The Quest is radically styled, with looks that Buck Rogers would have admired. Its space-age styling carries through inside with jetliner-style seats, and optional Skyview glass roof panels. The centrally located instrument cluster is equally radical, often surprising shoppers the first time they sit in the driver's seat. An oval pod in the middle houses the shifter and secondary controls. The cabin is comfortable and innovative. Its back seats are roomier, more comfortable, more functional and more interesting than those in other minivans.
The Quest has a longer wheelbase, and is higher and longer than other minivans. It's also one of the most versatile, with a radically arching roofline that contributes to its practicality. Its sliding doors open wider than those on other minivans. It boasts all the latest features, including power sliding doors and a power liftgate, power rear-quarter windows, a sonar park-assist system and overhead mood lighting. With the towing package, it's capable of towing up to 3500 pounds.
Quest comes with the latest in safety features, including curtain airbags for all three rows (for head protection), the required frontal airbags, active head restraints, electronic stability control (VDC), traction control (TCS), and anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist, plus a tire-pressure monitor. Side-impact airbags (for torso protection) are optional.
Nissan introduced the Quest as an all-new model for 2004. There are no significant changes for 2006, though new options and improved quality add to its value.
Nissan Quest 3.5 ($24,000); 3.5 Special Edition ($25,300); 3.5 SL ($26,900); 3.5 SE ($33,500)
The long wheelbase gave the designers the opportunity to lengthen the sliding rear doors. That makes getting in and out easier, especially to the third row of seats. The power sliding doors work very well, and will open simultaneously from a distance when the buttons on the remote are pressed, though we found them reluctant to respond at times. The sliding doors have pinch protection, but seemed to push pretty hard before reversing direction. Due to the swept-up hipline, the slot for the door runners is in the middle of the bodywork rather than being disguised along the lower edge of the side windows.
The power tailgate works well, though it was slow to respond to the remote. It's possible to interrupt its opening by pressing the remote again, useful when you notice that you've backed up too close to a wall or tree for it to clear.
Most unusual is the instrument cluster centered on top of the dashboard instead of in its usual location ahead of the steering wheel. This move allowed the designers to make the top of the dashboard much lower for improved forward visibility and a feeling of spaciousness. It takes a little acclimatization as most of us are used to looking through the steering wheel for the instruments, but the Quest isn't the only vehicle on the market that takes this approach. Another advantage to this design is a small slot ahead of the steering wheel that's useful for holding directions, a map, a to-do list, or a photograph. Nor is the shifter where you'd expect it, instead mounted on top of an oval-shaped pod in the center dash area. The screen for the optional navigation system is located in this same pod, just to the right of the gauges.
The flat, oval-shaped pod that houses the climate and audio controls and shifter rises like a barrel from the center of the dash and is finished in a black material that's soft to the touch. The buttons and knobs for the climate controls are big, but seem more awkward to operate than a traditional design. Not so unusual is the functional but mundane steering wheel, similar to what's found in most Nissans. For 2006, the steering wheel gets illuminated controls when equipped with remote buttons for the audio system. The Quest's cabin may not be to everyone's taste, but it's innovative and sporty in appearance.
The SkyView roof features a pair of long, rectangular glass panels that appear from the inside as four glass panels over the rear seats. The glass panels cannot be opened or removed but can be covered by a sliding blind. They help make the rear seating area less claustrophobic by opening up the sky and letting passengers see trees, airplanes and mountain tops, adding to the airiness of the spacious cabin. Nissan chose opaque shades to slide over the glass panels, much better for blocking unwanted sunlight than the mesh covers used by some manufacturers. The SkyView package comes with a traditional power glass moonroof between driver and front passenger.
When equipped with the central roof console and DVD entertainment system with two monitors, you feel like you're seated in a first-class Learjet. This is one minivan where kids may fight to see who sits in the back seats.
The interior dimensions are enormous, making the Quest feel incredibly roomy. Yet rearward visibility is good from the rearview mirror and cleverly shaped outside mirrors, though the available sonar back-up system will help avoid small children, pets or tricycles below the line of vision.
The seats are an unusual design. Far less bulky than normal, they look like airline seats when viewed from the side. The second-row captain's chairs are a popular option and, in spite of their spartan appearance, are more comfortable and more supportive than the cushy seats in uplevel models of the Toyota Sienna. The arm rests are positioned at a comfortable angle on both sides of the second-row seats.
The third-row seats are a revelation. They're among the most comfortable we've experienced in any vehicle, and among the very few suitable for one or two adults. The third-row seatbacks recline for added comfort and there's a decent amount of legroom. We found them roomier and more
Quest shares chassis components with the Nissan Maxima, Altima and Murano. Its suspension provides good handling for a big vehicle. Granted, the Quest doesn't handle as well as the Maxima, but it feels more stable in corners than a sport-utility and it handles better than a Toyota Sienna.
Quest's 3.5-liter engine is one of the best V6s on the market. It's essentially the same engine used in the 350Z and Infiniti G35. Tuned for the Quest, it's rated at 240 horsepower. Nissan's variable valve-timing system helps optimize efficiency at a wide range of engine speeds. The torque curve is relatively flat and peaks at 242 pound-feet at 4400 rpm. This provides the driver with responsive performance, whether driving around town or cruising on the freeway. The Quest accelerates onto on-ramps with gusto and passes slower vehicles on two-lane roads at a respectable rate. At times, the throttle seemed a bit sensitive at tip-in, however, so you need a delicate touch initially when accelerating from a stop.
The available five-speed automatic transmission delivers the smooth shifts of a luxury sedan. Quest rates an EPA-estimated 19/26 mpg City/Highway with the standard four-speed automatic and 18/25 mpg with the five-speed automatic. We checked the overall gear ratios and noticed that, even though the five-speed provides slightly more relaxed top-gear cruising, the five-speed's three lowest gears are significantly more aggressive than those used in the four-speed. We suspect that's how that 1 mile per gallon gets lost on all but the straightest, flattest roads. By the same token, the five-speed automatic should offer better acceleration performance than the four-speed automatic, better response around town and smoother shifting. Overall, we were very happy with the five-speed and recommend getting it.
In a period of higher fuel prices, it's nice to know that Quest will run on regular unleaded gasoline. The engine controller dials back the ignition timing when it senses regular gas to protect the engine from damage. As a result, power drops to 230 horsepower and 238 pound-feet of torque, but for most daily driving that's more than adequate. When you want all the available power, just pump in high-octane premium and the engine happily increases its power output.
The available Michelin PAX run-flat system is superb and we highly recommend it. Traditional run-flat tires use super-stiff sidewalls and, as a result, suffer from a hard ride. The Michelin PAX system uses a special wheel and a support ring that prevents the tire from deflating or coming off the rim even if all the air is removed and you are driving at 55 mph. Changing a tire or waiting for a tow truck can be dangerous, particularly in high-crime areas and this system virtually eliminates that concern.
The Nissan Quest boasts brisk performance and handling that makes it fun to drive. It's like a Maxima in minivan clothing. Its radical styling inside and out may be a love it or leave it proposition, but the cabin is innovative, roomy and comfortable. Passengers will be comfortable and happy no matter where they're sitting. Opting for the leather upholstery, DVD entertainment system, Skyview roof and other features turn it into a first-class cabin. Early 2004 models suffered quality glitches, but Nissan has since addressed these issues.
New Car Test Drive correspondent John Rettie filed the original report from Santa Barbara, with editor Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles.