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Second-Hand: Nissan Quest

The future does not belong to designers creating products that do not displease the customer, Renault stylist Patrick le Quement told magazine Fast Company in 2004.

  • Scenic cityscape of downtown Toronto Ontario Canada during a sunny day

“The future does not belong to designers creating products that do not displease the customer,” Renault stylist Patrick le Quement told magazine Fast Company in 2004.

Unravel the double negative and what he seemingly advocates is evoking emotion from consumers, be it rage, elation, despair — anything but passive acceptance.

Certainly, Renault’s oddball Twingo, Clio and Megane illustrate his point. Love’ em or hate ’em, the cars have generated lots of showroom traffic in Europe for the formerly beleaguered French auto maker.

Likewise, a J.D. Power and Associates survey suggests car designs that polarize opinion are more profitable — models like Chrysler’s PT Cruiser and the Infiniti FX sport-ute.

If Renault can beat its vehicles with an ugly stick for record profits, so too can its Asian partner Nissan, of which it owns 44 per cent. Disappointed with the minuscule market share that its Quest minivan earned since its introduction in 1993 (assembled by Ford alongside the Mercury Villager), Nissan threw away the old design and started with a clean sheet for 2004.

It even built a factory in the industrial heartland of, uh, Mississippi in which to assemble its artful creation.


CONFIGURATION

The all-new Quest incorporated a stretched front-drive Altima/Maxima platform, retaining the cars’ sophisticated multilink suspension in back and control-arm setup up front.

Power was supplied by Nissan’s omnipresent 3.5-litre DOHC V6. While the same all-aluminum motor made 287 horses in the hyperactive 350Z coupe, it was reduced to 240 hp and 242 lb.-ft. of torque for soccer team shuttle duty.

It’s still a lot of muscle, but it’s lugging a mighty big carcass: more than two tonnes (only the Kia Sedona weighs more). It was also the longest minivan on the market by 10 cm. “Minivan” is definitely a misnomer.

As interestingly as the van was styled outside — with its arching roof and wave-like beltline — the real story was inside. Furnished with Bauhaus-inspired chairs and a centre console that resembled a pedestal sink, this was easily the wildest automotive interior North Americans could actually drive.

The Quest distinguished itself in a number of ways: it had the largest sliding doors in the business, buyers could opt for four Skyview fixed-glass panels in the roof and a dual-screen DVD entertainment system.

The cool seats could fold down (with strut assistance), but not entirely into the floor like a Caravan. The head restraints had to be removed before folding and the rear bench was too close to the floor for adult comfort.

Up front, Nissan mounted the instruments in the centre of the dash and gave the driver a glovebox. The unorthodox design was more about being different than good ergonomics, however.

“I can’t tell you how many times I have rapped my knuckles on the gearshift selector while reaching for the other instrumentation,” remarked one owner on the net.

Charged with hauling precious cargo, Nissan’s engineers packed plenty of safety features including anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution, traction control, tire-pressure monitor and curtain airbags (more effective at preventing head injuries than side airbags).

Equipment and trim levels have not changed since the van was introduced in mid-2003. The 2007 models reportedly lose the avant-garde dashboard for a conventional layout.


ON THE ROAD

The Quest is reasonably zippy for such a mammoth family transporter.

Highway speed (96 km/h) comes up in 8.2 seconds, which is a few tenths off the pace set by the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey. It also trails the pair when it comes to braking performance and skid-pad grip.

All third-generation Quests use the same engine, but the high-end SE model gets a smooth five-speed automatic transmission in place of the more plebian four-speed.

Ride quality is compromised by the van’s apparent lack of structural integrity. The extra-long wheelbase seems to allow the platform to flex when hit by jarring bumps (this may have more to do with assembly quality, as we’ll see).

Still, many owners enjoy the driving experience: “Most fun to drive, with the best combination of effortless road handling, speed, comfort and quiet,” blogged one owner, who also keeps a 2001 Sienna.

The Quest is a thirsty beast, however. Some noted the big van did not return anywhere near the government’s fuel-economy ratings.


WHAT OWNERS REPORTED

“The exterior look is so cool, and the interior is unique, comfortable and large enough for our needs,” summed up one owner, describing its appeal in a minivan market crammed with look-a-like competitors.

Despite its radical makeover, the Quest continued to sell in small numbers and for good reason: lots of complaints.

Most have to do with assembly quality: misaligned doors, leaky windshields and sunroofs, door and seat rattles, and interior trim that comes apart.

“A/C vent on the ceiling fell right out onto my son’s head without even touching it,” blogged an ’05 owner.

Mechanically, the automatic transmission is known for shift problems (the tranny control module may be the culprit), as well as electrical gremlins in the power windows and accessories.

The problems were traced back to an inexperienced workforce at the brand-new Canton, Miss., assembly plant, according to Business Week.

Nissan parachuted in 220 engineers to search the factory for faults. Fixes included helping suppliers re-engineer parts, while robots were reprogrammed to weld bodies with closer tolerances.

Used minivan shoppers might be wise to pass on the 2004 model year, which has been the subject of numerous recalls.

Conversely, earlier Quest models (2002 and older) are reliable and much cheaper than competing Toyotas and Hondas.

With the redesign, Nissan had displeased its customers, but not in the way le Quement was talking about.


We would like to know about your ownership experience with these models: Volvo S40, Ford Explorer and Jaguar X-Type.

Send your comments to:

Mark Toljagic, PO Box 51541, RPO Beaches, Toronto M4E 3V7.

E-mail: toljagic@ca.inter.net.

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