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New Car/Review


by Tom Hagin


SEE ALSO: Pontiac Buyer's Guide


Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 25,555
Price As Tested                                    $ 26,840
Engine Type                             3.4 Liter V6 w/SFI*
Engine Size                                 207 cid/3350 cc
Horsepower                                   180 @ 5200 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               205 @ 4000 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                    120"/72.7"/201.3"
Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     3935 Pounds
Fuel Capacity                                    25 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                     P215/70R15
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/drum (ABS)
Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                      Seven-passenger/five-door
Domestic Content                                 92 percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A


EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            18/25/21
0-60 MPH                                         10 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                         17 seconds @ 82 mph
Towing capacity                                 3500 pounds
     * Sequential-port fuel injection

General Motors' first attempt at building a car-based minivan met with six years of dismal sales. It tried to excite customers with a shocking wedge-shaped body that resulted in lost functionality and versatility, the very reasons why minivans are so popular.

Its second try is much closer to what makes minivans appealing. This week we test the Pontiac Trans Sport Montana, a sporty version of GM's trio of new front-wheel-drive people-carriers.

OUTSIDE - The Trans Sport's styling theme has finally gone mainstream. General Motors has scrapped the previous model's bold futuristic styling and plastic body in favor of a more conservative look made with all steel panels. It is available in short (112-inch) or long (120-inch) wheelbases, with an optional driver's-side sliding rear door. The previous model's power open-and-close feature on the passenger side rear door remains an option and really comes in handy. Pontiac expects that 60 percent of all Trans Sports sold will be of the extended length, and 80 percent of those will have the fourth door option. Our test Montana version is the sportiest model, and wears five-spoke alloy wheels with raised white letter tires, two-tone paint and a large luggage rack on the roof.

INSIDE - Clearly, much thought went into the new interior design, and Trans Sport now has a car-like dashboard and controls, with dramatically improved outward vision and ergonomics. The standard seven-passenger seating arrangement is available four different ways, using either bucket or bench seats, or as an eight-passenger hauler with two buckets seats up front, three buckets in the middle row, and a three-across bench seat in back. All rear and middle seats fold down and are removable. Also there are "cubby" holes everywhere, as well as 17 places to park beverages. Even base models comes with air conditioning, an AM/FM stereo, and power door locks and outside mirrors, but our Montana was loaded with such items as power windows, power sliding side door, power driver's seat, stereo upgrade, and an overhead console.

ON THE ROAD - Trans Sport uses a quiet 3.4 liter V6 engine that produces 180 horsepower and 205 lb-ft of torque. It's quite responsive and offers lots of pep, even with design limitations for the new vehicle, which forced GM engineers to cease using the larger 3.8 liter version, optional in the last generation Trans Sports. But the new powertrain created space for more interior room at only a modest drop in torque over the previous engine. When properly equipped, its towing capacity of 3500 pounds is very respectable. The sole transmission is an electronically-controlled four speed automatic, with overdrive gearing and a lockup torque converter. We averaged around 21 mpg over the week, although on long, frugal highway jaunts, we were able to squeeze nearly 28 mpg, along with a near 600-mile full-tank range.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Trans Sport rides on all-new suspension, which features new L-shaped lower front controls arms, with bushings designed to manage separate tasks, along with repositioned coil springs and a new hollow stabilizer bar. The rear shock absorbers have also been relocated to provide more space inside the vehicle. The Montana version uses stiffer suspension components than lesser model Trans Sports, and gives a ride that is quite nimble for a minivan. Automatic level control is part of the Montana package, and features an auxiliary air pump which will not only automatically keep the vehicle at a level plane with a full load inside, but can also be used to inflate sun sports toys such as beach balls and inner tubes. The Montana package also features traction control, which uses electronic controls to limit wheelspin on slippery surfaces like ice and snow, and self-sealing tires. Braking is achieved with front disc and rear drum bakes, while the four-wheel anti-lock braking system (ABS) is standard on all versions.

SAFETY - Dual airbags, side-impact protection and ABS are standard.

OPTIONS - The Montana package is $560, while our test model's $435 stereo upgrade included a CD player, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with built-in audio controls and separate rear seat audio controls.