What's New for 1997
Complete redesign of Chevy's minivan results in a new name, a left-side sliding door, optional traction control, a powerful standard engine and a fun-to-drive demeanor.
If you didn't know Chevrolet produced a minivan other than the Astro, you will soon. The hideous Lumina Minivan has gone to that plastic recycling center in car heaven, replaced by a conservative, steel-bodied family hauler that was developed in concert with GM's European Opel division. The new Venture, as the van is so aptly monikered, is an outstanding entry in the minivan market, featuring an available driver's side sliding door, optional traction control, optional integrated child seats, standard antilock brakes, and enough power to make it fun to drive.
Two versions are available on two different wheelbases: base or LS trim on a 112-inch or 120-inch wheelbase. Choose between three- or four-door body styles, and all Ventures come equipped with a 180-horsepower 3.4-liter V6 engine. Designed to satisfy consumers on either side of the Atlantic Ocean, the Venture surprises with a communicative chassis, sharp steering, and nimble handling while providing room inside for up to seven passengers and a good amount of their belongings.
Like to drink and drive (soda, water, or juice, that is)? The Venture accommodates with cup and drink box holders galore. Don't worry too much about Junior spilling Hawaiian Punch either, because Chevrolet Scotchgards all fabrics at the factory. Several seating configurations are available, with the most user-friendly but least comfortable setup being the multi-configurable modular buckets. Weighing just 38 pounds each, they're easy to install, remove, and re-arrange, but they're mighty uncomfortable for adults. Front buckets are much more soothing for elder backsides.
Cool stuff includes optional rear seat audio controls that allow rear passengers to listen to a CD via headphones while front passengers catch NPR on the radio. Also available are rear seat heat and air conditioning controls, a load-leveling suspension complete with auxiliary air hose, and daytime running lamps that illuminate parking lights instead of headlights. Uncool is the toothy chrome eggcrate grille up front that screams "MOMMOBILE." At least there's no fake wood siding, no body cladding, and no gold package.
Our main reservation about the Venture concerns crashworthiness. Recently, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety conducted 40 mph offset crash tests of the Pontiac Trans Sport, which is essentially a clone of the Venture. The Trans Sport did not fare well in the test. True, there are no federal regulations in place regarding offset crashworthiness, but the Ford Windstar has performed wonderfully in both offset and head-on crash testing. The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration crashed a Venture head-on into a fixed barrier later in the year, and the van performed well. Contradictory results mean consumers will have to weigh this van more carefully against the competition.
We like the Venture, in case you hadn't already guessed. Pontiac and Oldsmobile serve up versions of the same van (Oldsmobile's is called Silhouette), and any of the three would make a dandy alternative to Chrysler and import minivans. In the case of the Chevy, though, we'll wait for stylists to offer an LTZ model with body-color grille (yeah, like that's gonna happen).