2004 Nissan Quest SE
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Story and photos by Greg Wilson

There’s been a lot of activity in the over-$30,000 minivan market lately: new minivans like the Nissan Quest, Ford Freestar, and the redesigned Toyota Sienna have arrived to challenge the Honda Odyssey, Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country – and features like fold-in-to-the-floor rear seats, power side sliding doors and power tailgates, and DVD video entertainment systems are now becoming commonplace. With these added features come higher prices. Top-of-the-line minivans are now priced over $50,000 when fully-equipped.

Such is the case with this week’s test vehicle, a top-of-the-line 2004 Nissan Quest SE. While base Quest 3.5 S models start at $32,900, and mid-range Quest 3.5 SL models start at $36,600, Quest SE minivans start at $43,400. With options, my SE test van came to $49,100 plus $995 Freight and $100 A/C tax for a total price of $50,195.

The Quest SE has the same engine as the other Quests (and many other Nissans): a powerful 240 horsepower 3.5 litre V6, but the SE has a five-speed automatic transmission instead of a four-speed automatic, and comes with 17 inch tires and alloy wheels, and standard Vehicle Dynamic Control, a stability control system.

2004 Nissan Quest SE
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As well, the Quest SE features many standard features that wouldn’t seem out of place in a luxury car: leather upholstery, 8-way power driver’s seat and 4-way power passenger seat (both heated), 2nd and 3rd row flat-folding seats, driver/front passenger automatic climate control, rear heating and air conditioning system, 250 watt Bose audio system with 6-disc CD changer and 10 speakers, rear seat audio controls, a power moonroof and four rear skylights, power adjustable pedals, a full-length overhead console with air vents, storage compartments, and map lights, dual power sliding doors, power tailgate, and reverse sensing sonar system.

Standard safety equipment includes front and side airbags, curtain airbags, a tire pressure monitor system, and rear door child locks and tether/floor anchors for child seats. All Canadian specification Quests come with traction control, heated seats, heated mirrors and a block heater.

My test van had the optional “Navigation and DVD Entertainment Package” ($5,700) which includes a DVD-based navigation system, 7 inch dash-mounted colour monitor, two rear drop-down video screens, DVD player, 2 wireless headphones, and remote control.

Though a typical minivan family is not going to need all these features and may not want to spend that kind of money, my fully-loaded Quest gave me the opportunity to test all these features first-hand.

Quest is a big “mini” van

In terms of exterior and interior size, the Quest is the biggest minivan on the market. This has its good and bad points. Passenger room and cargo room are enormous for a “mini” van, and its long wheelbase and wide track provide a comfortable ride and stable handling. On the other hand, the Quest is more difficult to park and maneuver in traffic than smaller minivans. Still, one of the things I discovered while driving the Quest is that it is surprisingly easy to maneuver (more on that in a minute).

The new Quest is much bigger than the previous Quest minivan that was sold a few years ago, and it has the longest wheelbase and widest side door openings of any minivan today. The Quest’s styling is rather aggressive for a minivan – my guess is that Nissan wanted to make it look sporty – a difficult task with a vehicle that’s 5.2 metres (17 feet) long and weighs over 1860 kg (4,100 pounds). But minivans are more about what’s inside than outside, and the Quest certainly has a lot to offer on that score.


2004 Nissan Quest SE

2004 Nissan Quest SE

2004 Nissan Quest SE

2004 Nissan Quest SE
Click image to enlarge

As the biggest minivan, the Quest has a large interior. It feels noticeably wider than other minivans, and with the rear seats folded down, you could comfortably sleep a couple of basketball players in the cargo area. With its large windshield and big side windows, and large rear window, outward visibility is quite good. The three rear head restraints are positioned low enough so as not to imprede rear visbility, but the second row head restraint does block some of the view when shoulder checking.

The optional leather interior in the Quest is unique for two reasons: it has a coarse surface that almost looks like vinyl, and an unusual wrapover design with piping at the edges. The seats resemble those of a Renault 12 I used to own – hmm, Nissan is now owned by Renault – I wonder.. I found the front seats wide and comfortable and they include folding inboard armrests, seat heaters, and two-position memory. The driver’s seat is an 8-way power seat with height and lumbar adjustments, and the front passenger seat is a 4-way power seat.

I had mixed feelings about the location and operation of the centrally-positioned instrument cluster and navigation system. Being high up on the dash and a couple of feet away, it’s easier to focus on the instruments, but you must turn your head slightly to the right. The speedometer and tachometer are easy to see, but the fuel and coolant gauges are too small. The 6.3 inch illuminated navigation screen is clearly visible and also includes a digital clock, outside temperature, radio station and band, temperature readings and ventilation functions.

