New Car/Review

1998 CHEVROLET ASTRO AWD LT

by Matt/Bob Hagin

chevrolet

SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide


SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 22,374
Price As Tested                                    $ 30,009
Engine Type                OHV 12-valve 4.3 Liter V6 w/SFI*
Engine Size                                 262 cid/4300 cc
Horsepower                                   190 @ 4400 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               250 @ 2800 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  111.2"/77.5"/189.8"
Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     4446 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                    25 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                     P215/75R15
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/drum (ABS)
Drive Train                    Front-engine/all-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                      Seven-passenger/four-door
Domestic Content                                        N/A
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            15/19/15
0-60 MPH                                         11 seconds
Max. payload capacity                           1673 pounds
Max. towing capacity                            5000 pounds
     * Sequential fuel injection

(Matt Hagin says that the best of all auto worlds for a skier is a mini-van with all-wheel-drive. His dad, Bob, says that no matter how appealing the Chevy Astrovan AWD is, he's done with snow, even for fun.)

MATT - I know that in many areas of the country having an all-wheel- drive vehicle is almost a necessity when city streets and country roads are covered with ice and snow, but these systems have recreational value too. Being an skier, I look forward to the weekends in the snow when we have a full-time all-wheel-drive vehicle so that I don't have to stop on the highway to have chains installed. It's also a handy item when the roads are slick from rain or patches of ice but not bad enough to require chains. Although it can be had as a two-wheel drive, with all-wheel-drive, the Astrovan fills the all-weather bill perfectly. It's like an SUV but with more seating and cargo capacity and without the "politically incorrect" image that SUVs have been saddled with lately.

BOB - That's a pretty good analogy, Matt. The Astrovan is built on a truck platform with its longitudinal engine up in front driving through a four-speed automatic transmission to a solid axle in back. Its V6 engine is a bit dated as are all Chevy truck powerplants with two valves per cylinder that are operated by pushrods, but it puts out plenty of power. It has 190 horses and its 250 pounds/feet of torque gives it lots or "grunt." With the optional towing package, it can tow up to 5500 pounds and unladen, I can't think of another minivan that can stay with it at a stoplight face-off.

MATT - The minivan title is something of a misnomer, Dad. All the other "family" vans now on the market are passenger-car based with a front-engine/front-drive configuration while the Astrovan is really a big cargo van shrunken down and "sanitized" with lots of seating capacity and all the usual passenger car amenities. And that "antique" engine isn't quite so old-fashioned either. Its been around long enough to have the bugs worked out and its designers engineered an internal balance shaft into it to dampen out vibrations as the power went up. The Astrovan is reported to be bulldog-tough which is in keeping with the reputation that Chevy trucks have gotten over the years.

BOB - The Astrovan is about as utilitarian a vehicle as a family can get, Matt. With both of the rear seats in place it can hold up to eight adults although I wouldn't want to be part of the crew if it was going cross-country. Air conditioning is standard all Astrovans but to get it into the rear costs another $523 and there are safety child seats available on the two seats in the rear. It's styling is definitely not "chic" and its as aerodynamic as a barn but I like the fact that the driver sits up high enough to see over the tops of most minivans although it could use more foot room up front. It's not a lightweight at 4400 pounds nor is a gas-sipper with fuel mileage that's listed at 15 around town and 19 on the highway.

MATT - The all-wheel-drive system thinks for itself, Dad. Its a conventional rear-drive until the "brain" detects tire slippage at the rear and then it applies torque to the front wheels as it's needed. This cuts down on the wear and tear on the system when the weather is good and the streets are firm and dry. When street conditions are sloppy, the driver can put the gear selector in 2ND and the rig will pull away in the next higher gear to avoid spinning the back wheels and losing traction. The back door on the version we had was a "Dutch door" with a one-piece glass hatchback that swung up with two side-swinging doors taking the place of a tailgate. Once the two rear seats are wrestled out of the back, it can almost double as a pickup truck. It's then wide enough and deep enough to slide in 4X8 sheets of plywood until the rear leaf springs sag and it could still pull away smartly. Skis and other winter gear can be stowed inside and still get the average family comfortably seated inside while going to a winter sports area.

BOB - When you and your family get there, Matt, don't forget to take some snapshots for me. That's about as close as I want to get to being in that kind of cold weather.

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