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Plymouth Voyager (2000), Only the badging is changing

By Larry Weitzman

George Orwell used 1984 as the year of big brother. Chrysler/Plymouth/Dodge used the year to introduce the minivan. It has been as big a success story as the SUV has been for the 90s. After the Plymouth Voyager intro, there were as many as 15 copycats and every time the competition was catching up, Chrysler introduced a new model.

The Plymouth Voyager will loose the sailing ship next year, it will become a Voyager. The current generation has been in production since 1996 and a new model is coming within a year. It isn't going to look much different and in the Voyager, the improvements will not be earthmoving. There will be more horsepower available, but in the Voyager, the power will remain similar.

The Voyager test vehicle for this test was a base model which stickered for $18,850 plus $590 destination. It came with only five options. The $800 3.0L SOHC V-6, the four speed automatic at $200, a quick order package which included seven passenger seating and A/C, $515, built in child seats for $235 and left hand sliding door at $595. With the $1,500 rebate, it totaled within a couple of hundred bucks of 20 large and under 21 large superbly equipped with the Value Plus package. For an additional $670 (the Value Plus pack) you can add tilt wheel, power locks, power windows, cruise, dual power mirrors and nicer door paneling. This last option is a must. Without power door locks, it is a royal pain to open all the doors which seems to be a must with children. I haven't had a car without power doors and windows in such a long time, to use the manual system really makes you appreciate the convenience.

The body design is still stunning for a minivan. It's pleasing lines, shapes and curves not only make for an attractive minivan, but a downright good looking automobile. Visibility is superb out of the large greenhouse and the hidden sliding door tracks make for a super clean side view. It is still the best looking of all minivans.

Under the hood was the optional 3.0L SOHC V-6 also used by Mitsubishi in many of their products. The engine is not only bullet proof, but incredibly smooth. It puts out an adequate 150 hp at 5,200 rpm and 176 pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm. The standard engine is also a Mitsu shared 2.4L DOHC four that puts out nearly equal numbers, but take a pass. Just for the smoothness, the V-6 is worth the extra money. There is also available a 3.3L pushrod OHV V-6 that adds 8 hp and 27 pounds of torque for an extra $170. It has the exact same EPA fuel numbers, so it is something worth considering. But at least the 3.0L V-6 is a must.

It will propel the Voyager from a standing start to 60 mph in twelve seconds flat. It feels more powerful than that. 50-70 took only 6.9 seconds, quick considering the more labored 0-60 time. But in real life the 3.0L engine does an admirable job. It's power delivery is very smooth and linear. Connected to the optional four speed automatic (a three speed auto is standard, spend the extra $200 and get the four speed) it was perfectly matched to give you the right gear at the right time. Shifts were imperceptible and seamless. This is one terrific drivetrain.

Since this week long test was conducted in Florida where the highest point of land is 345 feet above mean sea level, there were no hills to climb. Even tiny Rhode Island has a higher land mass with it's highest point, Jerimoth Hill, being 812 feet. The steepest grade encountered was a highway overpass which was too short to do any timed testing. I would estimate a 50-70 pass on a grade would take about 12 seconds. Certainly adequate. I wasn't able to talk Disney World in letting me use Mount Gushmore at Blizzard Beach for an uphill climb. Can you imagine a Voyager doing the Summit Plummet?

Performance with the 3.3L OHV unit should improve 0-60 times by about a second and passing times by a half a second on the level and a full second on the hill climb.

Fuel economy was as predicted by the EPA, about 23 mpg overall. The EPA predicts 18/25 mpg city/highway so expect a 500 mile highway range with the 20 gallon fuel tank.

Handling was quite nimble. My test unit was a short wheel base (113.3 inches) model with an overall length of 186.3 inches. This is six inches shorter in wheelbase and 13.3 inches less in overall length over the giant economy size model, the Grand Voyager. The reward of a little less interior volume is quicker, more responsive handling.