The column design of the central instrument panel is unusual, and the near-horizontal layout of the heater and radio controls is also somewhat unusual. But the controls are very close to the right hand, particularly the transmission shift lever. However, I didn’t like the operation of the dials for the heating system – to operate the temperature dials, for example, the driver turns a dial a quarter of an inch and it stops while the temperature indicator continues to climb – or the dial can be turned repeatedly to increase the temperature. I found it difficult to set the temperature accurately – it seemed unnecessarily complicated. And I didn’t like the push-button fan speed control. My van also had rear fan and temperature controls near the second row seats with more conventional dials.

The buttons for the navigation system and radio are clearly marked, but they’re small and not always easy to see from the driver’s seat while driving. The large 6.3 inch full-colour navigation screen is easy to see and includes Nissan’s “birds-eye view” of the road ahead and surrounding streets and landmarks. Once you set a destination, visual and audible messages tell you when and where to turn. My only complaint was that the illuminated white background was too bright at night – but it can be switched to a dark background.

A 6-disc CD player is located just below the central controls, and though not easy to see, is close to the driver. The Bose 250 watt sound system with ten speakers is powerful and clear.

2004 Nissan Quest SE
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The second row bucket seats have inboard and outboard folding armrests and recline for comfort, but they don’t have seat heaters. Unlike some of its competitors, the Quest’s second-row side windows are fixed and do not tilt out or roll down. The third side windows do flip out for extra ventilation.

To get in to the third row seat from either side of the van, the passenger folds down the centre bucket-seat backrest and pulls a lever to flip up the seat – it’s not difficult. Or you can slide in to the second row buck seat and go between the second row seats. The third row seat, while not as roomy as the second row, does have adequate legroom and headroom for adults under 6 feet tall (see photo), but it’s not really wide enough for three adults.

2004 Nissan Quest SE

2004 Nissan Quest SE

2004 Nissan Quest SE

2004 Nissan Quest SE
Click image to enlarge

My van had two 7 inch rear DVD video screens which fold down from the long overhead console. The DVD player is underneath the front passenger seat, accessible by the driver – but still in a rather awkward location. Rear passengers have wireless headphones and a remote control to operate the system. I watched a portion of a movie and found the sound crystal clear and the video image sharp. A bigger screen would be nicer, but I wasn’t complaining. The lowered screens do pose a problem for the driver when looking in the rear-view mirror to the rear window.

My test van had a sliding glass sunroof in front and four small roof windows at the rear which served to light up the interior during the day, and provide some interesting views for the rear passengers. Sliding blinds cover these windows when required, but unlike the front moonroof, these windows do not open.

Though the Quest has plenty of cargo area, it also has numerous storage bins and cubby holes. A covered shallow bin just ahead of the steering wheel is unusual – it could be used for papers or a garage door opener that the driver needs to reach. There are roomy, open storage bins in the lower dashboard and in the doors, a slide-out drawer in the centre console, and a flip-down bin in the lower centre console with a powerpoint inside. Two cupholders on the right side of the driver’s seat fold down for easy access – and spills will go directly onto the floor.

My van had the power sliding side doors and power rear hatch. These can be opened by pressing a button on the overhead console or a button near the doors, or by just tugging on the door handles. The remote key fob can also be used to open the side doors and rear hatch door. I found this option very convenient when approaching the Quest from a distance. If you’ve been to the store and you’re holding packages, it’s much easier to just open the cargo hatch remotely and load the packages in the van without having to fumble trying to find the outside handle. For safety, the rear hatch emits four audible beeps and the taillights flash before the hatch opens.

Having a third row bench seat that folds flat into the floor is very convenient for increasing cargo area without having to drag the seat out of the van. However, I found the Quest’s third row seat difficult to operate. First, the three head restraints must be removed and stored in a cloth bag which hangs on the left cargo wall. Unfortunately, this bag gets in the way when you’re trying to lower the seat into the floor. But more significantly, it’s a long reach from the rear bumper to the third row seat and two hands are needed: one to press the release button and the other to pull the seat strap. The effort required to pull it down is substantial. As well, lifting the third row seat out of the floor is difficult because it is quite heavy. The only thing I can say is that it is easier than lifting a removeable bench seat out of the van. The best solution I’ve seen for this problem is the one used by Toyota Sienna which has 50/50 split fold-into-the-floor third row seats. They’re smaller and lighter to pull up and down, and they allow one or two more rear passengers to be transported while carrying cargo on the other side.

With the Quest’s third row seat up, there is a deep, carpeted well behind it that adds a lot of cargo area, and it helps keep bags from sliding around the cargo area. There’s also a 12 volt powerpoint in the cargo area for electric coolers, heaters, or what-have-you. A button just inside the cargo opening allows you to close the door without having to touch it.

