Nissan unveiled its all-new 2004 Maxima sports sedan and redesigned 2004 Quest minivan at a press conference at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

The Maxima

The Quest was previously built by Ford, which sold its own version as the Mercury Villager, but the new minivan is a Nissan designed and built model, with a nose reminiscent of Europe's Renault Espace.

Both vehicles will be available later this year as 2004 models.

The sixth generation Maxima continues with the VQ 3.5-litre DOHC 24-valve V6 boosted to 265 horsepower and 255 lb-ft torque. An all-new multi-link independent rear suspension provides superior handling and increased ride comfort.

Innovations including a new 'Skyview' roof, with glass panels running lengthwise over the front and rear seats, and a new 'elite' package, which features a fixed, full rear centre console that creates optional four-passenger seating.

The 2004 model is available in two models: sporty 3.5 SE and the luxurious 3.5 SL. A number of options and packages are available, including premium audio, sensory, 'driver preferred', journey and the elite two-passenger rear seating.

For the first time, the Maxima will be assembled in the United States, at Nissan's manufacturing facility in Smyrna, Tennesse, alongside the Altima with which it shares its platform.

Nissan claims a revolutionary, category-redefining approach to the minivan when penning the 2004 Quest - one designed to add a missing element of style and personality while at the same time improving on the traditional minivan strengths of functionality, utility and safety features.

It is the first of four new vehicles scheduled to be assembled at Nissan's new $US1.43 billion manufacturing facility in Canton, Mississippi.

The Quest is claimed to offer an "unusual" focus on driving enjoyment due to four-wheel independent suspension and 3.5-litre V6 engine producing 235 horsepower and 246 lb-ft of torque.

The Quest

"We wanted to avoid the anonymous box design that has become the industry standard in the minivan class," said a spokesman. "We wanted to accentuate the wheels, because Nissan is all about the driving. The body is well balanced on the wheels and overall Quest has strong Nissan styling cues, such as in the grille design."

The new Quest is considerably larger than the previous two generations and will also be built on the Altima platform, along with the Murano crossover sport utility vehicle and Maxima.

With one of the longest wheelbases in class, it allows for innovative 2nd and 3rd row flat folding seats which retract into the floor and avoid the need, with most rivals, to remove seats when extra room is needed.

The flat folding seats also allow owners the luxury of purchasing large or bulky items on a whim and still being able to transport them home.

The designers also rethought the traditional minivan interior architecture, with the shape of the central control stack - with the speedometer and other dials almost central above - taking on the look and feel of a desk or table, and leaving ample legroom for driver and front passenger to easily turn around toward the rear of the Quest.

Another Quest innovation is the optional Skyview roof, a series of four panoramic glass roof panels for the 2nd and 3rd rows that (along with the front sunroof) help enhance the use of natural light throughout the rear of the vehicle.

Standard head curtain air bags  are said to be among the first available in the minivan segment.

The new Quest will be offered with three trim levels.