Home » The 2004 Nissan Quest Was A Delightfully Bonkers Family Hauler

The 2004 Nissan Quest Was A Delightfully Bonkers Family Hauler

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While the minivan segment started with a wild mixture of ideas including rear-wheel-drive and body-on-frame construction, by the time the new millennium rolled around, pretty much everything had gone all normal. However, a few years later, a funny thing happened — halfway through the 2000s, the minivan market started to get a little bit weirder again. Honda had a van with an under-floor lazy Susan and tire technology used on the Bugatti Veyron, General Motors decided to invent the “crossover sport van” marketing term, and Mazda decided to go small, ditching the MPV in the North American market for the smaller, stick-shift Mazda 5. However, kicking it all off was the third-generation Nissan Quest, and it was the weirdest of all its contemporaries.

Welcome back to Beige Cars You’re Sleeping On, a weekly series in which we raise the profile of some quiet greats. We’re talking vehicles that are secretly awesome, but go unsung because of either a boring image or the lack of an image altogether.

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It starts with a rather unusual body. While other minivans of the era kept things clean and conservative, the Nissan Quest went all dramatic. From flared fenders to fuselage-style flanks to an unusually curvy greenhouse, Nissan’s van looked like nothing else on the road. Love it or hate it, this was a distinctive look, and it was sorely needed considering how milquetoast the previous model looked. Mind you, this striking sheetmetal came with one downside — unlike pretty much every other minivan of its generation, the Quest’s sliding door windows didn’t open. Huh.

To go with the radical new styling, the old VG33DE 3.3-liter V6 was out, and it was replaced by a 3.5-liter VQ35DE V6 similar to the one in the 350Z sports coupe. Alright, so the Quest’s V6 was transverse instead of longitudinal and pumped out 240 horsepower instead of 287 horsepower, but it was still beefy in the face of the 200-horsepower 3.8-liter V6 found in well-specced Chrysler vans of the time. Paired with a traditional torque converter automatic transmission, it motivated the Quest from zero-to-60 mph in a respectable 8.2 seconds during Car And Driver instrumented testing. Alright, that wasn’t quite as quick as the Toyota Sienna or Honda Odyssey could manage, but you could hide either of those vans in the Quest’s literal shadow.

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While the second-generation Sienna was big at 200 inches long, the Quest measured in at 4.1 inches longer than that. It was also an inch taller and ever so slightly wider than the second-generation Sienna, and while that translated to a challenging turning radius, it also made for proper interior room.

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Oh, and what an unusual interior it was. For the first three model years, the Quest featured a gauge cluster perched atop the middle of the dashboard. Was this a cost-saving measure to support both left-hand-drive and right-hand-drive markets? Well, not really. The Quest was enormous, and primarily focused on the American market. Japan had its own roster of high-end minivans, so this was done purely to be different and make room for some extra storage solutions. Many cars have a glovebox in front of the front passenger seat, but the Quest also had one in front of the driver, sunk into the top of the dashboard.

Nissan Quest 2004 1600 0d

Once you’re done taking in the fact that everything important on the dashboard was pretty much located atop a giant cylinder in the middle of the dashboard, it wouldn’t hurt to look up. Well-equipped Nissan Quest trims were available with what Nissan called the Skyview roof — three glass panels that gave every outboard passenger a little bit of a view up. The front panel was a traditional sunroof, but the rear two panels ran parallel to each other, oriented longitudinally down the roof. With two sunshades per rear roof panel, each outboard passenger was able to control exactly how much sun they were getting — a strange but genius idea.

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Interestingly enough, the Quest was one of the few minivans to have two rows of fold-flat seats. However, instead of the flip-and-fold arrangement of the Chrysler vans’ second-row chairs, the Quest featured a jog in the floor that the second-row seats simply flopped down into. While this didn’t offer a seamless cargo deck with all seats stowed, it was an easier system to operate one-handed than what Chrysler offered, a great example of how sometimes ‘good enough’ is preferable to perfection.

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It all added up to a distinctive enough package that, while not objectively groundbreaking, garnered some positive reviews upon launch. As Car And Driver summed it up:

This Quest may not set new standards for comfort or value or have Z-car driving dynamics, but we rate its styling best in class, inside and out. And for those who drop off their kids at school and then spend the morning prowling garage sales for big bulky items, the all-fold-down seating makes this the must-have minivan.