The front drive wheels are suspended by Iso-struts, coil springs, gas charged shocks and a link stabilizer bar with single longitudinal leaf springs and a tubular beam axle with gas charged shocks holding up the rear. Another deficiency of Florida is the lack of twisties. I wasn't allowed on the Autopia or the Disney World race track (which is a banked four turn trapezoidal course) so the best test was one of the many cloverleaf on and off ramps in the Disney World highway system. I didn't see one patrol car during the week.

When pushed hard around a 270 degree cloverleaf, my family started complaining about the lateral acceleration rates long before the Voyager. Translation: that means, it did pretty well. It tracked accurately and maintained its intended line without any intervention of brakes or steering input once a line was set. In the twisties of El Dorado County, you will forget you are driving a minivan. The Voyager utilizes a wide 63 inch front and 64 inch rear track which no doubt helps in the twisty department. Steering is spot on with a natural precise feel. Turning circle is a minuscule 37.6 feet.

But vans are about interior efficiency. Carry a big voluminous load in a small very drivable package. The Voyager is a winner. The front office has a clean instrument panel. In the standard model, there is no tach but the panel layout is the well designed. Everything including the radio, A/C pod, is centered high in the "vertical stack" and within easy reach and logically placed.

The front seats are captain chairs and sublimely comfortable. Padding and support are excellent. No power option is offered but there is manual recline so it was easy to find a comfortable position. The second row of seats were a two place bench that came with standard built in child restraints. They should have been larger so I could have restrained one or both of my two boys when they were getting out of hand, which was most of the time. Disney World has that effect on children.

The third row was a three place bench with plenty of room for three adults. Every seat is sofa comfortable with copious amounts of leg and headroom. Shoulder room in all rows exceeds 62.5 inches which is about 5 inches more than your average midsize sedan. This is am extraordinary people hauler with real flexibility. Both second and third row of seats are removable. With both rows removed there is nearly 127 cubic feet of volume. Behind the second row is 71 cubic feet and behind the third row there is over 22 cubic feet which is significantly bigger than the trunk of a full size car.

The upgraded SE model which comes with a standard tach and a few other niceties lists for about $22,300 with destination less the $1,500 rebate. But you can add a trip computer bundled with power seat for the driver and premium cloth quad seating for $1,345. Antilock brakes are standard which are $565 option on the standard model. It's a close call, but the standard model gives you about everything you need for at least a grand less dough.

The long wheel base Grand Voyager will add about $2,000 to the price, but the rebate is $2,000 so the real cost is about $1,500 over the standard wheelbase model. Choices.

Shingle Springs Chrysler, Plymouth, Dodge and Lincoln, Mercury has a good selection of this fine soccer mom transportation unit. Take one for a test on your next soccer game as the season will be starting and you won't want to give it back, especially when you are appointed to carry the banner.


Price                  $18,000 to about $26,500

2.4L DOHC, 16 valve,inline 4     150 hp @ 5,200 rpm         
                                 167 lbs-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm 
3.0L SOHC, 12 valve V-6         150 hp @ 5,200 rpm
                                176 lbs-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm

3.3L OHV, 12 valve V-6         158 hp @ 4,850 rpm
                               203 lbs-ft of torque @ 3,250 rpm

3 speed automatic

4 speed electronically 
controlled automatic

transverse mounted, front engine
front wheel drive

Dimensions (short wheel base)
Wheelbase               113.3  inches
Length                  186.3  inches
Width                   76.8   inches
Height                  68.5   inches
Weight                  3,516  pounds
Track (f/r)             63/64  inches
Fuel capacity           20     gallons
Tow capacity            3,500  pounds
Weight distribution     59/41  percent
Turning Circle          37.6   feet
Coefficient of drag     0.35

0-60                   12.0   seconds
50-70                  6.9    seconds
50-70 uphill           no hills available, the highest
                         land mass in Florida being a 345
                         feet above msl, estimate 12
Top Speed              Will cruise nicely at 85 mph
Fuel Economy           EPA 18/25 mpg city/highway
                         My estimate is 21-23 mpg in El
                         Dorado County, and 25 mpg plus
                         on the highway.