ANN ARBOR, MI – Nissan North America Inc. stuck its neck out when it launched the current-generation Quest minivan in 2003.

The auto maker wanted to go in a radically different direction with the people mover, straying from the predictable in a bid to create a minivan known more for its style than its functionality.

In the passenger compartment, Nissan ripped up the rulebook by placing the vehicle’s gauges to the right of the steering wheel, above the oddly shaped round instrument panel pod.

It was refreshing to see an auto maker take such a risk, especially in this segment, which, since the debut of the Chrysler Corp. minivans in 1983, has been populated year-after-year by boring sheet metal and ho-hum cabins.

In certain cases a rip-up of the rulebook leads to success, but the Quest had no such luck.

While Nissan’s U.S. sales rose 9.2% last year, sales of the Quest fell 13.1%.

Admitting the Quest’s interior was too offbeat for most people, Nissan went back to the drawing board, revamping the interior for the cool sum of $70 million, the most money ever spent on a mid-cycle model change for the brand.

For the ’07 model year, the Quest gets no mechanical tweaks or new sheet metal.

Besides being quirky, the old Quest interior was not very user friendly. Returning the instrument clusters directly in front of the driver – rather than offset in the center of the instrument panel – will please the masses.

Just below the center stack, a smile-shaped piece of faux wood trim accents the lower portion of the instrument panel. Its grayish-beige hue looks trendy, as many have come to expect from Nissan.

The gear shift lever remains mounted on the instrument panel, to the right of the steering wheel.

Buttons and knobs for the climate control and audio system are positioned in a more conventional, vertical layout, rather than lying flat, as they did in the old Quest. Climate-control knobs are a bit smaller on the new model and now are trimmed with chrome-like bezels.

Materials used are high quality. This is one area in which Nissan is becoming very competitive. In some cases, the Quest’s interior materials even outdo those used in certain new Toyota Motor Corp. models.

Fit and finish was relatively good for the pre-production Quest we drove. There were only a few small ill-fitting trim pieces – for instance, above the vents where the instrument panel skin meets hard plastic.

Another noticeable glitch: The built-in sunshades that cover the Quest’s signature divided-panel sunroof were tightly tensioned and difficult to latch.

Johnson Controls Inc. continues to supply the Quest’s stylishly slim seats. A new perforated leather in a color Nissan calls “chili,” a saddle-esque shade, is available.

The third row offers an interesting innovation: articulating headrests. Unlike most headrests, these are controlled solely with the pull cord on the back of the third-row seat, requiring no separate handiwork to position them up or down.

When the seat is folded down, they collapse against the seat, nearly a 180-degree movement. However, when the third row is popped back up, headrests must be adjusted manually.

The third row seat is easier to collapse and raise, due to added spring assists.

The exterior of the Quest does offer a few changes, most notably a newly designed grille that will be present on all Nissan models. Gone is the solid black plastic center on which the Nissan emblem rests. It has been replaced by a more attractive chrome-trimmed grille, with the emblem resting on horizontal bars.

For ’07, the Quest also gets standard chrome door handles, and the vehicle’s roof rack is chrome, as well.

And, while no mechanical changes have been made, the Quest continues to perform admirably for a minivan, thanks in no small part to Nissan’s award-winning 3.5L “VQ” V-6, which produces 240 hp and 242 lb.-ft. (328 Nm) of torque.

The refreshed Quest is a step in the right direction for Nissan. Yes, the old Quest was stylistically exciting, but it fell short of market expectations – and Nissan is in business to sell cars, not make fashion statements.

The revamped Quest, available in four trims, goes on sale in June at U.S. Nissan dealers.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com