So, if the Quest was heralded as “the must-have minivan,” why don’t we see them everywhere? Why isn’t Nissan still making it? Well, when it launched, the third-generation Nissan Quest had a little quirk more commonly known as massive quality control issues. Ah. Recalls came hard and fast, including one for failing to comply with advanced airbag requirements, and Nissan tried to up its minivan quality control game. As per Wards Auto:

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[Senior vice president of total customer satisfaction Doug Betts] says Nissan saw a 73% reduction in warranty claims for the Quest minivan from November 2004 to November 2005. Overall, warranty claims were down 83% for the Canton-built models in the same period.

While a 73 percent reduction in warranty claims over a one-year period is substantial, it speaks volumes to just how troublesome the third-generation Quest was at first. A launch this troubled tends to stick with a nameplate for a while, and indeed, sales quickly fell off. In 2004, Nissan sold 46,430 Quest minivans. By 2006, that fell to 31,905 units, and the carpocalypse in 2008 put the nail in the coffin. While Nissan tried again with a fourth-generation model in 2011, it had the scarlet mark of a CVT, and would be Nissan’s last minivan sold in America.

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Due to their particular use case, minivans suffer a high attrition rate as the years go by, and the third-generation Quest was no different. However, a few examples are still out there, and they aren’t worth an absolute fortune. This 2004 Quest SE with the Skyview roof is up for sale in Washington state for $6,991. Sure, it may have 121,519 miles on the clock, but high-spec examples aren’t exactly thick on the ground anymore.

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Now, if you’re looking for a more distinctive color and are wary of multi-panel moonroof leaks, here’s a 2004 Nissan Quest SL up for sale in New York for $5,950. Sure, it might appear to be missing a few headrests and have faded headlights, but it’s in a rather particular shade of brown and comes with the original window sticker, so that has to count for something, right?

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Nissan Quest 2004 1600 0a

The third-generation Nissan Quest had its challenges at first, but that doesn’t make it any less weird. While it might seem like Nissan made the Murano CrossCabriolet out of nowhere, models like the Quest show that the seed always existed. Sure, a Sienna or an Odyssey was a better van, but the 2004 to 2009 Quest was interesting, and that gives it a certain amount of heart. That alone ought to count for something.

(Photo credits: Nissan, Autotrader Sellers)

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Jayson Elliot
Jayson Elliot
13 days ago

This is the only minivan I’ve ever owned, and I loved it so very much. It’s absolutely one of my favorite vehicles out of the 40 or so that I’ve had in my life.

I hunted high and low when I bought it to find a model with the Skyview roof, and it was so worth it. That minivan was my daily driver, my mobile office, my cargo hauler, and my weekend sleeper. The interior was such a genuinely nice place to be that I’d come up with excuses to use it.

If we hadn’t moved across the country I would have never sold it. I sure do miss my Quest.

Scorp Mcgorp
Scorp Mcgorp
14 days ago

we were strongly looking at one of these (lightly used) back in 2009, as i wasa fan of the VQ35, and liked the interior a lot. plenty of space for our 2 kids ( with a 3rd on the way), baby stuff, and such. my wife and i both liked how it drove, the power, handling, and it was fairly quiet inside too.

what killed if for us was the lack of roll down 2nd row windows. kids need ventilation, and that was a no-go. we ended up in a 2005 Mazda MPV, which was significantly smaller, but handled as well and had full roll down 2nd row windows. other than some troublesome issues with coil packs and plugs on the rear side of the engine ( the duratec would collect water back there and prematurely ruin them) that MPV was a trooper right up until midwest rust cancer killed it.

since then we’ve owned an ’04 Sienna ( best minivan we ever owned) and now a ’12 Town and Country ( falling apart, but is treated like a truck).

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
14 days ago
Reply to  Scorp Mcgorp

Ah yes, the 2nd row windows, I knew there was something else it was missing. Mazda had that first in 2000 and it was almost a given that a van would add whatever new and novel feature someone else introduced at the next major redesign, as Toyota did the same year as your Sienna, Honda the following year, etc.

Gee See
Gee See
14 days ago
Reply to  Scorp Mcgorp

My neighbourhood handy people drives all sorts of used minivans as their work vans. Sienna is the most popular then FCA products. I suspect they are more incognito (vs work vans)

Scorp Mcgorp
Scorp Mcgorp
11 days ago
Reply to  Gee See

we sold our 2004 Sienna with 200k on the mill to a mail delivery person. he was so excited to find it at a good price. i bet it’s still out there 5 years later with probably double that mileage still rolling along.

i kinda wish we’d kept it, but my better half demanded a replacement. i love the stow and go seating, but otherwise our Town and Country is a porr replacement

Micah Cameron
Micah Cameron
14 days ago

In 2003, my dad sold his parent’s house and decided to use some of the money to purchase a new minivan to replace our stripper-spec 1996 Plymouth Voyager.

