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New Car/Review

1997 Chevrolet Venture minivan

by John Heilig


SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide


ENGINE:  3.4-liter V-6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:  180hp @5200 rpm/205 lb-ft @4000 rpm
TRANSMISSION:  Four-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:   mpg city,   mpg highway,   mpg test
WHEELBASE:  112.0 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:  186.9 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:  72.0 in.
CURB WEIGHT:  3671 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:  20.0 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  126.6 cu. ft. (max.)
TIRES:   P205/70R15
INSTRUMENTS: Speedometer, fuel level, water temperature,
             digital clock.
EQUIPMENT: Power windows, power door locks, power mirrors,
           cruise control, air conditioner, power sliding door,
           rear wiper, AM-FM stereo radio with cassette,
           anti-lock braking, dual air bags.
STICKER PRICE: $23,000 (est.)

The Van Wars are heating up again, and it's obvious that the new General motors minivans are into the race for a change. I was never a fan of the "Dustbuster" vans (Chevy Lumina, Pontiac TranSport and Olds Silhouette). But after a week in the Chevrolet Venture, which replaced the Lumina, I am a fan.

Chrysler Corporation products have always led in the Van Wars. They've had the innovations and the product to maintain their commanding share of the market. General Motors has at least caught up and may be pushing for the lead now.

Why do I say this? A: The new GM minivans, as exemplified by the Venture, are conventionally styled. Gone is the long nose of the previous generation that I found disconcerting. Styling of the Venture is quite nice (there's not a lot you can do with a bread box). It has a chrome grille, which you don't often see in vehicles of this type, and it has four doors!. A sliding access door behind the driver's door is a requirement these days, and is one of the reasons Ford has slipped to third place in the Van Wars. Ford's Windstar is allegedly safer because of its structure. Ford has responded by enlarging the door of the Windstar, but you can't beat the extra convenience offered by that extra door.

Where Chevrolet has the edge is in the powered door on the passenger side. You can operate it with the key fob remote, or you can operate it from a switch on the overhead console. It's also safe, so that if someone's arm or head or leg is in the opening, the door will hit it then retract and will not sever that member.

In the rear is a lift hatch with a full-sized rear window that offers no blind spot in the center.

Inside, the Venture is very comfortable. Our tester had captain's chairs up front, a bench big enough for two passengers in the second row and a bench for three passengers in the third row. These seats are all convertible and they all come out so you can configure the seating any way you want. The fabric was an interesting tan. The front buckets had good side support and they had pull-down arm rests that added comfort. There were also pull-down armrests on the outside positions of the rear seats as well. In the second row there's also a built-in child seat.

There are also sound system controls and heating/cooling for the rear-seat passengers. Chevrolet may lose in the cupholder wars. I could only find two for up-front passengers, although General Manager John Middlebrook claims there are over 15. The two in front flipped down between the seats and were not as convenient as those on the dash. I spilled coffee. Also between the seats was a nice catch-all mesh bag that didn't inhibit access to the rear from the front.

I liked the Venture. We've been van fans for many years in our family and we're always interested in the latest. Chevrolet is definitely in the minivan market with a serious contender for a change. The Astro is a specialty mini because of its rear-wheel drive, and the Lumina just didn't cut it. The Venture is what Chevy needed from the start.