The length of the cargo floor is about 0.6 metres (two feet) to the back of the third seat. With the third row seat folded into the floor, the length of the flat, carpeted cargo floor grows to 1.5 metres (five feet). And with the second row seats folded almost flat, the cargo floor length is 2.6 metres (8 feet 6 inches) to the back of the front seats. As well, the cargo opening is 1 metre (3 feet 5 inches) tall and over 1.2 metres (4 feet) wide – it’s possible to store a 4X8 sheet of plywood in the cargo area with the rear door closed. One problem: the plastic trim on the cargo floor near the door latch and the plastic cargo walls are susceptible to scratches by furniture, lumber, appliances, or what-have-you. It can be argued that it’s better to scratch the plastic trim than the furniture being transported, but I would like to see a wooden scuff guard and carpeted walls.

Driving impressions

Like most minivans, the Quest has a low step-in height 381 mm (15 inches) and a relatively low cargo floor loading height 635 mm (25 inches). This is one of the major differences between 7 passenger minivans and 7 passenger SUVs. SUVs, with 4WD their hardware underneath, have a higher ground clearance, and thus a higher step-in height.

The Quest driver sits higher up than in a car though, and has good visibility due to the large windscreen and large windows. Only that second row right-side head restraint obstructs the view when shoulder-checking.

2004 Nissan Quest SE

2004 Nissan Quest SE
Click image to enlarge

For a big minivan, the Quest is surprisingly easy to drive around town. The steering is very responsive, and the turning circle is reasonably tight. However, it is a long minivan, so you’ll need a long space when parallel parking. The optional back-up sensors in my minivan proved very useful when backing into a concrete parking stall or street parking spot.

The 240 horsepower 3.5 litre V6 is a real powerhouse, even in a big vehicle like this. The Quest leaps off the line and has plenty of mid-range grunt as well. Independent acceleration tests by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada show a 0 to 100 km/h time of about 9 seconds – about the same as the new Toyota Sienna. The Quest’s engine features continuously variable valve timing which adds torque at lower revs to improve responsiveness. While the engine exhibits a muted roar under acceleration, it is quiet most of the time. The 5-speed automatic transmission is smooth and precise, and rarely hestitant. The engine and tranny are well-matched. At a steady 100 km/h, the engine does only 1800 rpm, and at 120 km/h it does just 2200 rpm. Engine and wind noise are low.

The Quest’s traction control and optional VDC stability system are there to prevent wheelspin and loss of directional control on very slippery roads. The latter will be used very infrequently, but when it’s needed, it can be a lifesaver. I should point out that the Quest is not offered with all-wheel-drive but the Sienna and Town & Country are.

Did I mention the Quest’s handling was also surprisingly good? Its four wheel independent multi-link suspension, 17 inch H-rated tires, and a wide track provide confidence-inspiring stability and control. Tracking at high speeds is also straight and true. What’s most impressive is the lack of body roll or that “tipsy” feeling you get with many taller vehicles. Though it’s large, the Quest feels quite manageable and safe. The ride is comfortable in the first and second row seats, but I found the ride stiffer in the third row seat (on an occasion when I had a chance to be a passenger).

For brakes, the Quest has big vented discs with standard ABS, emergency Brake Assist, and Electronic Brake force Distribution to even out front-to-rear braking forces. 100 km/h to 0 km/h braking test conducted by AJAC show a stopping distance of 41 metres (135 feet), about the same as the Toyota Sienna.

Overall, I’d say that the Quest performs very well for a big minivan, and is easier to drive than you might expect just looking at it.


Major competitors for the Quest SE ($43,400) are the Honda Odyssey EX ($39,400), Toyota Sienna XLE ($43,600), Ford Freestar Limited ($43,695) and Chrysler Town and Country ($48,405).

The Quest has some features which the others don’t, such as the four rear skylights, twin DVD screens, fold-flat second row seats, and extra large side doors. It’s the roomiest minivan and offers competitive horsepower and performance.

On the downside, the Quest’s exterior styling and interior layout are quirkier than others, and it doesn’t offer split third-row fold-flat seats. And all-wheel-drive is not available.


A spacious, comfortable, powerful minivan with surprising agility, the new Nissan Quest has an unusual instrument panel that’s not entirely user-friendly, and a third row seat that’s awkward to pull up and down.

The Quest is built in Canton, Mississippi.

Technical Data: 2004 Nissan Quest SE

Base price $43,400
Options $5,700 (DVD entertainment and navigation system)
Freight $995
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $50,195
Type 4-door, 7 passenger minivan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 3.5 litre V6, DOHC, 24 valve, cont. var. valve timing
Horsepower 240 @ 5800 rpm
Torque 242 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Tires Goodyear Eagle LS 225/60R-17
Curb weight 1886 kg (4157 lb.)
Wheelbase 3150 mm (124 in.)
Length 5184 mm (204 in.)
Width 1971 mm (77.6 in.)
Height 1778 mm (70.0 inches) (without roof rack)
Cargo capacity 926 litres (32.7 cu. ft.)
  2418 litres (85.4) (2nd row upright, 3rd row folded flat)
  4072 litres (143.8) (2nd row folded, 3rd row folded flat)
Fuel consumption City: 13.3 l/100 km (21 mpg)
  Hwy: 8.6 l/100 km (33 mpg)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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