by Martin Padgett Jr.
All-new, it retains its handling response.
Base Price $22,679
As Tested $22,679
In the six years since the Nissan Quest was unveiled, the state of the art in minivans has evolved to include dual sliding doors, more powerful engines, and slick interchangeable seating. Completely redesigned for 1999, the Quest now offers all of those features. Yet somehow, in an age of ever-increasing waistlines, the Quest has kept its appealingly slim figure.
Far and away, the Quest's best feature is its adjustable seating configurations. By increasing the length nearly five inches, Nissan has made the interior much more usable and flexible - though it's not as roomy as the long-wheelbase Chryslers, the Ford Windstar or the new Honda Odyssey.
Though it's longer now, the maneuverability and car-like response of the Quest makes it one of the most pleasing minivans available from a driver's standpoint. A myriad of features inside keep children happy in the back seats and, when fitted with the optional second-row captain's chairs, it's a comfortable ride for a full load of adults.
Nissan's Quest is a fraternal twin of the Mercury Villager. When both Ford and Nissan fell behind in the minivan market in the early 1990s, they teamed up to create a vehicle both could build and sell in the U.S. Since its introduction in 1993, the Quest's platform and its Nissan Maxima-based powertrain are shared with the Villager.
The first Quest demonstrated Nissan's knack for making any type of vehicle - minivan, SUV or truck - feel more like its sporty sedans. For this second generation, Nissan adopted features buyers are clamoring for in minivans: more doors, more cupholders, and more versatility.
The most important change is its size. The Quest always was among the smaller minivans, so this time around Nissan added 4.6 inches to the length, and 1.2 inches in width. Although the wheelbase is unchanged, the Quest's interior clearly benefits from the added room, especially in leg room between the benches. Visually, though, the Quest still looks as trim as the last edition.
Once again, the Quest is powered by Nissan's charming 3.3-liter V6 engine. It produces 170 horsepower (up from 151 in the first Quest) without much noise or fuss. The transmission is an electronically controlled four-speed automatic with overdrive. The Quest's body now offers five doors in all -- two hinged front doors for the driver and front passenger, two sliding doors on the sides, and a rear liftgate.
Three models comprise the Nissan Quest lineup: $22,679 GXE, $24,419 SE, $26,819 GLE.
Our Quest GXE came with no options, but was well equipped. Standard features include air conditioning, power windows, mirrors and locks, cruise control, remote keyless entry, a vehicle security system, a luggage rack, and a rear window wiper/washer.
The SE adds larger 16-inch wheels, a suspension tuned for improved handling response, black-on-white gauges, second-row captain's chairs and rear heating and air conditioning controls. The GLE adds leather interior trim, power driver and front passenger seats, automatic climate control and a six-disc console-mounted CD changer.
The Inside Story
Minivan owners are a picky bunch. Their vehicles have to carry the load of children, friends, groceries and hardware, and still provide an enjoyable driving experience. The Quest satisfies those needs with a sleek body that neatly encases a flexible interior package.
The driving position is typical of minivans and sport-utility vehicles. The driver sits upright in a comfortable, if slightly narrow, seat. The view outside is commanding: The front fenders fall away for maximum visibility. The rest of the cabin is tall and glassy, which makes backing up a snap.
Quest GXE comes with a second-row bench seat with optional integrated child safety seats. The SE and GLE come with second-row captain's chairs. Either way, the Quest's seating system wins high marks from owners. It's easy to see why. The second-row bucket seats in the SE and GLE tip forward for easy access to the third bench. The middle bench in the GXE tilts, flips forward, even comes out altogether to create a limousine-style space for important passengers or a large cargo area. Best of all, the third-row bench can be moved forward into one of six positions on a track that permits nearly five feet of movement front to back, allowing it to accommodate every possible variation of passengers with limousine-quality room.
Behind the third-row bench, an adjustable shelf offers three vertical positions, and holds 30 pounds. The two-tier capability adds some usefulness to the area, which is about half as deep as the cargo hold on a standard-issue Dodge Caravan.
The Quest's instrumentation is complete and well-designed, although some of the plastics and vinyls are less than rich-looking. The dash is arranged well, and the flurry of little buttons normally found with a vehicle this well-equipped is absent. Most of the Quest's buttons are square, flat plastic, functional and clean.
Ride & Drive
Many minivans seem to take pride in lulling their owners to sleep with sluggish handling and slushy ride quality. The Quest reacts to the road more like a sports sedan, with sharp steering and well-damped ride motions that might make you forget you're in a vehicle as large as a Manhattan powder room.
The Quest simply acts smaller than it is. With a fair amount of weight to throw around, but with less body roll than the larger minivans, the Quest felt planted on the winding roads of north Georgia. It responds to small changes in steering with a sense of connection that long-wheelbase minivans with big tires aren't able to match. Combined with a firm, controlled ride, the Quest's handling is among the most satisfying in its class.
The downside to the Quest's amiable personality is its 170-horsepower 3.3-liter V-6 engine. The addition of 19 horsepower to the bottom line has improved acceleration performance, but the Quest won't match the truly quick acceleration of Ford's 200-horsepower Windstar. Weighing nearly 4,000 pounds, the Quest could use some more power. More torque would help the Quest launch quickly from stoplights. More top-end power would allow it to pass other cars with authority on uphill highway stretches. Yet it could also stand some constraint; its 17/24 fuel-mileage rating is a bit thirsty even with premium unleaded running 99 cents a gallon.
If you're in need of a minivan that can replace your favorite sports sedan, the Nissan Quest deserves a long test drive. As one of the more compact minivans, the Quest has a decided advantage over the big boys when it comes to driving feel. Its short wheelbase and quick steering add up to a driving experience that's more rewarding than the dull-edged responses of long-wheelbase minivans.
Overall, the Nissan Quest should satisfy anyone willing to sacrifice a little interior room for a minivan that's fun to drive.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.