Dare to be Different
Steve Schaefer, Sun, 20 May 2007 08:00:00 PDT
Nissan has crafted a minivan that doesn't look like a bread van. So, even if you've got five kids, you don't have to feel like a bus driver any more.
The old Quest blended in with the crowd, and if anything, it was a little small. But the Quest was reborn a couple of years ago, inside and out. While they were at it, the engineers and designers made their new people hauler one of the biggest minivans in the marketplace, with almost 212 cubic feet of space inside.
The body sides start at close to car height and then arch upward dramatically after they pass the front doors. This helps avoid the shuttle bus look. The tall windows provide a panoramic view, and the long windshield sits in a rounded prow, like a boat, so you feel like you're sailing through traffic.
Inside, a low instrument panel features an unusual center-mounted binnacle, which puts the information up high, but off to the right. The control panel resembles a neatly sawn off tree stump. To use the buttons and knobs you press down rather than forward, almost like on a keyboard. The control panel's surface has a sprayed-on texture, which feels like something you'd apply to "modernize" an old piece of furniture.
The door panels flow back from the dramatically sweeping dash, employing high radius curves and gleaming metallic accents. Simple three-panel seat cushions look inviting and calm the eye, but mine felt slightly overstuffed, and I tended to lean in turns.
While I was leaning, though, the Quest stayed steady, thanks to a wide track and a four-wheel independent suspension with front and rear stabilizer bars. Stopping is quick and precise, too, with standard four-wheel vented disc brakes with anti-lock, brake assist, and electronic brake force distribution. This all means that the computer steps in when you need it to make sure you stop straight and quickly in emergency situations.
Every Quest comes with Nissan's high-tech 3.5-liter V6, which puts out a generous 240 horsepower and 242 lb.-ft. of torque. Continuous variable valve timing control gets the most out the engine regardless of rpm or load. A four-speed or five-speed automatic transmission is standard, depending on model. Fuel mileage says 18 mpg City, 25 mpg Highway on the sticker-I got 17.8 mpg in mixed driving.
The base model gets all the aforementioned benefits, along with the safety of scientifically designed crush zones and carefully monitored airbags, which vary their power based on the occupant weight and the amount of crash force. The Quest also gives you a head curtain supplemental airbag for all three rows of riders. A tire pressure monitor keeps you from wasting gas or compromising performance and safety with underinflated tires.
Stepping up from the base model, the 3.5 S Special Edition adds power to the right hand sliding door, liftgate, and third row vent windows. It also upgrades the sound system, adds backup sonar system, and identifies itself. The SL is just a bit more equipped, and the SE is at the top. My SE test car, in Smoke paint (dark gray), had leather seats and steering wheel, power foot pedals with memory, dual zone climate control, and more.
My tester came with a host of options, including XM satellite radio, a two-screen DVD system, and upgraded seats, including a row of shopping bag hooks on the third row bench. The Michelin PAX System tires with run-flat technology boosts the wheel size to 19 inches, practically in Hip Hop artist territory. The unused spare tire well is devoted to organized storage.
My tester came with the optional navigation system. This system names actual streets, and although it worked fine, it managed to mispronounce Lake Chabot Road as "Lake Chabbit Road." Also, it had not been updated for the changed freeway interchange near my office.
You wouldn't even bother with a minivan if you didn't plan to haul lots of stuff. The second row seats drop and fold forward while the rear ones fit into the floor, leaving a flat deck. You can carry a 4 x 8 sheet of plywood in the Quest with the rear door closed. If you're hauling people, they will appreciate the optional SkyView glass roof. It lets the outside in, but you can cover any section to keep from getting cooked at midday.
I had a few gripes. The windshield wipers exposed their unattractive spring-equipped undersides. The fold-up tray between the front seats jiggled annoyingly. The door slams were less than bank vault like.
My tester came to a hair-raising $39,915. Granted that this is the top model with practically every imaginable option, but that really sounds like luxury car territory, and the Quest, as good as it is, doesn't feel like a $40,000 vehicle. You can buy the basic minivan for just $24,755, so a little restraint with the option list could lower the price substantially. In the end, the Quest's "different drummer" persona helps make minivan ownership a more aesthetically pleasing experience.