1997 CHEVROLET VENTURE
Used Truck - 1997 Chevrolet Venture in Hammonton, NJ
Actual costs may vary.
1997 Chevrolet Venture ReviewThis car review is specific to this model, not the actual vehicle for sale.
GM reinvents its minivans.
In the rising tide of minivans, General Motors has been treading water for years. Its long-nosed, plastic-bodied minivans--the Chevrolet Lumina, Pontiac Trans Sport, and Oldsmobile Silhouette, aka the 'Dustbusters'--never managed to catch a wave with consumers.
For 1997, General Motors launched a brand-new lineup of front-drive minivans. The designers have kept the best of the old--the sturdy 3.4-liter V6 engine, the modular seats that can be removed individually, and the power sliding door--and changed just about everything else.
The result is a group of thoroughly competent vehicles that belong on the shopping list of any minivan buyer.
The new models are immediately distinguished from their predecessors by their conventional good looks. The Dustbuster nose that made parking difficult and created acres of dusty dashboard has been trimmed to manageable proportions. The plastic body has been converted to less-expensive steel. And fresh colors modernize the look.
The Chevolet Venture (the minivan formerly known as Lumina) and its Oldsmobile and Pontiac siblings (still known by their former names) are quite similar in exterior appearance. The Venture sports a big chrome grille. The Trans Sport and Silhouette have more modest front ends, with twin dark grille openings flanking the appropriate badge.
Buyers looking for something a little different should take a look at the Trans Sport Montana. Intended to attract folks who need a minivan but wish they could buy a sport-utility, the Montana has SUV styling cues such as two-tone paint with lower body cladding, foglights and brawny front bumpers. Its exclusive sport suspension, with stiffer springs and larger self-leveling air shocks improves handling, but the Montana lacks the four-wheel-drive and higher ground clearance of a real SUV.
All the minivans come in short- and long-wheelbase versions. The overall lengths are similar to the comparable Chrysler minivans, but the GM models are almost five inches narrower, and are easier to enter or exit in a garage or tight parking space. Step-in height is comfortably low.
The four-door long-wheelbase Venture LS we tested had a second sliding door behind the driver's door for convenient loading of goods or passengers. (Dual doors won't be available until later this year on short-wheelbase models.) An even greater convenience is a feature exclusive to GM so far: a power sliding door on the passenger side ($350) that kids love and we found quite handy.
The door can be activated with the remote keyfob or buttons located above the driver's head or behind the front passenger seat. (The rear button locks out when the car is in gear.)
The power door is supposed to stop and reverse directions if it bumps into an obstacle. When we stuck in an arm to test it, the door squeezed rather hard before reversing. It moves slowly, however, and chirps as it closes. The power door can be closed manually, but requires a heavy yank to get going.
One more nice idea: a coating on the windshield keeps the interior cooler and functions as a radio antenna, cutting down on antenna-associated wind noise and car wash damage.
The Venture features a pleasant, open interior with simple, easy-to-reach controls. The list of standard features is commendable: air conditioning, power locks and mirrors, tilt wheel, and an overhead console.
Storage is plentiful with a big glovebox and up to 26 compartments, according to Chevrolet. A cargo net stretches between the two front seats on the LS model to store purses, phones and other stray objects. Less clever are the hard-to-reach cupholders that fold down from the sides of the front seats.
The modular seats make it easy to rearrange space in the rear. Seven-passenger seating is standard, and available in split or solid benches or bucket seats. Single or dual integrated child safety seats ($125-$250) are available. The second and third rows are raised slightly to give passengers a better view. The seat bottoms are relatively low, though, which will force some adults' knees uncomfortably high.
Seatbacks on the bucket seats flip down to provide a flat surface, or the whole seat can be folded up to make space for a big box and at 38 pounds, the seats can be removed by one person. Those who want leather seats or dual captain's chairs for the second row will need to shop an Olds or Pontiac store.
The wide pass-through makes transit between the front and the back easy, while numerous features make life in the back comfortable. High on any teenager's list would be the dual-jack rear audio controls that are optional on the Venture LS ($110). Back-seat passengers can listen to a tape or CD ($200) over headphones while front-seat passengers listen to the radio (or vice versa). Rear vents and climate controls will cut down on temperature complaints.
Cargo space is plentiful; maximum capacity is only 13 cubic feet less than Chrysler minivans despite the Venture's narrower width. Behind the third row of seats, the Venture has more space than the Chrysler. The LS has a net across the rear opening and two netted compartments at the sides of the rear cargo area to keep gallons of milk and tool kits from skidding. The one annoyance is a ridge across the floor at the rear that forces you to lift heavy objects out rather than slide them.
Some buyers may have questions after viewing the last-place showing of the Pontiac Trans Sport in an insurance-industry-sponsored 40-mph frontal offset crash test. Federal standards--which all U.S. vehicles meet--regulate performance only in head-on and side impacts.
Buyers should note that of the nine vans tested, only the Ford Windstar received a Good rating, so the issue involves more than just the GM minivans. Carmakers point out that there are no Federal standards for offset collisions, that the test was conducted at a much greater speed than any Federal test, that offset crashes constitute only a small proportion of all accidents, and that minivans in general have an excellent real-world safety record.
Overall, the Venture provides a relaxing driving environment, thanks to its quiet interior, car-like ride and handling, and robust engine, a 180-horsepower 3.4-liter V6 that is more powerful than the standard engines of its competitors. The V6 provides plenty of start-up oomph and passing power at cruising speed. It is paired with a smooth-shifting four-speed automatic transmission. The firm, accurate steering saves the driver from constant corrections at higher speeds.
The model we tested was equipped with the optional touring suspension with automatic load leveling in the rear ($180). In general, the handling was responsive and controlled. The ride tended to the firm side, but with little body roll. The standard suspension would have less harshness but more roll.
Four-wheel antilock brakes are standard, and traction control ($175) can provide extra security.
General Motors has caught up with the rest of the minivan world. The Venture and its siblings haven't quite moved to the head of the class (Chrysler still has an edge in refinement and capacity), but they are solid contenders.
The modular seats work well with the multiple demands of minivan owners, and the power sliding door is a great help when juggling kids and groceries. The Venture and its clones are a welcome addition to the minivan fleet.
Options As Tested
Touring suspension, traction control, 15-in. cast aluminum wheels, self-sealing tires, uplevel AM/FM/CD/cassette with rear controls, single integrated child seat, power sliding door.
LS 4-door extended wheelbase.