What's ironic here is that driving the Quest is as pleasant as can be. It energetically gets up and moves when the light turns green. A four-speed automatic with overdrive is standard on the base and S models, while the SL and the SE are equipped with a five-speed automatic; our experience showed that the Quest's powertrain compares quite favorably with class leaders from Honda and Toyota. Ride quality on the seventeen-inch wheels of the 4209-pound, top-of-the-line is acceptable, and the handling is athletic, with only a modicum of understeer. (Base, S, and SL models come with sixteen-inch wheels.) Standard four-wheel vented disc brakes with antilock complete the running gear.
There are some interior rattles, yet we've found this thrumming to be typical of nearly every minivan, what with their myriad compartments and gewgaws. Ergonomically, the only issue concerns the instrument panel's unconventional placement; otherwise, switches and controls are right at hand, and learning how to use them is a snap. If there's one obvious shortcoming, it lies with the cupholders. Although there are only eight, it's well known from a television comedy ("Eight Is Enough") that this is sufficient. But the driver must rely on one that's integrated into the base of the seat and folds outward like a kind of expandable purse. We would call it baroque, but it actually worked all right; bizarre is more like it. Meanwhile, Chrysler and Honda beat the heck out of Nissan for smart use of center-cabin storage space and utility.
The SE model we drove comes equipped with leather upholstery (ours came in a medium gray that only a consumer focus group could love) and a startlingly good 10-speaker sound system. Among the other accoutrements were DVD-based navigation (a $2000 option); dual-zone automatic climate control (rear heating and A/C are standard in all models); power driver's seat with position memory that also governs the adjustable pedals and outside mirrors; one-touch front windows; a sunroof; and a full-length rear overhead console with lighting, storage bins, and air vents. Whatever electrical or electronic device is carried on board, whatever media is demanded, the Quest will have a conveniently situated jack or port or player for its operation. The so-called SkyView glass roof panel system with sunshades for second and third-row seats is an exclusive offering on the SE (it reminds us of Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser wagons of the 1960s) and would be quite appealing for those passengers who aren't transfixed by their Game Boys.
Like the Odyssey, the Quest has a storage drawer under the front-passenger seat. Second-row folding seats pitch forward for a nearly flat load surface; while still fixed in the upright position, these chairs also tip up from the base for easier third-row access. The third-row seat-which includes a three-point belt even for the middle passenger-tumbles backward into the cargo well. A right-side power sliding door and a power liftgate are standard with the S and SL; a power left-side door is added to the SE. Power door operation seemed a bit poky, though. The spare tire is stored in a well under the floor just behind the driver's seat. Run-flat tires, available on key competitors, are not yet offered with the Quest. Neither is a backup camera.
The Quest achieves competitive EPA fuel economy ratings of 19/26 mpg (four-speed automatic) and 18/25 mpg (five-speed automatic). Maximum seating accommodates seven persons. Pricing (including handling and destination charges) begins at $24,030 for the base model, increases to $25,140 for the S, $26,930 for the SL, and $32,930 for the SE. A fully equipped SE with navigation, dual-screen DVD entertainment, and the Skyview roof would bust across the $38,000 barrier.
A Nissan spokesman admits that resistance to the Quest's oddities was underestimated and sales haven't met expectations. Mid-product-cycle revisions are "quite possibly being accelerated," the spokesman said. But for the time being, buyers will have to "learn to get used to it" as it is. The way we see it, though, this just isn't in the stars for very many people.