A COAL segment on a modern minivan? Yes, but hear me out on this one before you scroll down to the next CC. The second generation Quest is certainly more radically styled than most other minivans and my love/hate relationship with it makes it an important member of my COAL series.
After my second son was born my wife began her push for a minivan stating that our 2000 Chrysler Neon was too small. While it seems silly that the addition of one very small person would render a five passenger car too small that doesn’t take into account all the related gear that seems to go along with a newborn these days. Infant car seats, along other things, are massive affairs which, particularly in rear-facing format, require a rather large amount of space. With two of them in the back of our Neon we’d have to push the front seats farther forward than ideal and they also rendered the middle rear seat completely unusable. The equally massive stroller took up all the trunk space making family shopping trips a challenge. So while I held out as long as I could, I finally relented to the seeming inevitability of minivan ownership.
Shopping for a new or lightly used minivan back in 2005 wasn’t as easy as it might seem with so many potential lemons to choose from. Given that most minivans were based off a lighter sedan platforms it isn’t too surprising that many models were plagued with transmission and brake issues. After one too many transmission failures, my mother-in-law had ditched her Dodge Caravan for a Honda Odyssey only to have it suffer the same issue. The Ford vans seemed similarly affected and neither of us cared for the GM vans of the time. The Toyota vans, while a bit dull, were very nicely built but were expensive when new and didn’t see much in the way of deprecation. An older Previa appealed to me but not at all to my wife. One vehicle that stood out was the Nissan Quest. It was actually styled inside and out rather than formed purely with function in mind. If I was going to own a minivan, it had to be the most stylish and interesting one possible. Perhaps more importantly, one with an automatic gearboxes without an obvious death wish.
We purchased a lightly used and optioned 2004 model from a local Nissan dealership. To me, it was shockingly expensive and to this day, remains our most expensive non-real-estate purchase. Particularly painful was the realization that the lovely looking 350Z was within spitting distance of the price we paid for the Quest. It was, nevertheless, quite an impressive vehicle with a lusty 240hp V6 and luxuries previously unheard of in the Saunders’ household, like a built-in DVD entertainment system and heated seats.
The interior was very funky indeed with a dashboard that resembled a Star Trek control panel, but sadly, some of the interior plastics were of equivalent quality as those found on a movie set. They were not as bad as contemporary reviews made them out to be, but certain pieces didn’t age as gracefully as they should have. The center-mounted gauge cluster took a little getting used to but everything else was logically placed and easy to use.
The Neon remained my vehicle for the time being and for a short time we had two modern and reliable vehicles. Sometime afterward, I decided that I was going to build myself a Lotus Seven style roadster known as a Locost. Most plans call for the builder to weld their own chassis from square tubing but my wife convinced me to buy one prebuilt instead. Looking back, I should have built my own but I nevertheless found a semi-local company that imported British-made Luego parts. I arranged to buy that demonstrator pile of parts, which included a semi-built chassis. A few quick measurements convinced me I could haul it home with the Quest. Needless to say, I got quite a few double takes from my fellow road users on the two hundred kilometer trip home.
By now, we were up three children and as much as I wasn’t a minivan person, it was hard to argue against its versatility and comfort. A co-worker offered me a free and very Seventies Bonair 1150 tent trailer which looked to be a cheap and easy way to get back into camping with the family.
Hauling it required a hitch which proved was a little harder to locate than it would’ve been if we’d owned, say, a Chrysler minivan like every other family. The wiring harness was even harder to locate but I eventually did find one without having to resort to the extortionate price the Nissan dealer wanted. Having no garage at the time, I did the hitch install out on the street. Note the jack is lifting the hitch into place in the above photo and that the van was supported by jack stands.
The Quest pulled the little trailer like a dream and the V6 seemed to be hardly bothered by the extra 2000lbs or so. As we set off for our first camping trip in years, everything looked to be going well and the drive to the site was drama free. Setting up the site would go less smoothly. The roof of the trailer had been replaced some years ago with a much heavier wooden piece. It had been in place for years and I had taken it up and down numerous times back at home so I wasn’t expecting any grief from it. Unfortunately about three quarters of the way through raising it, the cables snapped, causing the roof to lurch down on one side, bending the supports badly. With the mangled supports, the cockeyed roof was well and truly stuck.
