DEL MAR, Calif. -- Surfers catch curling Pacific waves off a public beach at the ritzy California seaside enclave of Del Mar near San Diego, as we park in a lot at Powerhouse Park simply to walk around the Nissan Quest minivan we're testing and scrutinize its fluid sculptural styling.
Nissan's revamped Quest of 2012 dispels the typical ho-hum and haul-the-kids approach to minivan design because the vehicle's creators -- out of Nissan's American design studio in California -- sought a high-style concept that was different and distinctive, both inside and out.
The nameplate traces back in Nissan's product line to a 1993 model assembled in Ohio in joint-venture with Ford Motor Company. Quest for model-year 2004 showed a radical new design coming together at a Nissan manufacturing plant in Mississippi. The current version, redesigned from scratch in 2011, shifted production to Kyushu, Japan.
Quest in its new format rides on Nissan's acclaimed D platform which also underpins the wily Maxima and Altima sedans and Murano crossover wagon. The platform supports a wheelbase length of 118 inches and a super wide track of 68 inches front and back. Pushing wheels to the edges of the chassis brings stability to the stance and enhances Quest's agility when cornering.
It comes in four trim grades (3.5 S, 3.5 SV, 3.5 SL, 3.5 LE) with a juicy V6 engine and a continuously variable transmission (CVT), front-wheel-drive traction and a cabin configured to seat seven passengers and filled with a carload of comfort gear as well as high-tech electronic gadgets.
But it's the clever body styling that draws our eye. Quest breaks the mold of a typical minivan's crate-on-wheels approach to design due to a format that stretches long but rises, well, not so tall.
Actually, Quest seems to hunker down on all four wheels, thanks to a slinky prow and windswept windshield accented by a high beltline at the top of side windows. The prow looks smooth with a broad bumper tipping upward at corners beneath chrome-crusted headlamp clusters.
Flank wheelwells are sheered flush but a crisp character line commences at the front fender and runs in an arching line clear back to the boomerang-shaped taillamps. This edgy design element effectively diffuses the minivan's boxy parameters in favor of a wedge-like profile.
The tail appears nearly vertical and houses a large top-hinged liftgate which gets power open/close controls on top trims. A boxy rear end serves to maximize the volume of Quest's passenger compartment.
Layout of the cabin shows a pair of bucket seats up front, two individual captain's chairs with armrests on the second row but a triple-seat bench on Row 3 with 60/40 split and reclining seatbacks.
The two captain's chairs on Row 2 have reclining backs and fore/aft adjustments. They fold up easily to butt against front-row seats.
The rear bench also folds down to forge an extremely large cargo compartment with 108 cubic feet of room and capacity for 4x8-foot sheets of wallboard/plywood.
Quest handles like a powerful and agile touring sedan.
The minivan has a 4-wheel independent suspension system with MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link arrangement in back plus large stabilizer bars fore and aft to check excessive lateral roll of the body when running down a wiggly route.
Steering, through a rack and pinion mechanism, feels firm and direct despite the speed-sensitive boost with electric power assistance.
A vented disc brake mounts at every wheel and all four discs tie by computerized links to a sophisticated anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake force distribution (EBD) and electronic brake assist (EBA), plus a traction control system (TCS) and vehicle dynamic control (VDC) device which checks lateral skidding.
Also, there are plenty of air bags concealed in the passenger compartment. The collection includes dual-stage frontal air bags plus side-impact air bags for front seats and curtain-style air bags mounted in the roof above outboard seats on all three rows.
For locomotion Nissan pulls out the VQ-series aluminum 3.5-liter V6 with twin cams on top and four valves for each cylinder plus CVTC (continuously variable timing control).
Output climbs to 260 hp at 6000 rpm with 240 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm.
The V6 links to Nissan's Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) with adaptive shift control (ASC). It eliminates step-ratio gears of a conventional automatic transmission as well as the resultant shift shock.
Entry edition Quest S stocks standard equipment including air conditioning, power controls for windows and door locks, power side mirrors, manual front seats, cloth fabric seat upholstery, fold-flat seats for Row 2 and Row 3, a tilting/telescoping steering wheel, intelligent key/pushbutton start, cruise control, 4-speaker audio kit with AM/FM/6CD/WMA/MP3, a tail spoiler and 16-inch steel wheels capped by 225/65R16 all-season tires.
Upper trims add layers of luxury gear including tri-zone climate controls, power controls for side sliding doors, a 4.3-inch dashboard screen for audio and rearview monitor, leather-wrapped steering wheel, auto-dimming mirror, foglamps, alloy wheels and upgraded sound packages culminating in a 13-speaker Bose unit and DVD entertainment system.
Nissan revised content and price points for 2012 Quest issues, including a $1,760 reduction for base trim 3.5 S, listing for $25,990. Quest 3.5 SV begins at $31,050, the 3.5 SL goes for $34,500 and top model 3.5 LE runs up from $42,350.