The '04 Nissan Quest minivan caused quite a stir when it recently was test-driven by Ward's editors in the same week as a prestigious super luxury car.

“That's the coolest thing I've driven, hands down,” says one associate editor — of the minivan, not the European luxury car.

“It looks French!” exclaimed another of the Renault-like profile. (Renault SA and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. are alliance partners).

A third test driver says the Quest held far more appeal among her 12-year-old's friends than Toyota Motor Corp.'s forward-looking, youth-driven Scion xB.

Why all the fuss over a standard minivan that offers 3-row seating, two sliding doors, a DVD player for the kids and plenty of room for groceries? To borrow from the Clinton-era, it's the styling, stupid.

Quest wins big points with what Nissan calls “breakthrough” styling, part of a mission to dump all the negative buzz about minivans. The latest version, the first to be built by Nissan — the last-generation Quest was a joint venture with Ford Motor Co. — convincingly dispels the notion that minivans are for wimps or for those “married with children.”

Not that there's anything wrong with that. But Nissan prefers its minivan be compared to an urban loft — funky, sexy, modern and configurable. And it seems to have succeeded.

Quest's exterior design quickly distinguishes itself from the pack. The aggressive front end, upward-swooping beltline and rounded, Murano-inspired rear make for a minivan that is right at home sharing a showroom with Nissan's stylish new Maxima, Murano and 350Z.

The interior elicits even stronger reaction. Its pod-like control panel, center-mounted instrument panel, panoramic windshield and nifty Skyview roof give the cabin a 1970s sci-fi movie feel. Contributing to this is the test vehicle's bold interior color combo of terra cotta and black.

The Skyview roof, standard on the top trim level, is among the most innovative of the Quest's features. Behind the sunroof are four in-roof glass panels, so rear passengers can stargaze should they tire of looking at one of two optional DVD rear screens.

Some of our test drivers found the center upward-angled, pod-shaped IP — by far the interior's most arresting feature — distracting and its dashboard lights difficult to read because of the distance between driver and readout.

And although this minivan is designed for parents in denial, many editors appreciated the standard convenience features, including plenty of hooks and even a note clip on the steering column — perfect for to-do lists or a photo of the little one.

The new Quest has grown in all dimensions: Cargo room is ample, with some 44 cu.-ft. (19.9 cu.-m) more than the previous-generation vehicle.

The second row standard captain's chairs fold in several ways, including flat, while the third row folds flat into a bay in the floor. When all rows are up, the seat well provides a storage area to keep grocery bags and other items from sliding around. And Nissan claims the widest sliding door opening in the segment.

Built on Nissan's FF-L (front-drive, large) platform, which also supports the Altima, Maxima and Murano cross/utility vehicle, the Quest proves to be the best-handling minivan in the segment today.

Powered by the Ward's 10 Best Engines perennial favorite 3.5L V-6 engine, the 240 hp and 242 lb.-ft. (328 Nm) of torque easily propel the vehicle, whose curb weight ranges from 4,012 lbs. (1,820 kg) for the base 3.5 S, up to 4,175 lbs. (1,894 kg) for the top-end 3.5 SE.

The two lower trim levels are mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission; the top SE level gets a 5-speed automatic. Traction control is standard, while vehicle dynamic control comes on the SE. Four-wheel disc brakes with an antilock braking system and 4-wheel independent suspension add to the surprisingly pleasurable driving experience.

In addition to superior steering and handling, the Quest comes with all the safety options expected in a modern minivan.

Still, the Quest doesn't take Detroit potholes gracefully, and cabin noise can't compare to the ultra-quiet Toyota Sienna — the other powerhouse competitor in the suddenly interesting minivan category.

Some Ward's editors found it difficult to fold the rear bench into the floor, and there was one complaint about lack of headroom, albeit from a taller-than-average person.

Of course, such a clever package doesn't come cheap. The Quest we test drove, the SE trim level loaded with options, rang in at a steep $36,490. On sale this month, the stripped-down S trim level is priced between $24,600-$27,000, while the middle SL grade prices between $27,000-$33,000.

Pricey? Yes — but then you can buy six stylish and sporty Quests for the price of a Bentley.

2004 Nissan Quest SE

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, 7-passenger 4-door minivan

Engine: 3.5L (3,498 cc) DOHC V-6 aluminum block/aluminum heads

Power (SAE net): 240 hp @ 5,800 rpm

Torque: 242 lb.-ft. (328 Nm) @ 4,400 rpm

Compression ratio: 10.3:1

Bore × Stroke (mm): 95.5 × 81.4

Transmission: 5-speed automatic

Wheelbase: 124 ins. (315 cm)

Overall length: 204.1 ins. (518 cm)

Overall width: 77.6 ins. (197 cm)

Overall height: 67.3 ins. (171 cm)

Curb weight: 4,175 lbs. (1,894 kg)

Market competition: Dodge Caravan; Ford Windstar; Honda Odyssey; Kia Sedona; Toyota Sienna