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The Chevrolet Venture (Pontiac Trans Sport / Montana)

Many people still have not heard of this minivan, thanks to one of the world's worst advertising campaigns. The slogan has little to do with the vehicle, and its many strengths seem to have been ignored by the ad agency. That's a shame.

The Chevrolet Venture, like the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth - Chrysler Voyager, is a well-mannered, civilized vehicle that would have been classified as a luxury car not long ago. Once the rearmost seats are removed, it can accommodate a great deal of cargo; yet it rides quite nicely, handles well, and accelerates with ease, thanks to a standard 180 hp engine. All Ventures come with the same responsive, smooth-idling 180 hp engine, which is capable of handling heavy loads or fast acceleration easily. The Venture was amazingly quick and excelled at passing, thanks to its responsive engine and quick kick-down.

The Venture's extended-wheelbase version has about 12 cubic feet more room than the Ford Windstar, which is in the same price class. Clear removal instructions are sewn onto the optional 38-lb seats: pull on one loop, then pull on the other, squeeze a wire, and lift. Installation is also easy after the first time, though we recommend reading the instructions (in the owner's manual). The standard bench seats are more difficult to remove, but they do fold flat to make space.

The interior was very well done, except for the usual GM high beams/washer/ wiper/cruise control/turn signal stalk. There were a few removable rubber surfaces which kept noise down by providing quiet places for coins and gadgets. Most controls were easy to use, but the sun visors were inadequate for the wide windshield. Visibility was surprisingly good, though our test vehicle was aided by oversized mirrors from the towing package.

Getting in and out was easy, though you have to step back quickly when opening the rear liftgate. Its unique electric sliding door, well implemented, was nice but not invaluable.

The Venture has side-impact airbags, an unusual safety feature. The daytime running lights light turn signal bulbs rather than the high beams, to avoid annoying other drivers. We wish that GM would adopt this technology for all of its cars, including the ubiquitous Prizm/Corolla (the Corolla, though almost entirely a Toyota product, uses GM daytime running light technology, which just shows that the Japanese aren't perfect).

The GM minivans could still learn from Chrysler, which makes a considerably cheaper model with nearly the same positive attributes, puts wheels on its seats to make them easier to roll around (and install), and, as you would expect, has far superior cup-holders.

Most motorists should opt for the touring suspension (about $200-250) and the trailer towing package (about $150), which includes components that can keep your long-term repair costs down.

The Venture drove like a luxury sedan, with little wind noise, smooth suspension and strong acceleration, and good handling and braking. Blame its poor sales on forgettable advertising. If it was sold by Ford, there would be Ventures everywhere.

We liked the Venture's engine, which is stronger than its competitors' base engines, and its crisp handling. This minivan seems clearly superior to the Windstar, and our testers were divided between the Venture and the 1996-2000 Chrysler minivans, with the nod eventually going to the Grand Caravan. The current generation of Chrysler minivans is, in our opinion, the best you can get - but if you want an alternative, we do suggest the Chevrolets.

 

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