2005 Nissan Quest

Front View

The extreme styling statement.

Navigating around the fixed points of the minivan realm has become a standardized procedure; the early wayfarers on these seas worked it all out for those who would come afterward. It's now well known that to be competitive in the class, an entry must have a reasonably powerful V-6 engine of medium displacement, a long wheelbase, dual sliding side doors, a generous amount of passenger and cargo volume, and a reassuring bounty of safety features. These are the equivalents of the North Star and other fixed astronomical points that enable the earth's waters to be crossed.

The question with the 2005 Nissan Quest is this: How could it navigate so competently among the fixed points and yet sell so poorly? It has a 240-horsepower aluminum-alloy V-6 of 3.5 liters, a wheelbase of 124.0 inches, and as much as 148.7 cubic feet of cargo space. An independent front and rear suspension distinguishes it from many other minivans. Side airbags for front-row passengers and side curtains for all three rows are offered, and body side reinforcements deliver a welcome measure of passive safety.

This second-generation Quest, introduced for model year 2004, should have easily steered a course to success. But interference from certain strange traits has instead sent it toward the shoals. For example, look at the instrument display. Instead of being located in the traditional position directly ahead of the steering wheel, it's in a pod in the middle of the dashboard. When we first saw it, we thought it was marvelous. But in practical application, this is a poor place for the speedometer and tachometer. (Also, we found the design of the dials themselves to be less eye-catching than those of other competitors.) Meanwhile, located in the dashboard directly ahead of the steering wheel, a large triangular lid pops up at the touch of a button, revealing a strange, recessed storage pocket. We had no idea what to keep there. Wedges of Brie?

Interior Roof View

One wag has suggested the Quest's problem is that it's French. While that charge is enough to damn many things in America, it's not literally true. The Quest is assembled in Canton, Mississippi. And of course Nissan is a Japanese company. But Renault is Nissan's global partner, and the Quest does have enough Gallicisms in its design vocabulary, and enough peculiarities in general, to make you think of various Citron automobiles. The rear wheels, in particular, are placed at the very corners of the 204.1-inch-long minivan; no competitor shares this extreme appearance. Additionally, the undulating beltline calls an enormous amount of attention to itself, which is probably not a good thing. And the way some of the body panels are modeled results in oddly colliding planes. You can't take your eyes off the Quest, but that's not necessarily a compliment.

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