I bought this van used in 2001 and I must say it's the most reliable car I ever owned. I just hit 100000 miles and the only issue I've had was having to replace the ac which cost $900. The gas mileage is great for a van.
We bought this minivan used in '05 for $5000 with 77,000 miles on it. Excellent paint job- little to no rust for a 11 yr old New England van! We've put on 35,000 miles in 2.5 yrs of owning it and spent $5000 in repairs including an engine rebuild and power steering work. That was largely the result of purchasing from an unscrupulous dealer. After the initial expenses, the minivan has done amazingly even in VT winters and I have used it extensively. It came with a roof rack, keyless entry, power windows and cruise control. Assuming if I can keep its annual repair costs under $ 1000, I will keep this car until the rust takes it down!
The 97 Venture is OK except for a few flaws. The major one is the transmission. I've had to replace mine shortly after the purchase. Now it seems to be functioning great. I dislike the location of the cupholders next to the seat...easy to spill stuff. I also dislike the fact that the wiper system breaks. I do wish the driver side door was standard but that doesn't come until 2000. However, I do love the look of the minivan interior and exterior. I just wish it didn't rust and chip easy. It has great acceleration and has great gas mileage (better than my friends Caravan Sport). It handles pretty great. Need to haul stuff...take out the seats and you have yourself a cargo van.
Its power, gas mileage, versatility, features available considering its a base model(power windows, tinted windows, roof rack, cargo nets, power mirrors, AC)
Transmission primarily. Although the 98+ gets a redesign, the 97 does have its pitfalls. Also the driver side door would be nice as a standard feature(available in 2000). The wiper system needs work since they park upright when system malfunctions and/or the rear system motor burning out.