- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2003

May 27 marked the beginning of production of the Quest at the recently completed Nissan manufacturing facility in Canton, Miss. With its all-new Quest minivan, Nissan begins a move to produce more of its product destined for North America, in North America.

This new 3.5 million-square-foot facility also will be the home of Titan, the full-size pickup truck, and Armada, a sport utility vehicle. Beginning with the Quest, the manufacturing plant will bring more than 5,000 new jobs to the United States. At a time when some U.S. manufacturers seem to be running to set up shop outside the country, other manufacturers are establishing themselves as anchors in communities hard-pressed to keep their residents working. Makes you wonder why so many of our U.S. manufacturers are moving to Mexico.

The Quest, however, is a vehicle that is built in America for American buyers and is designed to solve the transportation needs of families. With wide-opening doors, plenty of comfortable seating and an open design that creates an inviting environment for all, this minivan offers plenty of features.

From the driver’s seat the view is open and airy. The dashboard consists of an innovative design for a minivan with the instrument panel mounted on the center of the dash. The center stack (where the sound system and heater-air conditioning controls are normally mounted) is replaced by a drumlike center pod that offers up the controls in an unusual, but easy to see and use manner. I didn’t care for this design in the very contrasting black and red interior color scheme, but in the more subtle tans and mauves it was more appealing to me.

The front bucket seats are comfortable and have a wide walk-through area allowing parents easy access to the second and third row of seats. The second row is also a two- bucket-seat design, but less forgiving on the backside. These seats fold down to offer a near flat storage floor area. While I have not found a minivan that makes getting into the third-row seats an easy affair, the new Quest makes the move easier than most. For young, flexible bodies, this will be a more-than-easy task. The offering of the optional dual overhead DVD screens will make the youngsters anxious to get seated and buckled up for their journey and the show.

The third-row bench seat incorporates an easy nearly one-hand operation to fold it flat into the floor well at the rear of the vehicle. With the two rear row seats folded down, Nissan says there is room for a 4-by-8-foot sheet of building material. I didn’t have a spare sheet of plywood to test this notion so I have to take their word for it.

Three levels of trim models allow buyers to select the features most important to their needs. From the base 3.5 model up through the 3.5 SL and the top-of-the-line 3.5 SE, each is well equipped. All are powered by the same 3.5-liter V-6 engine that sits under the hood of the smart and performance-orientated 350Z sports car. With its 240 horsepower and 242 foot-pounds of torque, it sends the Quest down the highway with vigor.

Two automatic transmissions are available, with the 3.5 S using a four-speed with overdrive while the others are equipped with a five-speed overdrive gearbox.

Interior space is probably the most important element in buyers choosing their vehicles and with the new Quest this is also a high priority. Nissan has made a full-length overhead storage compartment that can be fitted with two video screens and multiple storage bins, personal lamps and air vents. Along with this option Nissan offers the popular Skyview roof that first became available in the Maxima. Four glass roof panels bring natural light into the cabin that lightens and creates a feeling of openness to the interior.

Yes, the Quest is a minivan, but this newly designed vehicle brings a great number of features that make living with a van much more desirable.

Who knows, this may be the minivan that makes it OK for owners to concede that they actually drive a minivan.

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