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Sunday, October 22, 2006

2007 Nissan Quest

Okay, we know that minivans are about as exciting as creamed corn. The folks who buy them are happy enough with 'em, but you don't hear many people waxing enthusiastic about the minivan they're going to have some day. When we traveled to Nashville, TN, to meet the revised 2007 Nissan Quest recently, we met two other auto writers who claimed never to have driven a minivan before. Even Nissan's presenters seemed to have trouble getting excited about the product. But don't tune out yet, because the Quest is the coolest minivan going.

The 2007 Nissan Quest gets a number of updates to keep it current for 2007. These are re-works of the best kind, too' too; Nissan kept the stuff that worked, and ditched the stuff that didn't, pure and simple. The new Quest looks better, feels better and works better.

The Vehicle:

Most of the work on the new 2007 Nissan Quest has been done on the inside, but the exterior gets a light freshening as well. A chrome-trimmed grille and sharper character lines work well with a slightly redesigned hood and some new color choices to keep the avant-garde Quest looking fresh. A touch of chrome here and there doesn't hurt, either. The available roof rack is less tubular and more integrated into the rest of the design. This high-roofed, long-wheelbased van is one of the larger minivans available, but the gracefully curvy design keeps it from looking bulky. The Skyview glass-paneled roof is still available as well. Optional 19" wheels with the Michelin PAX run-flat tire system are available.

Inside, the 2007 Nissan Quest is still artistic; it's just more functional than before. Touches of wood help to brighten the formerly drab plastic layout. The striking but hard-to-use "column" center console is gone, replaced by a more conventional layout that makes the climate control system easier to use and moves the available DVD player to a more accessible location. The instrument panel has been moved from its Scion-like position in the center of the dash back the driver's side, where most people seem to feel that it belongs. The seven-inch information display screen juts out of the dash like a tablet stuck in a sand dune, yet manages to be handsome. Underneath the skin, an array of boring quality updates give the Quest a more luxurious feel. A newly available console between the front seats increases storage space, but makes it hard to climb through to the back. Opt for the entertainment system, and the dual DVD screens (one for each row of rear seats) are now larger. Bluetooth phone connectivity and XM satellite radio are also available; tire pressure monitors are standard.

All the way at the back of the 2007 Nissan Quest, the third-row seat, a source of much frustration on the Quest we drove last year, has been re-thought. A spring assist makes folding the seat a great deal easier as well. The fold-and-tumble action has been simplified, and 2007 Nissan Quest owners no longer have to remove the headrests to fold the seats.

The Quest was already a good van dynamically, and Nissan has wisely left that part alone. A four-wheel independent suspension offers a serene ride on backroads or freeways, with a minimum of minivan waddle. Rack and pinion steering adds responsive control. Traction control is standard, and Nissan's Vehicle Dynamic Control stability control is available. Anti-lock brakes are standard.

Around town, safety is enhanced by the available rear-view monitor system and sonar parking aid. The Quest is a big vehicle, but it's suburb-friendly.

Nissan's excellent 3.5 liter V6 engine provides power for the 2007 Nissan Quest. With 235 horsepower on tap, the Quest doesn't feel like one of the biggest minivans out there. Acceleration is good, and the Quest doesn't feel heavy or slow on the road. Continuously variable valve timing means that there's power available throughout the engine's range. A five-speed automatic transmission is the only gearbox offered.

The Verdict:

This could be the perfect minivan for people who hate minivans; it's a box that's not boxy, and a people-hauling device that doesn't feel like an industrial penalty box. It drives pretty well, too. Pricing hasn't been set for the '07 Quest yet, but it should be close to the '06 numbers. Keep it simple and the Quest starts at just under $25,000. Option it up and you can have a rolling $40,000 entertainment center.