A very careful purchaser, we (our whole family, whose input he took into careful consideration even though I was only 13 and my sister 8 at the time) looked at every single minivan on the market. It came down to the soon to be replaced Ford Windstar and the brand-new Toyota Sienna. In the end, we went with a 2004 Sienna XLE Limited, which ended up being an excellent choice as my parents just replaced it in late 2023 after the rust became too much. It was extremely reliable and comfortable.

One of the vehicles we looked at was this new Quest. I thought the center-mounted gauge cluster was cool, but neither my dad nor my mother liked it, and their disdain was made worse by a pushy salesman who insisted it was better because it required less eye movement. I remember my dad saying something about how that may be true, but it sure required more head movement, which was definitely worse.

In every area, the Quest was underwhelming. The interior materials and build quality were not good, especially compared to the Sienna’s soft-touch plastics and leather everywhere. The NVH was the worst of all the minivans we tested – the drone and annoying noise the engine made under hard acceleration were downright uncomfortable. It was just loud inside and there was little NVH difference between it and our Voyager. The Sienna sounded like a cathedral in comparison.

Worst of all, the Quest’s power sliding doors and power liftgate did very poorly when my dad tested it for object detection. My brother is autistic and does not understand the danger of, for example, trying to enter the vehicle while the power door is closing. The Sienna had excellent object detection and would send the liftgate back up and the side doors back open with only a little pressure. The Quest required a huge amount of force to send the sliding doors back and the liftgate straight up bonked my dad’s head.

The Quest’s turning radius,as Thomas points out in this article, was also abysmal, and that was something my dad placed a lot of importance on. The Sienna was amazing and I remember my dad being really impressed with how tight the turning circle was.

These minivans were cool and different, and I applaud Nissan for breaking from the rather boring minivan mold. However, there is a reason they sold so poorly – when compared against anything else on the market at the time, they failed at doing minivan stuff well.

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
14 days ago

I drove one of these around the Orlando area on a trip to Disney back in the mid 2000’s. It fit everyone just fine. But that VQ returned low 20’s fuel economy in a lot of 70 mph highway driving. For comparison our Olds Silhouette (updated U-body with the 3.4 and 4T65) would get high 20’s to low 30’s in similar driving. That helped to solidify my preference for more efficient vehicles. Say what you will about the General sticking with pushrod engines but darn were they highway fuel economy champs.

Steve Balistreri
Steve Balistreri
14 days ago

This was one of the first vehicle programs I worked on as an intern at Visteon. I did defrost pattern testing on the front side windows, rotating the little circular defroster vent on the dash until we found the optimum angle. I also got to take home one of the fold down screens from a roof panel we were doing airflow testing on. good times haha.

Crimedog
Crimedog
14 days ago

I remember the TSBs for these.
Squeaks and Rattles.
Ugh.
A factory rep pointed out that they had a corner in the back roof that needed something like 5 (he may have said 7) welds come together at the same place. It was an NVH nightmare from a tech perspective.

Still, I don’t hate Nissans. I know that is not a rational exuberance, but there we are.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
14 days ago

We tested this in ’04 when we bought my wife’s Sienna. It was very fast and handled great for a minivan- certainly more dynamic than the Chrysler, Honda, or Toyota.
But it is very weird, especially compared to the Sienna. And it was not a quiet ride compared to the others.
Nissan might’ve been better off continuing the previous Quest/Mercury Villager strategy of going 1/2 size smaller, which filled a niche. Competing with the big boys did not serve Nissan well.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
14 days ago

I remember the mags at the time saying Toyota was working on short and long wheelbase versions of the Sienna, as Chrysler had. Whether or not that was true, who knows. Mazda had a good little niche for themselves with the MPV, Nissan had the Presage in Japan which seems like it would have been a similar match and that was basically the strategy in the final gen Quest as a rebadged Japanese Elgrand.

But everything was pretty “go big or go home” at the time…if they had done it over again I bet they would have prioritized developing a 3-row crossover since they lacked an entry there for years.

Jatco Xtronic CVT
Jatco Xtronic CVT
15 days ago

The next generation of the Nissan Quest was the absolutely superior minivan choice. Great power delivery, fuel economy, comfort, and quietness thanks to the Jatco Xtronic CVT. A shame this one lacks such an important feature.

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
14 days ago

Lol, this is snark, right?

