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Nissan Quest: Hospitality suite
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Nissan is back in the hunt for young families with its re-engineered and refocused Quest minivan. Instead of trying to disguise the mission of these ideal people movers with swoopy styling, Nissan embraced the box. It rearranged its format for "great room" space to lend a helping hand to busy parents. Mid-level models have entry-lux finish and finesse to materials and assembly.

There are quick release second-row and third-row seats that fold forward and flat. No need to remove a 60-pound seat and store somewhere, Nissan says. There is theater seating and an actual indent as a step to the second row. That's a welcome enabler for all ages, but particularly helpful for youngsters. Drivers will love the tight, 36.1-foot turning circle. And no manufacturer provides softer, more comfortable armrests than Nissan.

Sold in four trim levels, starting prices range from $28,560 to $42,160. The SL-test van, second from the top, starts at $35,160 and was $38,850, which included the DVD entertainment system ($2,100) and dual opening glass moonroof ($1,350).

The dimensions are squared off to enhance the carting of cargo. The space is as wide as a sheet of plywood, but not quite as long (8 feet).The second-row folds flat with a simple one-lever action, and there's an easy button release to the third row and a long strap to pull the seats back into position.

It's also in a family way with raised second and third rows for good views. On vans with power doors, there is a nifty button in the outside door handle, so a parent loaded with bags and a toddler can bump the switch with an elbow or thumb to activate the door. The tailgate rises almost high enough for a 6-foot-2 dad to stand under. And check out the lid to the cargo floor. It's a featherweight, honeycomb material, but it will support 220 pounds. That's a smart weight-saving feature, among many smart features on this van.

The wealth of Nissan's ingenuity is evident in the attention to detail for 16 cup holders, a conversation (baby-view) mirror, storage and stash places, drawers, bins and convenient space to keep a phone handy.

Another "why hasn't someone thought of this before" feature is the Easy Fill Tire Alert. When topping off a low tire, the system activates the four-way flashers and beeps the horn when the correct pressure is reached.

All models are well served by a 260-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 that gets an EPA estimated 18 mpg city and 24 highway. Acceleration is forceful, and steering and braking are responsive. The continuously variable transmission has no lag in keeping up with acceleration and even gives stepped downshifts when passing power is needed. The ride quality is soft and comfortable, but the van doesn't fall all over itself when pushed decisively through the daily routine.

There's a solid command-of-the-road effect behind the wheel. Sightlines are good and the rearview camera takes away any guesswork in parking lots.

Nissan sees renewed interest in the minivan segment this year because there are several revised vans: the Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey, Chrysler Town & Country and Mazda5.

Beauty is only skin deep on a minivan. It's the inner features — the innovations, luxury and accommodation — that make the Quest a good life partner.