Most people associate the Mercury nameplate with large and luxurious sedans such as the opulent Grand Marquis, or with rebadged Ford economobiles such as the Tracer. Canadians may recall seeing that name on the tailgates of pickup trucks until a few years ago, but that particular aberration never made it to America. Mercury product planners are as aware as anyone of what goes on outside their own domain, and the healthy sales of minivans led them to ask Ford for a van of their own. Which is exactly what they almost got. As it happened, Nissan was looking to move deeper into minivan territory with something more mainstream than its existing vans, none of which were doing big box-office at the time. To make a long story shorter, Nissan and Ford joined forces to produce the Nissan Quest and Mercury Villager, near-identical twins assembled in a Ford facility in Ohio using components from Nissan parts bins. One result of this venture is that the Villager started life with the Quest as a close competitor. Beyond that, all the Villager has to do is entice buyers away from such stalwarts as the Chrysler minis, Ford Windstar, Mazda MPV and others. A tall order. Nonetheless, the Villager enters the arena with some definite points on its side. It may not be the best minivan of all (though it would be difficult, if not impossible, to pick an absolute best buy), but it's certainly good enough to deserve careful consideration from most minivan customers.