Jatco Xtronic CVT
Jatco Xtronic CVT
14 days ago

The numbers don’t lie.

Data
Data
14 days ago

Username checks out.

Jayson Elliot
Jayson Elliot
13 days ago

I guess if you hate cool minivans, sure

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
15 days ago

No. Sorry.
My wife ran a shop with several customers who owned these. The warranty claims number means nothing. She said several of these customers had already given up on the local dealer. Who eventually lost the NISSAN dealer status. Think about that. How shitty do you have to be to have NISSAN drop you as a dealer?

Wife said they all ended up selling or trading up to a better quality vehicle asap.
These were just literal crap. YMMV.

Just like Joe is the worst president in history. /s
That debate was a shit show. It sucks when our choices are geriatric versions of Beavis and Butt Head. God damn it.

And I’ll fight anyone whose disagrees.

Last edited 15 days ago by Col Lingus
Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
14 days ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

I’ll take the one who isn’t a convicted felon.

Argentine Utop
Argentine Utop
14 days ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

I am in the unique position to tell you that your candidates don’t suck as much as other countries’ (ahem…). That being said, I had the impression that JB was smart enough not to enter a dogfight with a narcissist psycho, and restricted himself to adult remarks. He’s clearly not in his best days, though, but I think he was not the unmitigated disaster that media claims today.
Perhaps the bar was too low, I concede.

Jayson Elliot
Jayson Elliot
13 days ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

I’ll meet you by the bike racks after school, then.

Saul Goodman
Saul Goodman
15 days ago

The nostalgia im getting from this van right now. My grandparents had one when I was little. It was that beige/goldish color from that one from sale and I think the interior was also beige. I still remember that shitty plastic dash lol. Lots of good memories in that thing, but damn I haven’t seen one of these in at least 2-3 years! It’s sure an oddball.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
15 days ago

8.2 seconds?! Wow, that’s slow! Even the new Ram is faster than that! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
https://www.theautopian.com/this-motor-trend-review-says-a-truck-that-goes-to-60-in-8-1-seconds-is-too-slow-no-it-isnt/
Also, that is such a terrible dash

Jatco Xtronic CVT
Jatco Xtronic CVT
15 days ago
Reply to  Freelivin2713

Both vehicles could have been faster, and better on fuel even, you know…

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
14 days ago
Reply to  Freelivin2713

In person it felt like you were on a Romulan Warbird. Watch out for the Tal Shiar!

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
15 days ago

A friend had one of these, I believe a 2007 in that gold color. He somehow limped the thing along until it was on death’s door and replaced it in 2018 or 2019. What a pile of crap. That VQ motor was wedged in there and an absolute pain to do anything more than oil and air filter changes on. It also ate suspension bushings at alarming rates, and he maintained the suspension and alignment religiously. I think he also went through three OEM radiators in 150,000 miles, which were a pain to replace because the aforementioned engine bay design. I was absolutely relieved when he told me he bought a new van and it wasn’t a Nissan, because I was definitely tired of helping him wrench on that stupid thing. Early 2000s Nissan did a lot of things right, but this stupid van wasn’t one of them.

Also, I don’t want to meet the human the front seats were designed for, as I’m not ready to meet a human who lacks a ribcage.

Alexander Moore
Alexander Moore
15 days ago

I always thought it was funny that American consumers hated the center binnacle so much that Nissan had to refresh it only two years later. Meanwhile in Europe basically every MPV from the Sevel Eurovans to the Renault Espace and Citroen Picasso range had a center speedo. Not that center speedos are good, but it really goes to show how risk-adverse American buyers are to anything even marginally weird.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
14 days ago

Often if people tried it they liked it, but the center gauges were almost like an instant disqualification from the media here so many wouldn’t even get that far. A few others were trying it, IIRC Toyota was the first example we saw with the Echo, and that was even changed for us as we got analog gauges rather than digital like the Vitz/Platz had in other markets. The Prius also, but that was so different anyway I wouldn’t count it. Then the Scion xA/xB, but that was an odd one too so it didn’t cloud the overall perception of the car as much.

Saturn tried it on the 2003 ION but that shared a lot of the same faults as the Quest with regards to quality and missing its target segment. I wonder if Nissan would have left the gauges if they weren’t redesigning the interior anyway to bring overall quality up, which was common for their interiors at the time. It was a common complaint on the 3rd gen Altima, and for the 2005 facelift it got an extensive interior redesign despite a full redesign 2 years later.

