SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide
General Motors's first minivans broke plenty of new ground when they were introduced back in 1989. Futuristic styling with a long nose and huge, steeply-raked windshield, and space-frame construction with dent-resistant plastic body panels made them unique. Unfortunately, the styling was too futuristic for many people, and sales suffered. A later restyling, with a shortened nose, and additional features like an innovative remote-controlled electric sliding passenger door, helped somewhat, but the handwriting was on the wall. Conservatism is the way to success in the minivan market.
The second generation of GM minivans has arrived for 1997. Other divisions have kept their old names, but Chevrolet figures that its version deserves a new name. So, welcome Venture, goodbye Lumina Minivan, ending confusion with the existing Lumina sedan as a bonus. Offered in short or long wheelbase form, the Venture is far closer to the mainstream of minivan design, but maintains its distinctive identity. The optional power-operated door continues on long-wheelbase models, and a driver's-side sliding passenger door is also available. The "Sungate" solar coating in the windshield not only helps keep the interior cooler, it serves as the radio antenna. A comfortable, versatile interior should fill many family needs.
A week with a 1997 Chevrolet Venture left me impressed with its versatility and accessibility. And, it had plenty of power, good comfort, very good handling, and far more interior space than any comparably-sized sport-utility. There is a lot to like about the new Venture.
APPEARANCE: The Chevrolet Venture is a minivan in the modern mold with no pretensions to being anything else. It can't be called "boxy", as there are few straight lines or flat surfaces in its design. It is functional and practical, with a large passenger cabin and small, steeply-sloping hood. A massive-looking chromed egg-crate grille is the only styling feature that isn't immediately apparent as functional, and it gives the Venture its strong Chevrolet identity.
COMFORT: Minivans are all about interior space and accessibility. The Venture is a winner in those categories, particularly in long- wheelbase form with both the power-operated passenger sliding door and the driver's side sliding door. Those features, and lightweight second and third row split-bench seats that are adjustable fore and aft and can be separately flipped, folded, or removed, give the Venture an amazing amount of flexibility of use. The same van can carry seven people, or an enormous amount of cargo, or anything in between. With access from both sides, an easy-opening, low-liftover liftgate in the rear, and multiple seating configurations, the Venture is versatile. My test example had good interior fit and finish, and very comfortable seats with cloth upholstery that was just the right color and pattern for minimizing the visual impact of minor family disasters. A cargo net between the front seats and many storage spaces and cupholders around the interior are all very useful. A modern instrument panel presents gauges and controls in an easy-to-use manner, and second-row passengers have their own audio controls and headphone jacks. The top of the dash is far shorter than in the original Lumina minivan, and the forward part is dark-colored for glare reduction. The power right- side sliding door has controls on an overhead console behind the rear- view mirror, in front of the door, and on the remote-entry fob.
SAFETY: In addition to dual air bags, a strong passenger cabin with crumple zones, and door beams, the Venture has standard antilock brakes, daytime running lights, and child safety locks. Traction control and puncture-resistant self-sealing tires are available.
ROADABILITY: The Venture has a smooth, comfortable ride with no tendency to pitch or roll. There is no suspension harshness. Steering feel is very good, with just the right amount of boost in the power assist. Wind, road, and mechanical noise levels are low. The Venture feels very much like a large, well-designed sedan, except for all that room. The relatively high driving position is good for visibility, but care must be taken in tight parking spots as the ends of the vehicle are not readily visible. Large mirrors help reduce blind spots.
PERFORMANCE: The only engine available in the Venture just happens to be the most powerful standard engine in the minivan class. With 180-horsepower, the 3400 V6 moves the Venture down the road very well. Some minivans are sluggish. Not this one. It has no problem keeping up with traffic or climbing hills. With the optional towing package, it can tow up to 3500 lbs. The 4-speed electronically- controlled automatic transmission shifts quickly, smoothly, and quietly.
CONCLUSIONS: With the new Venture minivan, Chevrolet has traded controversial styling for functional improvement. It is closer to the minivan mainstream, and better for the fact.
SPECIFICATIONS 1997 Chevrolet Venture Minivan Base Price $ 22,699 Price As Tested $ 26,049 Engine Type V6, pushrod overhead valve Engine Size 3.4 liters / 207 cu. in. Horsepower 180 @ 5200 Torque (lb-ft) 205 @ 4000 Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 120 in. / 200.9 in. Curb Weight 3792 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 21 Fuel Capacity 25 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular Tires P215/70 R15 General XP2000 GT Brakes, front/rear vented disc / drum, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / semi-independent with coil springs Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed est. 18/25, 19 0 to 60 mph est. 9.8 sec Towing capacity 3500 lbs.