In terms of materials, technology and styling, Chevrolet obviously is still committed to setting itself apart in the minivan market. Its 1994 Lumina Minivan remains, to the best of our knowledge, the only offering in its class with an exterior composed largely of advanced, dent-resistant materials. Its bullet-like, severely sloped front end -- shortened for '94 to appeal to a larger audience -- still gives this minivan the appearance of one of Europe's high-speed trains.
It is also a vehicle that fancies itself as something of an automobile. The Lumina Minivan we tested did stand apart from its enormously successful Chrysler and Ford competitors, but the real surprise, unpleasant or otherwise, was that it didn't drive in accordance with how it looked. Instead of an agile, silky, car-like performance, we experienced the operating characteristics of a firm-riding, hardcore minivan -- with handling capabilities to match.
Which is not to say that the Chevy Lumina Minivan didn't provide the convenient creature comforts, ample passenger and cargo capacity, and other amenities that minivan buyers demand. Considering our test vehicle's final MSRP of $23,136, it well should.
That price reflects a nearly endless list of options: seven-passenger seating with built-in child seats, a 3.8-liter V-6 engine, complete power assists including a six-way driver's seat and one-touch side-door opener, an AM/FM stereo with a CD player, front/rear air conditioning and loads more.
Still, we were surprised that the Lumina's suspension and steering refinements fell a bit short of this vehicle's decidedly unique composition and styling.
Ignore the front end of the '94 Chevy Lumina Minivan and the rest adds up to just another clean, good-looking vehicle. But we simply couldn't ignore that front end. The severely raked windshield and radically sloped hood combined with a massive front bumper to give the vehicle a modern and distinctive profile.
Completing the front-end treatment were contoured headlamp/cornering lamp assemblies and a gracefully curved air scoop under the leading edge of the bumper. It was an unusual look compared with most other minivans. Even the "Star Trek"-styled aluminum wheels reflected Chevy's effort to set this minivan apart from its competitors.
Dent- and scratch-resistant composite materials form the Lumina Minivan's exceptionally clean side view. There was no side protective molding or trim on our test vehicle. Chevy designers were obviously convinced that with the high-strength outer panels, bodyside molding would be unnecessary. We hope they were right.
Another unusual styling technique was the way the large, wraparound taillight assemblies were situated high on the rear roof pillars. They, too, contributed to this vehicle's unique look.
However, the Lumina looked more like its competitors from the rear, where its flat liftgate and vinyl-covered step bumper were in typical minivan style.
Color match between our two-toned Adriatic Blue and Gray Metallic test vehicle's composite, vinyl and metal components was flawless. Overall, fit and finish was excellent.
The Inside Story
Entry through any of the Lumina Minivan's oversized doors was scrunch-free. Once inside one advantage of the van's unique front-end styling was made apparent to us: the vast windshield put us high up over the road to provide an impressive sensation.
We liked the Lumina's overall roominess and seating comfort. It was a true seven-passenger touring van: there was ample headroom for everybody and plenty of legroom -- except for the two seats way in back, which were largely intended for kids anyway. With the exception of the perfectly contoured front buckets, all seats were removable for increased cargo capacity. Loading was made easy by a power sliding side door and a power liftgate that worked effortlessly.
With the exception of a turn-signal stalk that was overloaded with wiper and cruise control buttons, we liked the positioning and operation of the Lumina's instruments and power assists.
The tilt steering wheel housed a standard airbag, but there was no counterpart on the passenger side. Headlight dimmers and other controls were mounted alongside the instrument cluster and within easy reach of our driver. Controls for the power windows and door locks were on the left armrest, where they were easy to locate and use.
In front and rear, a bevy of map and courtesy lights that dimmed gradually when turned off added to the inviting feel of this minivan. Mesh cargo nets on the seatbacks and truly functional cupholders on the rear armrests and dash were just a few of the thoughtful touches that Chevy engineers incorporated. Placement of the great-sounding stereo system -- high in the middle of the dash to make it easy to see and use -- was also well-planned.
Ride & Drive
We found little to disappoint us during our road test of the Lumina Minivan. Whether on rough or smooth surfaces or through a variety of travel-weaving, fast cornering and panic breaking, the results were uniformly good for a minivan.
Acceleration and passing power from our Lumina's 3.8-liter, sequentially fuel-injected V-6 seemed equal to any other minivan we've tested, but the noticeable amount of engine noise during acceleration reminded us we weren't driving a car.
Similar attributes included a comfortable but stiff ride, and secure but far from effortless maneuvering.
But do all these traits in performance and handling add up to a flawed vehicle? Far from it. Although we initially expected more sophistication, our Lumina gave us a feeling of control over the road. In addition, the standard four-wheel anti-lock braking system performed impeccably.
Few minivans are in the position to please buyers who want a unique-looking vehicle. The '94 Lumina Minivan boasts a truly distinctive profile and front-end styling that makes it stand out from the crowd.
Appearances aside, though, buyers who expect quick steering, a car-like ride and other refinements offered in family sedans aren't suddenly going to discover them in the Lumina.
Perhaps Chevy engineers have some enhancements in the works. For now, they are offering a well-configured minivan with some additional need for grace and finesse.
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© 1994 New Car Test Drive, Inc.