Automotive design, just like the latest fashion, can be a fickle affair. Automakers have a fine design line to straddle with new products, between bold and bland. Keep too conservative, and buyers may dismiss a new vehicle, however great, as too boring; but go a little too outside the norm, and it sure will be the talk of the town but it might not be the success it was hoped to be.
The latter is the story behind the current-generation Quest minivan. When it was being planned, market research had shown that buyers were looking for a minivan with edgier styling — inside and out — and Nissan rose to the occasion with a design that broke away from the cookie-cutter ideal of what a minivan should be.
The result, introduced in summer of 2003 as a 2004 model, wasn’t really that far out from the mainstream, but for minivan shoppers the heart of the market is more function-over-form, brawn-over-beauty. To put it another way, the terms ‘fashionista’ and ‘minivan buyer’ are almost oxymoronic. The Quest was rather widely criticized for its instrument panel design, which sacrificed some ergonomic common sense for fashion and futurism, and for its perceived quality (although JD Power and Associated did name the Mississippi-assembled Quest the most-improved model in the firm’s 2005 Initial Quality Survey). On the other hand, the Quest has almost unanimously been complemented on its carlike performance and sporty driving dynamics, so there was little that needed to be changed beneath the surface.