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.
2002 Pontiac Montana
But you can’t fully experience the pleasures of the Montana unless you’re in the back two rows. There, you can experience the MontanaVision entertainment system, featuring a DVD player with wireless remote. It also has a seven-inch video screen with on-screen programming, auxiliary stereo RCA jacks for video game systems and camcorders, and wireless headphones with separate volume controls, providing enough entertainment options to captivate your kids or your limited-attention-span buddies.
The theater section seats five, with two, center-row captain’s chairs and a split-folding bench in the rear seating row. The flip-and-fold second- and third-row seats are readily removable without tools. The theater wants for a good interior designer, however, as switchgear and paneling seemed plasticky and cheap—the Achilles heel of most GM products these days.
Playing no favorites, this minivan makes a point of providing equal accommodations for all occupants. Rear-seat audio controls that come with the two uplevel radios can also be added to the standard radio. Middle-row passengers can select their own volume and medium (radio, CD, or cassette) from the rear controls, while front passengers select one of the other two program sources. Our tester came with an optional package that provided heating and air conditioning ducts for rear-seat passengers, along with auxiliary controls for selecting temperature and fan speed. Auxiliary power outlets are provided in both the front passenger compartment and the rear cargo area.
This is the top-drawer Montana, and kitted out as such brings the sticker north of the $36,000 mark. It is an extremely versatile vehicle, however, and one in which you could actually host an indie world premiere. Does Parkey Posey know about this?
2002 Pontiac Montana AWD
Base price: $34,085; as tested, $36,215
Engine: 3.4-liter OHV V-6
Drivetrain: Four-speed overdrive automatic, front- or all-wheel drive
Length x width x height (inches): 200.9 x 72.0 x 68.2 in
Wheelbase: 121.0 inches
Curb weight: 4431 lbs
EPA City/Hwy: 18/24 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, side-impact airbags, front safety belt pretensioners, four-wheel ABS, daytime running lights, rear window wiper/washer
Major standard equipment: Versatrak AWD system, luggage rack, fog lamps, dual sliding rear passenger doors, tilt leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio controls, leather seats, cruise control, MontanaVision DVD video system with wireless headsets, AM/FM stereo CD/cassette with clock, front and rear air conditioning, rear-seat audio, automatic level control, rear parking aid
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles
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