I’m a child of the TV age, raised on reruns of everything from The Jeffersons to Love, American Style. So when Chevy said they were bringing by their Venture minivan with the Warner Bros. Package, I was half-expecting it to show up in my driveway with a talking rooster, a giant hammer complete with retracting fist, and a ton of Acme dynamite. Thufferin’ thuccotasth!
Alas, nothing so wily or speech-impaired appeared. No bright colors or rowdy theme music either, just a sedately handsome minivan with small WB logos on its flanks and some entertaining features inside. And that’s a victory. The pronounced lack of “look at me” decoration is a testament to how far GM’s come in the race for tastefulness – and for minivan excellence.Renovation successful
Hark back with us if you will to 1990, when GM introduced its first true minivans - the Pontiac TranSport, Chevrolet Lumina, and Oldsmobile Silhouette – to a resounding “Huh?” Not only had GM missed the mark set by Chrysler’s class leaders, they brought forth plastic-bodied creations that could have used another round at Tom’s Rhinoplasty. Strange styling and a lackluster powertrain hamstrung them in showrooms while the Chryslers kept their hawklike grip on more than 60 percent of minivan sales.
Mercifully, the minivans were redone in 1997. GM had learned a lesson well: they switched to sheetmetal at the Doraville, Ga., assembly plant, uprated the powerplant, and toned down the spacey look. Handsome and well equipped, the new vans have made a bigger impact with buyers.
Though the Chryslers, the Ford Windstar and now the Honda Odyssey are getting all the buzz now, the Venture’s a solid choice, mainly because it offers all sorts of choices in seats, doors and safety. As far as seating arrangements go, you can order everything from eight-passenger benches to captain’s chairs for four; Chevy offers a third-row stowable seat (which we weren’t able to sample), and make the seats flip, fold, and hold more cups than your kids’ bladders can. The seven-passenger model we tried was comfortable for adults in the front five positions; the back two seats aren’t shaped too badly, but long legs will suffer. The seats tend to feel flat after an hour or so, and in the Warner Bros. Edition, they’re leather covered, which means sliding around those commuting curves.