The space-age styling carries through inside with jetliner-style seats, and optional SkyView glass roof panels. A rounded pod juts out from the dash and houses the shifter and secondary controls. The cabin is comfortable and innovative. Its back seats are as roomy and comfortable as those of any minivan. And the rear cargo area is among the most useful, bested only by Chrysler's.
The Quest has a longer wheelbase than any minivan on the market today, and is as tall and long as its largest competitors. It's also one of the most versatile, with a radically arching roofline that contributes to its practicality. Its sliding doors open wide, and it boasts handy features such as a power liftgate, power rear-quarter windows, a sonar park-assist system, and overhead mood lighting. It's capable of towing up to 3500 pounds.
Nissan introduced the Quest as an all-new model for 2004. At the time, it featured a controversial interior design. Nissan changed to a more conventional interior for the 2007 model year, and also revised the front and rear exterior styling.
Changes for 2008 are relatively minor. Some option packages have been eliminated or reduced in content, but most trim levels now offer more standard equipment. Most significantly, front seat side-impact airbags are now standard on all models. The upper-mid-range 3.5 SL now comes standard with dual power sliding doors, dual-zone automatic climate control, automatic on/off headlights, and a RearView Monitor; while the top-of-the-line 3.5 SE now comes with a Bluetooth phone system and XM Satellite Radio.
Nissan Quest 3.5 ($25,640); 3.5 S ($26,340); 3.5 SL ($30,240); 3.5 SE ($35,340)
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 then reverse its opening by pressing the remote button again, useful when you notice that you've backed up too close to a wall or tree for it to clear.
A rounded pod finished in a soft black material juts from the center of the dash housing the climate and audio controls and the shifter, bringing them closer to the driver. The buttons and knobs for the climate controls are large and easy to operate. The remaining controls take some acclimation, however. The radio uses A, B, and C presets instead of dedicated AM, FM, and satellite presets, and the Seek button is obscured by the shifter when in Drive.
XM satellite radio is available, which offers high-quality sound just about anywhere in the U.S. News hounds can follow the latest stories on Fox News or CNN with no need to change stations on a cross country trip. The Radio Data System, or RDS, identifies programming on the radio's display, making it easier to find what you want.
The navigation system is a pleasure to use. Its screen is located high up on the center of the dash, and offers a three-dimensional bird's eye viewing angle as well as the standard straight overhead angle, good for wowing your friends.
The steering wheel of SL and SE models has illuminated controls for the audio system, and there are remote driver's door-mounted switches for models equipped with the power rear windows. Small-items storage is generous, with a large center console and a cubby at the bottom of the center pod.
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 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. It's a neat feature, fun for the kids and when the adults are out for an evening on the town.
When equipped with the central roof console and DVD entertainment system, the second-row seats make you feel like you're seated in a first-class Learjet. A DVD entertainment system with two monitors is available for SE models. DVD controls are located in the headliner, as are rear air-conditioning controls.
Rearward visibility is good using the rearview mirror and cleverly shaped outside mirrors. The available sonar back-up system helps with parking and can 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. While there is plenty of head and leg room, and the SL's standard adjustable pedals make it easy to find a natural seating position, we felt the front seatbacks were too hard.
The second-row captain's chairs are a popular option and, in spite of their spartan appearance, are very comfortable and supportive. The armrests are positioned at a comfortable angle on both sides of each seat. These seats fold flat and flip forward to provide access to the third row, and there is a center walkthrough as well. The flip-and-fold procedure can be done with one hand, but it isn't as easy as in some minivans and the seats don't fold into the floor or tilt far enough forward to provide optimal cargo room.
The third-row seats are among the most comfortable we've experienced in any vehicle, and among the very few suitable for two adults. The third-row seatbacks recline for added comfort, and there's a decent amount of leg room. We found them roomier and more comfortable than those in the Toyota Sienna, for example, and getting in and out of the third row was relatively easy. Big grab handles mounted cleverly on the B-pillars should assist those of diminutive stature when getting into the Quest.
Cargo room is very flexible. A deep, carpeted well behind the third row provides useful space for sports equipment or groceries. The third-row seats can be lowered into the floor well in a simple two-step process, creating a flat floor and lots of cargo space. With the third row down and the second row folded flat, there is 148.7 cubic feet of cargo space, making it one of the roomiest minivans. That means plenty of room for 4x8 sheets of plywood.
The Quest handles well. That not surprising once you realize it shares chassis components with the Nissan Maxima and Murano. Granted, the Quest doesn't handle as well as the Maxima, but it feels more stable in corners than a sport-utility vehicle and it handles better than a Toyota Sienna. It is still a very large vehicle, however, so you don't want to toss it into corners like it's a sports car. Also, its size makes parallel parking and backing out of tight spots a chore.
The 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 235 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 240 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 the five-speed automatic transmission provides quick, smooth downshifts for respectable passing response. The Quest is one of the faster minivans, but its heft prevents the V6 from being as responsive as it is in Nissan's cars. In addition, the throttle can be a bit sensitive at tip-in, so you need a delicate touch when accelerating from a stop, not a great feature in stop-and-go traffic.
Quest rates an EPA-estimated 16/24 mpg City/Highway. It 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, the engine delivers less than peak power, but it is still more than adequate for most daily driving. When you want all the available power, just pump in high-octane premium and the engine happily increases its power output.
The Nissan Quest boasts brisk performance and handling that makes it fun to drive. It's like a Maxima in minivan clothing. Its radical exterior styling may not be for everyone, 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 turns the Quest into first-class travel.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent John Rettie reported from Santa Barbara, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles and Kirk Bell reporting from Chicago.