Baja_Engineer
Baja_Engineer
14 days ago

Even if Nissan still had some reputation back then the 3rd gen Quest was significantly more expensive than the previous gen and the cars you mentioned, so its customers paid more attention to details than let’s say a Yaris, Ion or Echo customer.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
14 days ago
Reply to  Baja_Engineer

Agree, but I don’t think price really makes a difference here. My point was there were a few cars that tried center gauges, most of them were knocked for it and it didn’t catch on, didn’t matter if the price was 13k or 30k. But most weren’t well received by the press for other reasons beyond just the gauges too. There were a lot other details that the Quest was lacking in that particularly hurt it against rival vans.

Carlos Ferreira
Carlos Ferreira
15 days ago

Renault’s funky French design flair was evident in this era of Nissans and Infinitis. The Versa definitely had a Megane vibe.

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
14 days ago

Avantime for this.

Mr. Fusion
Mr. Fusion
14 days ago

Huh, I always thought this had a very JDM vibe for a North America-centric vehicle, but the Renault connection makes perfect sense.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
15 days ago

Man those things are weird looking. Especially if you got it in white. Dark colors muted the strange body lines, but white highlighted EVERYTHING.

Carlos Ferreira
Carlos Ferreira
15 days ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

Weird is better than boring and forgettable!

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
15 days ago

Yeah, but unfortunately weird usually doesn’t sell.

Carlos Ferreira
Carlos Ferreira
14 days ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

Sadly, ugly seems to, though : /

Church
Church
15 days ago

Damn. I have been sleeping on the Quest. That said, the rear end is ugly.

Dude Drives Cars
Dude Drives Cars
15 days ago
Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
15 days ago

Man alive was that instrument panel ever designed in the first version of Alias.

Last edited 15 days ago by Adrian Clarke
MAX FRESH OFF
MAX FRESH OFF
15 days ago

Nissan used Modest Mouse’s “Gravity Rides Everything” in the commercial, prompting people to accuse Isaac Brock of selling out. He responded by saying, “People who don’t play music for a living can criticize my morals while they live off their parents’ money or wash dishes for some asshole.”

Clark B
Clark B
15 days ago
Reply to  MAX FRESH OFF

That sounds just like him. Just saw Modest Mouse for the second time last month, they put on a good show!

MAX FRESH OFF
MAX FRESH OFF
15 days ago
Reply to  Clark B

Can confirm, I really enjoyed seeing them in 2018!

D-dub
D-dub
15 days ago
Reply to  MAX FRESH OFF

“Opinions were like kittens, I was giving them away.”

Clark B
Clark B
15 days ago

My friend’s mom had one of these when we were in high school. I distinctly remember the skylights. I don’t remember much else, I only rode in it a handful of times. It felt kinda small inside, but I’ve felt that way about a lot of minivans, when people have a lot of stuff in them. When every cubby and seat pocket is bursting with stuff, it feels a little claustrophobic.

I couldn’t tell you the last time I saw one of these on the roads though. I see Odysseys, Siennas, Chrysler/Dodge vans from that era, and plenty from before it. And I see some of the breathtakingly ugly final generation of the Quest, even a handful of Mazda5s. Having written this, I’ll probably see two on my way to the grocery this weekend.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
15 days ago
Reply to  Clark B

I remember one with the red interior in my neighborhood (hard to miss that red dashboard from the street especially when they backed in), and a program director in high school had one. Like you said, they’re few and far between now, whether compared to most other vans or to the earlier generations. I’m sure part of it is a bias of those selling in higher numbers to begin with, but even original Sedonas, Freestars, or GM CSVs seem to be a more likely sighting – vans that either sold in smaller numbers or were more likely to be tossed aside instead of repaired.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
15 days ago

There was also a C/D comparo (didn’t see it linked) where it ranked 3rd as well.

I remember the shape of the front seats having overly aggressive lumbar support even in the lowest adjustment setting. The design of the fold-flat 2nd row captain’s chairs, or at least the “well” they folded in, made them feel really high off the ground like your feet were dangling, although they were much more comfortable than the original Stow-n-Go seats.

The 3rd row was a bit of a miss for the time IIRC – you had to fully remove the headrests (not just fold them down) and it was one-piece design, not split. This matched the 5-year-old Odyssey, but Toyota had those elements at the same time and Chrysler and Honda added them next model year. Nissan fixed that with the 2007 facelift at the same time they moved the gauges in front of the driver, and made general interior trim improvements, but it was too late. Going weird with the Murano worked because that whole segment was so new, but for a van put too much focus on being weird without necessarily being better to use than other vans. And the quality issues as mentioned, IIRC the VQ35 suffered some timing chain issues early on too.

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