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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Nissan Quest

The Nissan Quest is a seven-passenger minivan. The Quest was introduced in the early 1990s, as a response to the wildly successful Chrysler minivans. Competing models now include the Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, and the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan.

Prior to the current generation, two earlier generations of Nissan Quest minivans were sold, each quite different from each other in specification and size.

The first Quest was launched in 1993 to replace the odd Axxess tall wagon. Aimed at the middle of the minivan market, it was powered by a 151-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6 and four-speed automatic. While that first Quest minivan had decent space, the seating configuration wasn't particularly versatile compared to the best competitors.

A refreshed version was sold from 1999 through 2002, which built on the existing van but upgraded to a 170-hp, 3.3-liter V-6. This version included three rows of seating, but yet again, its interior space and ease of reconfiguration suffered in comparison to the rest of the segment. Filled with sub-par hard plastics, the interior wasn't very welcoming, but the second-generation Quest drove quite well, with a good ride and reasonably good handling. That said, its 3.3-liter never felt even as perky as its power figures might suggest.

Through 2002, when the second-generation Quest was discontinued, a slightly different version was sold as the Villager by Ford's now-discontinued Mercury brand. Compared to the Quest, the Villager had a slightly upmarket look, and in some cases the Villager could be bought with more equipment for less money than the Quest.

After a one-year absence, Nissan returned in 2004 with a completely new Quest. Much larger than the previous model, this one set a style statement that was completely unlike its predecessor or any other van on the market. Aiming for fashionista families, the Quest employed a flowing, organic exterior with an even more dramatic interior. In addition, seating was completely redone, with three rows of seating given a more luxurious look than that of other minivans. A conventional instrument panel was eschewed for a plasticky setup that included an oval-shaped, podlike center stack, housing climate controls and audio, with the shifter mounted up on the dash. Gauges were up in the center of the instrument panel, along with a trip computer screen or navigation screen.

Although slightly less functional, this was clearly the most stylish minivan on the market. But the new Quest was never well received. Its interior was functionally better, as both the second and third rows be made to fold flat into the floor. Those seats in back weren't that comfortable or supportive, though, and the one-piece third-row seat proved cumbersome. Safety proved to be an issue, too; even in 2009, electronic stability control still wasn't standard. But strengths included strong acceleration from the 235-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 and smooth shifts from the five-speed automatic.

Nissan addressed some, but certainly not all, of the Quest's deficiencies in 2007, when it smoothed over the instrument panel, brought the gauges in front of the driver, upgraded interior materials, and introduced integrated headrests for the second and third rows that automatically tilted forward, making folding easier.

Most recently revamped for the 2011 model year, the Quest suffers from a less flexible interior, less interior volume, and lower fuel economy than most of the competition. It was carried over unchanged for 2012, with received just minor equipment changes for 2013, and it remains deficient in functional features that would make it a direct competitor for Chrysler's minivans. Its seats no longer fold into the floor, and they cannot be removed, making it the least flexible minivan on the market. Its interior volume has fallen, because it's based on a Japanese-market minivan called the Elgrand, and the openings of the sliding side doors are narrower. With less flexibility inside and more challenging loading of children and their safety seats, the current Quest faces challenges in the family market.

It performs better than its predecessor, however, with its 260-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 and continuously variable transmission (CVT) powering a smaller, lighter vehicle. The Quest lacks some innovations found on other minivans in terms of infotainment features, and it's one of the few minivans to score less than a Top Safety Pick award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, where it receives an "acceptable" ranking for roof-crush safety. It's packaged in such a way to encourage buyers to higher trim levels, though for the 2013 model year, a rearview camera is added to the midline LE trim level. The Nissan Quest is now built in Japan.

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