Nissan Quest: new pep for the minivan

They were the vehicles of soccer moms. Dependable but boring, they marked the on-ramp to parental responsibility and the exit from youthful adventure.

But that was the minivan before Nissan gave it a new twist.

Its new Quest is curvy, sleek, peppy, roomy, and more capable than most mommy-mobiles of yore. Emphasizing its hipness is a sunroof, once a rarity in the minivan market.

Among the biggest and most functional of minivans, the redesigned Quest sports dual-power sliding doors, a power lift gate in the back, two DVD entertainment screens for back-seat serenity, and two rows of skylights in back that make the whole cabin feel light and airy. Best of all, it's the first full-size minivan that doesn't require removing any of the back seats before hauling cargo. Both rows - the rearmost bench and two captains chairs in the middle - fold flat into the floor.

Up front, handy hooks are available to hold a purse or grocery bags. The DVD player, tucked in the base of the passenger seat, faces the aisle, making it both out of the way and easily accessible.

And the Quest is downright sporty to drive. Its smooth yet powerful V6 engine is the same one that's used in Nissan's 350Z sports car. In the Quest, the engine puts out 240 horsepower, which is plenty fast. Steering is race-car quick and razor sharp - almost disconcerting in a vehicle this size.

All is not roses with the Quest, however. While designers tried to make the Quest curvy and cutting-edge on the outside, they added huge, blocky bumpers that create a face only a mother could love. Inside, the seats, made of faux ostrich-skin, are just plain weird and look cheap.

The Quest's biggest no-no is the instrument pod. The speedometer, tachometer, navigation system, and other important displays are located in the middle of the dashboard, far away from the driver. And all the functions are controlled by a complex array of buttons, requiring something approaching a computer-engineering degree to sort out.

The final piece of bad news: Nice Quests don't come cheap.

While the base model lists for $24,090 and comes with essential side-curtain air bags, you have to shell out nearly $33,000 to get the lively 5-speed automatic transmission (a 4-speed automatic is standard), skylights, and power doors.

For a new and unproven minivan, that's a lot of dough.

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