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Nissan attempts to jazz up the minivan

January 16, 2004|by JASON STEIN/Wheelbase Communications

Just when you thought the minivan world might never change, along comes the 2004 Nissan Quest, an out-of-the-box approach to traditional family-hauling options.

Nissan says it is revolutionary and will redefine the way you look at minivans.

How so?

Its all-new design elevates the traditional minivan strengths of safety, functionality and utility with enhanced roominess and a fun-to-drive personality.

Fun to drive? A minivan?

Consider that this is a whole new way of looking at minivans mainly because it's a whole new Nissan - a revolution that has already delivered heart-pumping sedans (Maxima and Altima), a breakthrough sport-utility vehicle (Murano) and a fresh reincarnation of a venerable leader (350Z).

We'll call this a Maxima in minivan's clothing.

The Quest is the first of four new vehicles scheduled to be assembled at Nissan's new billion-dollar manufacturing facility in Canton, Miss.

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In the Quest, the Japanese automaker elevates the common notion of what a minivan should be. As part of the revolution, it also answers some serious concerns. When it comes to family hauling, Nissan discovered that minivan owners have two beefs: getting to the second seat is tough; and folding the seats is even tougher.

That means the Quest has grown in size to now rank among the roomiest in the minivan class and provide user-friendly enhancements such as folding second- and third-row seats and big sliding doors that open wide.

Overall room, as well as cargo space behind the second and third row, have substantially increased and special attention was paid to front-seat dimensions, with first-row shoulder room among the best in class.

The wide doors combine with a second-row seat "tip-up" feature that makes getting into the third row easier. With the rear seats folded away, a 4-by-8-foot sheet of plywood can make the trip home.

To match the wide-sweeping changes inside, the Quest offers an expressive and distinctive appearance. There's no question that it stands out. The exterior is marked by an arching roofline, large windows, a very Altima-like grille and a beltline that begins low off the headlights and bumps upward as it reaches the back of the front doors.

Inside, the Quest follows a new theme by creating what Nissan calls an "urban loft," a comfortable, open and inviting space. That means a sense of airiness, a low-height, center-mounted instrument panel that houses the transmission shifter.

Storage compartments abound, and there's even a flip-top compartment in front of the steering wheel where instruments normally sit.

The handles on the sliding doors are thinner at the bottom for small hands, grocery bag hooks are abundant and there's even a purse hook on the driver's seat. Nissan's Skyview roof panels allow second- and third-row passengers a view to the world above and some extra ambient light so they don't feel trapped.

Available in three well-equipped models - 3.5 S, 3.5 SL and 3.5 SE - the Quest is also offered with optional leather seats, steering-wheel-mounted controls, dual-zone automatic temperature control for driver and front passengers and rear heating and air conditioning system.

A 150-watt AM/FM/CD audio system with eight speakers is standard. There's an optional Bose-developed 265-watt, 10-speaker audio system that allows rear passengers to use wireless or wired headphones.

But you can't start something new if you can't get it moving. And powering the new Quest is a standard 3.5-liter V-6 tuned to produce 240 horsepower. The Quest engine is matched with either a four-speed or five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with overdrive. Traction control is standard.

But what really separates the Quest is what it feels like to get behind the wheel. It drives like a big car with sedan-like manners and acceleration.

But then that's what the Quest wants to be known for: introducing a new level of innovation, style and performance to the minivan category.

© 2004, Wheelbase Communications

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