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Standard ABS. Standard side airbags. Optional traction control. Powerful V-6 engine. Montana's SUV-like styling camoflauges Mom-mobile. Power sliding right-side door.
Uncomfortable rear seats.
Available Trans Sport Models
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Short-wheelbase models get the dual sliding doors and power-sliding door options. Side-impact airbags are standard, and a white two-tone paint job is new. Second-generation airbags are standard for front-seat occupants.
The difference is like night and day. Pontiac's current Trans Sport is so much better than the previous version that there is really no comparison. So forget about the bullet-nosed, plastic-bodied, Dustbuster Trans Sport of yesteryear. Pontiac is rewriting Chrysler's book on minivans.
How so? For starters, the Trans Sport features a standard 3.4-liter, 180-horsepower V6 engine. That's identical to what Chrysler offers with its top-of-the-line optional motor. Available, just like on the Chrysler vans, is a driver's-side sliding door. Buyers needing eight-passenger seating can select the Trans Sport, the only minivan on the market offering this configuration. Chrysler vans feature roll-away bench seats, but they're heavy suckers to unload. The Trans Sport can be equipped with modular seats that weigh just 38 pounds each and are relatively easy to remove.
This is one safe van, on paper. Traction control is optional, while dual airbags and anti-lock brakes are standard. For 1998, side airbags are also part of the standard equipment list. Daytime running lights operate the parking lamps rather than the headlights. If GM provided a similar arrangement on all DRL-equipped models, we bet the negative criticism for them wouldn't be nearly as severe or widespread. The new Trans Sport meets current side impact standards, too. Be warned, however, that the Trans Sport fared very poorly in offset crash testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but performed rather well during federal head-on crash runs. There are no federal standards governing offset crashworthiness.
The sliding door on the right side of the van can be equipped to open automatically with the push of a button. The ventilation system features a replaceable pollen filter, which is good news for allergy sufferers. Optional rear audio controls allow rear passengers to listen to a CD, cassette or stereo via headphones while front passengers listen to their choice of any of the three mediums simultaneously.
Around town, the Trans Sport feels downright spunky, with good throttle response and car-like handling. Braking is excellent for a 4,000-pound vehicle. Visibility is uncompromised, thanks in part to the huge exterior mirrors that effectively eliminate blind spots. Front seats are quite comfortable, and most controls are easy to see and use. If it weren't for the expansive windshield and high driving position, drivers might not realize the Trans Sport was a van.
Pontiac is pushing the Montana package, making Trans Sports thus equipped the focal point of the lineup. Product planners claim that the Montana bridges the gap between sport-utility and minivan. Ummm, we don't think so. It takes more than body-cladding, white-letter tires, alloy wheels, fog lights and traction control to match an SUV when it comes to capability. Heck, the press kit conveniently left out ground clearance in the specification table. Image is another matter, and the Montana does blur the line between minivan and sport-utility in terms of styling, but nobody will mistake this Pontiac for a Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Sounds good though, for a minivan. There are problems, however. Chief among them are seriously uncomfortable modular seats that provide little in the way of thigh and leg support. When sitting in one of the rear chairs, adult passengers will grow cranky quickly. The automatic sliding door is designed to reverse direction when it determines that an object is blocking its closure path. Be warned: the door doesn't behave like an elevator door. It can almost knock unsuspecting adults over before reversing. Teach children that they are strong enough to push the door back, and not to be afraid of getting squished if the door doesn't stop immediately. Other flaws include difficult-to-reach center console storage, lack of a power lock switch in the cargo area and excessive amounts of cheap-looking plastic inside.
Basically, we like the Trans Sport for its standard and optional features, combined with a pleasantly surprising fun-to-drive demeanor. So long as adult passengers drive or call shotgun, Pontiac's people mover makes perfect sense.
Laura's old car was costing her a small fortune every month for gas and repairs. She didn't even want to drive her kids to the park any more. But buying a new Kia Soul changed all that.