Second-Hand: Nissan Quest, Mercury Villager

Imagine identical twins separated at birth. One is given a good, nurturing home; the other is ignored, unsupported.

  • The image of cars in a showroom

Imagine identical twins separated at birth. One is given a good, nurturing home; the other is ignored, unsupported.

No strangers to mangling analogies here, let’s just say the Mercury Villager and Nissan Quest have a lot in common — and what separates them are their warranties.

But let’s not give away the ending. First, a little history.

Both auto makers needed a front-wheel drive van to compete with the runaway success of the Chrysler Magic Wagons. But in 1992, Ford’s Windstar was almost three years away and Nissan’s world-sized Axxess was missing the North American target.

The two rivals had decided to work together on a minivan (curiously, Ford’s Asian partner, Mazda, was overlooked).

It was a bit of a lop-sided partnership: Nissan did all the hard engineering and design work, leaving Ford to spec out North American parts suppliers and fuss over the upholstery.

By all accounts, it was a Japanese minivan with a few dashboard controls and switches a Taurus driver would recognize. Ford workers assembled all the Villagers and Quests at an old

Econoline plant in Avon Lake, Ohio. The pair debuted in the 1993 model year.


The first-generation Quest/Villager came with only one powertrain, one sliding door and one compact size — which suited Ford fine, since the upcoming Windstar was scaled to do battle with the extended Grand Caravan.

Slightly wider, taller and longer than the short-wheelbase Caravan of the day, it offered no additional interior room. It did have a nifty rear seat that could glide into a variety of positions on floor-mounted tracks. However, the seat always comes with you (although it can fold up).

The middle seats can be removed, but eat your Wheaties first.

A 3.0 L SOHC V6 engine, Nissan’s tractable powerplant from the Maxima, early 300ZX and Pathfinder, produced 151 hp and 174 lb.ft. of torque in this application.

The Maxima’s four-speed automatic transmission was used exclusively, as were anti-lock brakes.

The Ohio plant fitted all models with irritating motorized seatbelts — an American requirement that never made sense in law-abiding Canada. Buyers must look for a 1996 or newer van to

get conventional belts and dual airbags.


Banish any Maxima-inspired thoughts of spirited driving. While the same engine could motivate a 1,500 kg sedan handily, the same can’t be said of a two-ton van.

Acceleration is okay: zero to 100 km/h in a little over 11 seconds. But that’s without three kids and a glowering mother-in-law.

Mercifully, Nissan added a “Power” mode to the automatic transmission for more helpful shift points.

Make no mistake: hindered by the mass and architecture of a van, the Quest/Villager does not drive like a sedan. But if you’re making the transition from car to minivan for the first time, you could do a lot worse than drive this one. It does handle quite sweetly.

A very rigid body structure provides a stable platform for the suspension to do its damping. Ride isolation is excellent and the interior is commendably quiet.


One gets the impression the Quest/Villager was designed for people who would not normally be caught dead in a minivan. (Note: some funeral homes have started using Caravans as


Owner praise for its smooth ride and competent handling was unanimous. The brakes were noted for being strong and durable. And they loved the Quest/Villager’s styling both inside and out, its compact dimensions and the fit and finish.

Wrote Joseph Zeleny in a heartfelt letter: “In all the years as a salesman on the road, this vehicle is mechanically the best I’ve ever owned . . . it has not cost me a peso.”

Still, no vehicle is without flaws, and the pair has a few noteworthy ones.

A few respondents complained of faulty power locks which, in one instance, sealed a gang of coworkers inside while the owner stepped out for doughnuts. The keyless entry system has

apparently been the subject of a U.S. investigation — and an upgraded module.

The front and rear (if so equipped) blower motors have been known to chirp, requiring replacement. Look for rust on the interior side of the sliding door (at the bottom), where a couple of hapless owners have discovered it.

Rough 12 upshifts especially when cold were reported by a few, and a couple of owners had expensive transmission failures. Given the proven reliability of the powertrain, used in other

Nissans for years, this is hardly representative.

What is harder to dismiss is a concern about the engine’s exhaust manifolds.

Several owners wrote of a problem with the manifolds warping and snapping the studs that fasten them to the engine block. Deborah Rae Lalonde wrote: “Approximate cost for dealer to fix

it: $1,100 — lots for a single mum just trying to cut it.”

Our contact at Ford confirmed that “lots” of Villagers were showing up at dealers with the affliction. Quest owners are, of course, every bit as likely to experience it. Still, neither company has issued a recall, claiming the problem is “not common.”

Owner Keith MacCrimmon knows all about it. He has just had his manifold replaced for the eighth time on his 1993 Quest. He writes that the older stud, (#14065v5003n) was replaced with a

new version, (14065v5004n). But his invoices indicate the newer studs were used several times already. So what gives?

Max Wickens, Nissan Canada’s spokesperson, admits to “a few” vans having bad manifolds, but dealers were told to fix the problem — and if done correctly, it should not recur. Quest

owners are covered by one of the longest warranties in the business: six years or 100,000 km for major components.

A Nissan dealer can also make a “goodwill claim” to head office on behalf of the customer after the warranty has expired. But be forewarned: a second-hand owner is less likely to win a

claim, or be asked for “participation,” which means coughing up a portion of the repair cost.

Paradoxically, Mercury Villager owners — driving the identical vehicle — saw their warranties run out after three years or 60,000 km, too early for most manifold problems to develop.

Bottom line: If you can stomach the prospect of fixing a very expensive exhaust leak, the Quest/Villager should reward you with reliability that, according to Wickens, is the envy of

minivan makers.

And Nissan, perhaps having more at stake as an importer, is more willing to defend its reputation. Which makes the Quest the pick of these identical twins.


We would like to know about your ownership experience with the following models. Please note the deadline dates.

Saturn Sseries, by Oct. 21

Subaru Legacy/Outback, by Nov. 18

Send your letters and comments to Secondhand, c/o Wheels section, Toronto Star, One Yonge St., Toronto M5E 1E6. Fax 416-865-3996.


Mark Toljagic, a freelance Toronto writer, contributes Second-hand once a month.


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