What's New for 1999
Venture gets some performance and safety enhancements. Other changes include additional seating choices, four new exterior and two new interior colors, as well as wider standard tires. There's a new LT model that packages an upgraded audio system with a touring suspension, traction control and captain's seats with available leather.
It should be no surprise that Venture has surpassed previous Chevrolet minivan sales records, given the limited appeal of its mini-vac shaped, plastic-bodied predecessor, the Lumina Minivan. What is noteworthy is the Venture's competitive edge in today's hotly contested minivan market. Developed in concert with GM's European Opel division,
Venture enters its third model year wearing conservative yet modern sheetmetal capped by a toothy chrome grille. Looks aside, this minivan's strong suit is versatility, which has helped it gain a couple of "Best Buy'' accolades from the motoring media as well as our own nod as an outstanding entry in this ever-evolving segment. Its success can be measured by a number of functional family features, including an available driver-side sliding door, optional passenger-side power sliding door, available modular seating, optional integrated child seats, standard four-wheel antilock brakes and optional tractioncontrol ? even the ability to pull a 3,500 pound trailer load.
Three versions are available, in Base, LS or new-for-'99 LT trim. Choose a 112-inch wheelbase in three- or four-door bodystyles, or the 120-inch wheelbase as a four-door only. All Ventures come equipped with a 3.4-liter V6 that makes 185 horsepower, up from last year's 180, and a healthy 210 foot-pounds of torque. Designed to satisfy consumers on either side of the Atlantic Ocean, the Venture treats drivers with a communicative chassis, sharp steering, and almost nimble handling, all while providing room inside for up to eight passengers and a good amount of their belongings.
While the additional power is welcome, two other upgrades combine for improved driveability. The move to GM's 4T65-E fully electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission with overdrive better matches shifting smoothness to engine performance. And going from P205s to P215/70R-15 tires as standard equipment provides a bigger footprint and better roadholding.
Other updates this year include making the rear window defogger standard and adding heated outside rearview mirrors. To help sweeten cabin air, a charcoal air filter is now part of the ventilation system. And four new metallic paints, in shades of blue, green, red and silver, join two leather interiors in neutral or gray on the color palette. Some carryover features worth noting are the optional dual-mode audio unit which allows rear passengers to listen to a CD via headphones while front passengers catch traffic reports on the radio, and a load-leveling suspension complete with auxiliary air hose. And for those who want a minivan for work instead of play, a Taxi Van model joins the Cargo Van in the 1999 Venture lineup.
Seating can be configured in several ways, beginning with the standard seven places among the front buckets, second-row 60/40 and third- row 50/50 split bench seats. New this year is an optional eight-seat setup that (thanks to the use of flip-and-fold modular buckets that weigh just 38 pounds each) can be easily removed or re-arranged to handle 32 different combinations of passengers and cargo. Not to be outdone by cubbyhole-happy Chrysler, Chevy's Venture can be outfitted with as many as 17 cup and drink box holders, as well as up to 26 storage compartments, including underseat stowage and a removable CD/cassette bin that can be locked inside the glove box.
Last year, while Chrysler was bragging that it pioneered the four-door minivan and Ford was dodging talk about doors to play up how well its Windstar scored in government crash tests, Chevrolet made the Venture the first of its ilk to receive standard side-impact airbags for both front passengers. Solidly in Venture's court, we had teased Chevy to offer an LTZ model with body-color grille. Well, GM responded with a Venture LT package, complete with custom leather seating, upgraded sound system, rear air and audio controls, a touring suspension and traction control. Not bad, but how about adding the "Z'' part of that equation next time and giving us a lower stance, a sporty wheel/tire package and a throaty exhaust note? Oh, and we'd still like that body-color grille.
Yes, we like the Venture, and whether you prefer the Chevy flavor or the Pontiac (Montana) and Oldsmobile (Silhouette) versions of the same van, we think any of the three finally have the credentials to go toe-to-toe with Chrysler, Ford and import minivans.