When the original Nissan Quest minivan went on sale as a 1993 model, it broke new ground as the first vehicle in class to offer true “car-like” handling and comfort. Much progress has been made in the ensuing years with subsequent generations of the Quest and other manufacturers’ minivans. Yet one aspect that hasn’t changed much is the minivan’s basic “box on wheels” styling.
According to the designers of Nissan’s Next Generation Quest Concept, which made its world debut at the 2002 North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January, it’s the traditional utilitarian minivan styling that drives many potential buyers to more adventuresome alternatives such as sport utility vehicles and the new crossover sport utility products.
“In studying the ‘unmet needs’ of current minivan buyers and non-buyers, the one thing that came up over and over again was the uniform desire for more style than that shown by the current offerings in class,” said Tom Semple, President, Nissan Design America, Inc. in La Jolla, Calif., the group behind the creation of the Quest Concept. “Minivans carry such strong negative imagery that it’s hard for many buyers to get beyond the exterior, when the truth of the matter is there’s probably no better vehicle for carrying large amounts of people and stuff. With the Quest Concept, we’re trying to demonstrate that style and functionality can go together.”
Two key elements leading the Quest Concept’s departure from traditional minivan exterior styling are its bold, architectural forms with a flowing, arched beltline and the expansive use of glass – found in both its wraparound glass treatment with “hidden” pillars and the full-length glass roof.
“We tried to take full advantage of the minivan’s core strength – roominess – and exaggerate the feeling through use of light entering through the roof and windows,” said Semple. “The construction of the side window glass, with its milled edges, is adopted from building design, reinforcing the architectural feel and flow of the body, especially when viewed in profile.”
The green-tinted glass has about a 45-degree bevel on the edge with body-colored pillars behind it so the pillars are subtly seen, though not under all conditions.
The Quest Concept also utilizes an exaggerated stance with large 20-inch wheels and tires pushed out to the corners to emphasize its intended athletic performance capabilities. An arched theme runs throughout the body form, with visual breaks helping eliminate the traditional one-box, one-volume appearance. The usual “departing line” is in the side of the vehicle, with the hood coming down to meet it. The corners are very structured, not loafy.
“Everything comes off an arc, the beltline is low in front for enhanced driver visibility, and then it moves up as it flows rearward for a sense of occupant protection. The seats go up as they go back to keep a similar perspective,” said Semple. “Everything is human scaled, the body does different things depending where you are in the Quest Concept. Other details can be found throughout the exterior. Highly efficient fiber optic headlights project onto magnifying lenses. The door handles are retractable, remaining flush with the body when not in use and the side passenger doors are electric sliding."
The four exterior doors open wide for easy access and the innovative tailgate features a unique “bi-fold” design which operates in a very limited amount of space such as inside a garage or when parked up against a wall. Even the side mirrors have been replaced with side view cameras, with images projected via Head-Up Display (HUD) in the corners of the windshield.
“Open the doors of the Quest Concept and you’re greeted with a great place to live – not industrial design but closer to furniture design with the use of serious, modern materials such as felt and woven leather,” said Semple. “Instead of shouting function, we’ve tried to create a new kind of environment which constantly reinforces the idea that this is a functional object that’s also beautiful.”
The exterior’s arc theme is repeated inside, throughout the instrument panel, the door openings and the seats. The “tabletop” style controls operate like a desktop and the cylinder shaped center stack pulls away toward the floor, allowing easier walkthrough from the front seats. The open interior atmosphere offers premium comfort for six, with the individual seats mounted on a hidden two-track system.
A special storage basket located under the instrument panel on the passenger side is one of many open, innovative storage areas, including a motorized sliding center console and storage tray that can move to any position between the three rows of seats. A universal fastening system is built into the seat backs and interior trim to accommodate custom-designed storage and organization solutions. A power-operated bike rack deploys from the rear cargo area floor.
Other features include the use of a Charge Coupled Device (CCD) camera for monitoring of an infant in a rear-facing child seat, while a rear view camera projects images on a Thin Film Transistor (TFT) display that replaces the rear view mirror. A 16-inch wide center-mounted information display with driver-selectable information offers scalable text sizes and personalized backgrounds can be downloaded via a wireless telematics interface. Dual entertainment system displays are mounted in a full-length overhead console, along with audio and climate controls and additional personal lighting and storage.
“We’ve tried to bring a little romance and style to minivans in contrast to the noise of everyday life,” said Semple. “I think we succeeded with the next generation Quest Concept.”