Try as we might, we can’t really spend all of our time in and around fast and exotic automobiles. Practical considerations (read: family responsibilities) usually intrude, and space and reliability become key concerns in a purchase decision. As a minivan, the Pontiac Montana AWD will hardly quicken the pulse of enthusiasts, but it deserves a place on your radar as a crowd hauler.
Our Redfire Metallic tester sported a roomy, full-leather interior, side airbags for front passengers, keyless entry, air conditioning with both front and rear controls, OnStar, anti-lock brakes, nice alloy wheels, a rear wiper/washer, and power everything—including sliding rear doors on both sides that can be operated remotely from the key fob. It also had an extended wheelbase over the base models, providing improved interior leg room and smooth ride dynamics.
Power and Versatrak
A respectable amount of power (185 horses at 5200 rpm; 210 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm) comes from the 3.4-liter V-6. It seems sprightly enough, though this may be due to the light weight of the Montana compared to other minivans. Finally, it boasted the innovative Versatrak AWD system, new in the Montana for 2002, with the rear wheels kicking in as needed in slippery circumstances. We had no trouble climbing snowy mountain switchbacks with this drivetrain.
Now in its third model year, Versatrak automatically directs torque to those wheels that need it. Twin “gerotor” pumps inside a compact rear drive module automatically sense the difference between the rotational speeds of front and rear tires in low-traction conditions. Before any significant slippage occurs, the pumps engage multi-plate clutches that provide drive to one or both rear wheels. After slippage ceases, the clutches disengage and the vehicle reverts to front-wheel drive.
The front suspension is fully independent, with MacPherson struts and coil springs, stamped lower control arms with aluminum knuckles, and a 34-mm hollow stabilizer bar. The AWD Montana gets a fully independent double wishbone rear suspension, with cast aluminum control arms and cradle, monotube air leveling shock absorbers, and a 14-mm stabilizer bar. The ride was smooth, no doubt partially due to the automatic level control, although there was more body roll than I would like. The 16-inch aluminum wheels that are part of the AWD equipment group, shod with 60-series tires, provided responsive turn-in; on the whole, the package felt quite secure on slippery road surfaces.