with. Now in its ninth model year, the 2001 Quest has not aged gracefully. While Nissan has made steady, if modest improvements in basic features and performance, it has sadly neglected such critical areas as safety and creature comforts. Worse, the quality on the $28,356 Quest GLE we tested was simply atrocious. Time to retire this old warhorse and start thinking about a fresh, modern successor - a vehicle which isn't due for at least another two to three years.

She: In fairness to Nissan, I've thought long and hard about who should buy this minivan. And I'm convinced an empty-nester who doesn't have to haul many people might be satisfied with this vehicle. It doesn't feel like it's lumbering and cumbersome like some minivans. It's easy to drive and park. The best seat in the house is the driver's seat, even though our vehicle came with the new rear-seat family entertainment system. The video system and monitor usually cost $1,299, but Nissan is offering it as a free package on the GLE model that we tested. Funny thing, once that target buyer popped into my head, all I seemed to see on the road is gray-haired women driving Nissan Quests. I guess they know what's best for them.

He: When it comes to cars - and minivans - a decent engine usually helps, too. In the case of the Quest, Nissan bumped the displacement up to 3.3 liters not that long ago, which helped goose acceleration. But the size and the output - 170 horsepower - both lag well behind the competition. It's almost embarrassing, now that Nissan's competitors are routinely pumping out more than 200 horsepower.

She: Probably one of the most embarrassing things about this minivan was the fact that I had to ask you for help in adjusting the rear parcel shelf. I really want to do all this car stuff by myself. The parcel shelf is a good idea - on paper. But it takes some shoulder muscle to maneuver, and some smarts.

He: You're a little short, all right, but I would think the Quest would appeal to you for that reason. You really need some short legs to sit behind the driver's seat, because that middle seat on the left side is fixed - no fore/aft adjustment, so longer-legged passengers, like our friend Ken, really suffer in that seat. I noticed there are still no power sliding doors either, which many of the competitors have adopted. And there's no way to access the third seat from the left rear door. If you want to put Grandma or one of the kids into the third seat, you'll have to go around to the passenger side. So what's the point of the fourth door anyway?

She: Older buyers may really be disconcerted by the gray-faced gauges on the Quest, which seem to disappear in twilight, making them difficult to read. The power seat switches were difficult to reach, so was the switch for the heated seat, although I'm glad they made t hat one lighted so at least you can find your way in the dark. As for safety, we were glad to see that antilock brakes are standard, but you can't get side air bags like you can on a lot of the competition. In short, the Quest is definitely a compromise vehicle, which is why I gave it two stars - especially when the base price on the "loaded" GLE is more than $27,000.

He: This is supposed to be Nissan's top-of-the-line minivan. But I was really appalled by the quality of the interior trim. Many of the pieces simply didn't fit together well, which I attribute less to the basic design and engineering, and more to the assembly process, which is handled by Ford at its Avon Lake plant in Ohio. This is some of the worst quality we've seen in a long time, period. Sorry, honey, but considering all its flaws - which boggles my mind, considering how long this vehicle has been in production - I can't give it more than one star. It's at the bottom of the minivan heap, as far as I'm conc ned. Let's hope Nissan's next effort, which isn't due for several years, will be several cuts above the Quest, in terms of features, performance and quality.

Anita's rating: Acceptable

Paul's rating: Sub par

Likes: Easier to maneuver than long-wheelbase minivans. Comfortable ride. Lots of room for driver and front passenger. New rear video entertainment system. Antilock brakes are standard.

Dislikes: Atrocious trim fits, especially on instrument panel. Gray-face gauges disappear in twilight. Seat controls difficult to reach. Rear parcel shelf is poorly engineered and difficult to use. Very little cargo space behind third seat. Can only access third seat from right side. Left middle seat has no fore/aft adjustment. Not much room in third-row seat. No side air bags. No power sliding rear doors.

Type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, seven-passenger minivan.

Price: Base, $27,049; as tested, $28,356 (inc. $520 destination charge).

Engine: 3.3-liter V-6; 170-hp; 200 lb-ft torque

EPA fuel economy: 17 mpg city/23 mpg highway.

12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan*: $957 (Estimate. Rates may be higher or lower, depending on coverage and driving record.)

Where built: Avon Lake, Ohio