1996 PLYMOUTH VOYAGER BASE
Used Truck - 1996 Plymouth Voyager Base in Manassas, Va
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1996 Plymouth Voyager ReviewThis car review is specific to this model, not the actual vehicle for sale.
Better than ever. Better than most.
It has been smooth sailing for Chrysler ever since the company launched its minivan in 1984 and took ownership of the genre. The only other company to challenge Chrysler's dominance has been Ford, whose Windstar briefly became the darling of the critics with its cleaner looks and greater cargo capacity.
But that was last year. This year Chrysler strikes back with the first ground-up redesign of the minivan since it was introduced. In hundreds of little ways and several critical big ways, the 1996 Chrysler minivan is better than ever. And better than any other.
The Plymouth Voyager (and its sibling the Dodge Caravan) is the short version of the Chrysler minivan. They are 6 in. shorter than the Grand Voyager and Grand Caravan. The wheelbases are 6 in. shorter as well, giving the vehicles a 2-ft. shorter turning circle.
All the new minivans, both long and short, are larger for 1996. The Voyager and Caravan are 8.2 in. longer, 3.5 in. wider, and 2.5 in. taller than their predecessors. The larger size and better interior packaging give the basic Voyager more cargo capacity than the old Grand Voyager, and more capacity even than the longer Windstar.
With three rows of seating, the previous model didn't have room for much more than a few gallons of milk and some groceries. Now there is 15.9 cu. ft. aft of the third bench, which translates to floor space for 10 grocery bags and vertical space for many taller objects. Many people who stepped up to the Grand version solely for the cargo space may now be able to opt for the smaller, more nimble model.
If more cargo space is needed, the third bench can be removed, creating 50.8 cu. ft. of space in addition to seating for five. Clever new roller devices make removing the benches easier. Push down on a lever and the bench rises up on little wheels to roll to the rear door. The lever requires a strong push, and getting the heavy bench seat down to the ground is still a two-person job, but the wheels eliminate the awkward inside wrestling job. And you may not even need to do it: For the first time, the middle and rear seatbacks fully fold, allowing you to carry the proverbial 4x8 sheet of plywood without removing seats.
Despite its increased dimensios, the new minivan looks the same size as before. The rounded corners minimize the sense of bulk, and also contribute to better aerodynamics, better fuel economy and less interior noise. Chrysler employed other visual tricks as well, including taller windows--which give a more car-like proportion of metal to glass--and larger wheels and tires. Another clever detail is the way the track for the sliding door is hidden at the bottom of the side window, which helps the aerodynamics and cleans up the appearance.
One of the smartest ideas of the new design lies right behind the driver's door: an optional second sliding door for the middle seat. It's one of those things you look at and think, why in the world didn't anyone do this before. Some parents perceive it as less safe, but that seems overanxious given the presence of child-proof rear locks. Consequently, the driver's side sliding door was made an option ($450) that about 85% of buyers are choosing so far. We found its convenience irresistible.
The minivan helped to rescue Chrysler in the '80s, and 'the blessed box' has been a coporate mainstay ever since. Consequently, the best and the brightest work on it, and the attention shows. The new interior is a miracle of intelligence. Each piece performs its function perfectly and is rendered nicely, with excellent fit and finish.
By angling the center console, all but the radio and climate controls (which passengers want to access, too) are within easy reach of the driver. A thin eyebrow display runs across the top of the dashboard, providing immediate visibility for emergency warnings, such as temperature problems or antilock brake malfunction. The other gauges for speed, fuel, etc. are in the usual location on the instrument panel. Dropping the hoodline 4 in. improves visibility for the driver. An optional warming grid on the windshield de-ices the wipers, a clever idea unique to Chrysler.
Safety is a top priority among minivan buyers and the new minivan delivers. Chrysler did more than any other carmaker to bring height-adjustable seatbelts into the mainstream, and now they've been installed on the middle bench, too, where the young children who most need them are likely to be seated. Seatbelt buckles are flush with the cushion instead of mounted on a stalk, which holds child seats more tightly. The integrated child seats have been redesigned for more comfort and have new seatbelts that can be fastened with one hand. The belts have a tighter fit than before, which is safer but our 3-year-old assistant did grouse about the snugness.
Small touches throughout the minivan increase comfort. The pull-out cupholders have ratcheting sides that accommodate a wide range of cups and mugs. The cupholder shelf includes a coinholder and small storage bin, handy items that are often obscured on other vehicles when the cupholders are in use. Storage bins are lined with ribbed rubber to lessen rattles, and the vanity mirrors even have dimmers. Locks hold the sliding doors open more securely.
The Voyager comes in two trim levels, the 'Family Value' base model and our SE tester, with base prices about $2700 apart. Powered by the same engine, the two models differ primarily in standard and optional features. The higher level of standard features on the SE includes 7-passenger seating instead of five, a cassette player, a tilt steering wheel and an underseat storage drawer. Certain options are only available on the SE: the 3.3-liter V6, the premium Infinity radio, keyless remote entry, and bucket seats.
For those who need a minivan but wish they had a sports car, the Voyager Rallye or Dodge Caravan Sport models might provide a little solace. (Base price for the Rallye is $22,060.) Available only on short-wheelbase models, these packages consist of a firmer, sportier suspension, darker windows, a different grille, and some fancy graphics on the exterior.
The 1996 Chrysler minivan has achieved new standards in ride and handling. It is still a box--it's tall and it leans--but it is a darned refined box.
For openers, it is far more maneuverable. By increasing the front track, the turning circle on the short-wheelbase vans has been reduced 3 ft., making them more nimble in parking lots.
The overall sense of stability is much improved. Torsional rigidity of the new 4-door model is 50% better than the old 3-door models. Add that to reduced steering column shake, more precise steering, less body roll, and less interior noise, and you have a solid-feeling vehicle that has far more in common with a good sedan than a truck.
Powertrain choices for the Voyager and Caravan are better this year, too. The base engine is an all-new 2.4-liter dohc 16-valve 4-cylinder model that produces 150 hp at 5200 rpm. It is a substantial improvement over last year's 100-hp 2.5-liter four, which was barely adequate. People who don't live in hilly areas or haul whole soccer teams regularly will probably find the 4-cylinder quite satisfactory.
Up from there are two V6s: a 150-hp 3.0-liter from Mitsubishi and a Chrysler-built 158-hp 3.3-liter engine. We tested the 3.3 and found it well-suited to the van. If you want to step up to a V6, the 3.3-liter is the better choice for performance, smoothness and durability. (It is available as an option only on the SE.) All the engines have been refined to reduce noise, and provide a more refined experience.
Base Voyagers (and Caravans) are fitted with 3-speed hydraulically-operated automatic transmissions. The SE has a 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic. The 3-speed is not a bad transmission, particularly since the 4-speed is not a model of smoothness. The biggest drawback to the 3-speed is the lack of an overdrive gear, which means a little less fuel economy and more engine noise on the highway.
Bless Chrysler for making such a handy vehicle. The raison d'etre of a minivan is its functionality, and the new Voyager and Caravan offer all the pleasure of a well-designed and well-made tool. In a week of steady use, we rarely encountered anything awkward or misplaced.
The increased cargo capacity and improved base engine have increased the appeal of the short-wheelbase models. The price differential isn't enormous ($1250 between the Voyager and the Grand Voyager) but the nimbleness of the standard Voyager makes it easier to live with than its Grand cousin.
St. Louis, MO; Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
Options As Tested
Air conditioning, rear window defroster, windshield wiper de-icer, power windows, 3.3-liter V6, driver-side sliding door.