We had out of town guests coming out to meet us for camping who were already on their way and didn’t possess a cell phone. The camper portion of the trailer was broken beyond reasonable economic repair so we towed it, half erected roof and all, straight to the scrapyard. A quick trip to Zellers netted us a couple of tents, allowing us to salvage the trip, but it didn’t go exactly to plan.
Thankfully, my second attempt at towing went a little better. Some months later I bought a non-running classic Volkswagen Beetle and called the Quest into tow duty to retrieve it. With a rental dolly, the VW proved to be an easy tow home. My third towing attempt met with mixed success. At the time, I had a Lada Niva in need of a windshield. For anyone who has tried to source one in Canada, the glass is both hard to find and expensive. I also needed a set of new tires, so I figured a decent parts vehicle could solve both of those problems at the same time. After some time and plenty of classified ad scouring I found not one but two from the same seller. The snag was that neither was roadworthy and they were located over five hundred kilometers away. I figured I could strip the one which was in poor shape and tow the other home. I built myself a tow bar using my Niva as a template and drove north.
With the help of the seller, I was able to strip a good deal off the more rotten Niva and load it into the back of the Quest. As I went to hitch up the better Niva to tow home, I noticed the mounts did not match-up with the bumper, even though the tow bar was made using my own Lada’s very similar front bumper. Luckily I was able to borrow a drill and modify my tow bar to suit and headed back at a steady 100km/h with the overdrive turned off. I had left to pickup the car that morning at five AM and I was still on the road after midnight when disaster struck as I was finally nearing home. Somehow one of my wires for the towing lights had become snagged and ripped apart, leading to darkness on one side. Being only mere moments from home, I decided to try my luck and press on. But of course, just as I was making the final turn onto my street, I saw a police cruiser’s lights light up. My heart sinking, I pulled over directly in front of my house, where a policewoman gruffly demanded to see my license and registration. I opened the glove box and was dismayed to see it empty. I tried explaining to her that my house was right there but she wouldn’t allow me to leave the vehicle to get the papers. I managed to convince her to let me phone my wife so that she could bring them out. After what seemed like forever, my wife was able to locate the papers and present them to the cop. Luckily I was able to get off with just a warning.
What the Quest was best at was comfortably munching up highway miles. Unless you set the cruise control, the speedometer would creep higher and higher until you glanced down and realized you were cruising at license revoking speeds. We drove it not once but twice from Alberta to Texas. The first trip was done in the winter and included a harrowing and slow slog over a blizzard bitten Montana.
It was well over 3000 kms (around 2000 miles) each way so we made a couple of stops. Being off season, we visited a practicably deserted Mount Rushmore. Cawker City, with its massive collection of old trucks and the World’s Biggest Ball of Twine, was a highlight for me.
I made a point of visiting Route 66 and the Cadillac Ranch on the trip back home.
On the way the Quest developed a noisy front wheel bearing. It steadily got worse but the wheel didn’t get wobbly, so we managed to limp it home before replacement.
Colorado offered some lovely views at the Garden of the Gods.
Why the mixed feelings? Well, like other Nissans it had an appetite for brakes. So much so, that I lost count of how many times I had to replace them. Like a seemingly large number of females, my wife’s aggressive on the gas, aggressive on the brakes driving style probably didn’t help either. The rotors were prone to warping as well, especially on long mountain road trips, so one couldn’t get away with just replacing the pads. Unusually, the rear brakes needed repair just as often as the fronts, but featured some of the most tiny discs and pads I’d ever seen. I suppose they were designed that way to wear at the same rate as the front brakes. Front wheel bearings seemed to be another weak point, along with excessive tire wear. Electrical issues also came to dog our Quest as it aged. That lovely built-in DVD system died after only a few years and the heated seats followed soon after. Random electrical gremlins forced us to sell the van cheaply after many years of faithful service. A couple of “disposable” and cheap Dodge Caravans gave us good service after, but neither hauled as much or went on any epic road trips like the Quest.