by Phil Berg
Affordable space for active folks.
Base Price $22,350
As Tested $27,950
It helps to know yourself and your family pretty well before you wander into the Chevrolet store to look at minivans. There's a Chevy Venture designed for every imaginable type of family and the number of models can be confusing. They are based on what type of seating arrangements you want and how flexible you need those arrangements to be. Chevrolet claims 200 different seating set-ups are possible in the Venture by removing and adding seats in different places.
New for 2000 is a model offering the videotape and video game players and built-in headphone controls that have been popular for the past two years on the Oldsmobile Silhouette.
Chevy Venture is available in several trim levels: base, LS and LT, plus a new Warner Bros. Edition. This minivan also comes in two lengths: the regular wheelbase and the extended wheelbase.
Base and LS models are built on the shorter wheelbase. The base Venture is attractively priced at $22,350 and comes with split bench seats, power windows, remote keyless entry and cruise control. For $25,350, the LS adds a nicer interior, aluminum wheels, rear power vent windows and an overhead driver information center. The LS also offers popular options, such as the power sliding passenger door, a roof rack and the preferred bucket seats that are light and easy to remove and install.
The LT and the new Warner Bros. Edition are extended-wheelbase models with more luxury accoutrements. All of the Ventures have two sliding doors, but a power-operated curbside door is available as an option. (Toyota's Sienna and Honda's Odyssey offer power sliding doors on both sides.)
The Warner Brothers version is equipped like an LS (except that it adds a CD player), not the pricier LT which has more standard equipment. The Warner Brothers model, however, comes with the integrated video entertainment system. That makes it the most expensive of Ventures, at $28,995. The center console is replaced by a video tape player, and panels with headphone jacks and controls are added in the rear passenger compartment.
The top-line LT comes standard with the touring suspension, which also has a load-leveling system and a compressor that can inflate your basketball or air mattress. It retails for $27,750 and comes standard with traction control and a power sliding side door.
There's also a $21,760 cargo model built on the long wheelbase for work duty.
Like its siblings at Pontiac and Oldsmobile, the Venture gets just one powertrain, GM's 185-horsepower 3.4-liter pushrod V6 equipped with a four-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is the only choice, though traction control is optional on uplevel models. The engine sits in the usual sideways position, and this allows maximum use of interior space.
Anti-lock brakes are standard. Touring tires are optional on the higher-priced models. The LT comes standard with a Touring suspension, which also has automatic rear load-leveling. The term "touring" refers in this case to increased load-carrying, firmer handling, and self-sealing tires. We've driven a variety of Venture models, and can report that the variety and weight of the stuff you load into them affects the handling and ride much more than the differences in the suspension specifications. In other words, we can rarely tell the difference between standard and Touring suspensions.
The Venture offers generous head room and elbow room no matter which seat you're in. A height-adjustment lever really aids comfort on long trips as you can change your driving position without getting too close or too far from the steering wheel. The fore and aft range of the driver's seat is long enough for drivers over six-and-a-half feet tall. The front seats hold you securely with large side bolsters on the backs of the seats. The seating surface is relatively flat, which makes getting in and out easy, but encourages you to move around on long trips.
The Venture's base model seats are benches in the second and third rows, and the benches have split folding backs. That makes them handy for carrying two-by-fours as well as a couple of rear-seat passengers at the same time. But the seats are relatively heavy to remove and replace, should you need more space for grandfather clocks or dog cages.
More convenient are the single bucket seats that you can get with the pricier LS model. These buckets weight just 38 pounds, which we find light enough that plucking them out and leaving them in the garage is not a painful act. You can get five of these buckets in the rear of your LS model. The backs of the buckets fold flat and compact, and have indentations so cups won't slide off on the road. Folded flat, the bucket seats are also easier to stash on your garage shelves than the heavy bench seats.
The Venture stays abreast of more recently designed minivans with lots of cupholders and bins for passengers to store stuff. The Warner Brothers Edition has leather seats standard, which we find are easier to keep clean than cloth seats, especially if you're carrying a large brood of sloppy youngsters. In the Warner Brothers Edition, the entertainment system features six rear headphone jacks, so all of the rear-seaters can be engaged without disturbing the driver too much. Like the systems in the Pontiac and Oldsmobile, the viewing screen is a 5.6-inch diagonal flat panel that folds down from the ceiling behind the driver and front passenger, and faces the rear-seaters. The success of this system is its integration and durability. Aftermarket systems we've sampled tend to rattle and shake more, and are prone to interference from other electronics in the vehicle.
Optional in the LS are captain's chairs, high-backed bucket seats with armrests. They may be more comfortable for adults, but the versions we've used before would not recline fully unless they were moved all the way forward. Your legs are already a bit crowded in the second row of the Venture, even in the long-wheelbase versions. The long vans add most of their extra space in the cargo area.
The optional CD player on some models is mounted inconveniently low in the center console, a long reach from the driver. The videotape player is mounted near the floor, too.
Our test car was an LT model, on the long wheelbase. We decided to put its standard load-leveling suspension to task, and hauled a 450-pound motorcycle in the rear for a ride several states away. In the long van, the full-size bike fit with room to spare, though we had to compress the front fork to get it through the van's rear hatchback. The seat mounting latch bars in the floor made perfect tie-down points.
The drivetrain of the Venture shines in being nearly invisible. It's isolated, and offers good response in traffic, even though it's less powerful than the Ford or Honda minivans. You can hear a distant growl from the engine, a pleasant muted sound that appeals to the closet hot-rodder in some of us. Our test van had the optional traction control, which engaged even after the front wheels began to spin during hard acceleration. You are reminded constantly that this is a front-wheel driver, especially when there is a lot of weight in the back of the van. The front wheels are prone to spin easily, and in corners this feels like small tugs on the steering wheel.
The load leveling system compensated for the extra weight of the motorcycle, so our headlights weren't pointed to the stars. Nor did our venture wallow or lean excessively during quick maneuvering through downtown Chicago.
The brake pedal of the Venture feels more spongy than in Chevy's sedans. The anti-lock brake system engaged smoothly and without drama on loose surfaces.
The Venture with the touring suspension is a good highway cruiser. We found it hops around a bit on bumpy surfaces, but you won't notice this if you do most of your driving on well-paved suburban roads.
The Chevy Venture is ready to haul a bunch of folks or a load of hardware from the home-improvement center. It seats seven or eight comfortably. Lots of storage bins and cubby holes add convenience. On the road, it's smooth and quiet with good throttle response and carlike handling.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.