One of the better deals on wheels.
by Albert Hall
Base Price (MSRP) $16,995
As Tested (MSRP) $20,275
The Voyager represents the high-value end of Chrysler's minivan line, and value is its stock in trade. With it you get the minivan essentials-space, passenger and cargo flexibility, and maneuverability-at prices that are hard to beat. It's a simple formula, and it works.
The Chrysler Group's entire range of minivans, including Chrysler Voyager, Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Caravan, underwent a complete makeover for model year 2001. (See separate nctd.com reviews of the Town & Country and Caravan.) The big news this year is pricing, as stickers increased less than 1 percent on average and actually declined in many cases, based on new standard equipment. Updates for 2002 are limited to a model realignment and new features, including a standard four-speed automatic transmission, power-adjustable foot pedals and some high-tech gizmos like a factory-installed DVD player.
We passed on most of the gizmos in favor of a standard Voyager equipped as a standard family might choose. Why? Because Chrysler (and its Dodge brand) dominate the market for minivans priced at $20,000 or less. Based on our road test, it's not difficult to understand why.
When the Plymouth brand was eliminated two years ago, Chrysler adopted the Voyager minivan to complement its more expensive Town & Country. The company called it a case of having your cake and eating it, too-mating a premium brand name with value-conscious pricing. Makes sense, we'd guess, although the proliferation of Chrysler minivans can be a little confusing.
We tested a Voyager, period, no further designation. This mid-level model (MSRP $19,155) mixes value with convenience: the base 150-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, standard automatic transmission, air conditioning, AM/FM stereo cassette, ample cupholders, 12-volt power points and most other important minivan stuff. It's also the least expensive Voyager with standard seating for seven.
Yet there may be a better (though not widely publicized) alternative for value-conscious buyers in 2002. The new Voyager eC retails at a remarkable $16,355, and mechanically it's identical to the standard Voyager. It also comes with the air and AM/FM/cassette. The distinction is a few minor deletions (map lights, a smaller battery) and-more significantly-seating for five. Now we'll let you in on a secret. You can increase the Voyager eC's capacity to seven passengers with an optional third-row seat ($450), bringing MSRP to just $16,795. The catch? The eC is available in only four colors, and options are limited. It can't be equipped with the upgrade 210-horsepower 3.3-liter V6 ($970) or anti-lock brakes ($565).
Finally, Chrysler offers the Voyager LX (MSRP $23,155). The LX comes with the V6, a tachometer, rear-window defogger, floor mats, upgraded upholstery and sound insulation, and more convenience items, including power windows and rear vents, cruise control, and tilt steering.
All Voyagers are equipped with multi-stage dual front airbags that inflate at varying rates to account for the severity of an impact and limit potential for airbag-related injuries. All models offer optional front-passenger side-impact airbags ($390) and built-in toddler safety seats ($225).
Power-adjustable pedals ($195) are available on all three Voyagers. They allow the brake and gas pedal to move back or forward three inches to tailor the driving position. Other popular options include a power sliding passenger-side door, second-row bucket seats and wireless headphones for the rear seats (these play cassette, CD or radio broadcasts independent of what's playing over the external speakers). New features for '02 include the DVD player, with a 7 by 6.4 inch LCD screen and wireless headphones, and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
Many options are packaged in groups, so check details at a dealership or on the Internet at www.chrysler.com. Further, a number of features in Chrysler's minivan lineup are reserved for the Town & Country--including extended wheelbase and all-wheel-drive. Equipped with the full-luxury treatment, the Town & Country can approach $40.000.
Voyager's 2001 redesign was thorough, yet styling changes were evolutionary, and they carry over for 2002. The Voyager and Voyager eC are easy to distinguish from the LX: the door handles, lower bumpers and cladding are molded in black rather than painted to match the body. The standard wheel covers are attractive, and difficult to discern from alloy wheels at a distance of more than a few feet. In short, the Voyager remains one of the most handsome minivans extant, regardless of the trim level.
All models feature sliding rear doors on both sides, and they open with minimal effort. The rear gate lifts just as easily, and features standard lamps that flood light on the pavement below.
The overhaul for '01 focused on things that don't necessarily meet the eye. Voyager's body shell was strengthened and tightened, and noise, vibration and harshness were significantly reduced. Nearly every interior dimension increased at least slightly, and the wheels were moved further toward the corners of the vehicle. That increases space inside, and improves balance and stability when the Voyager is underway.
The Voyager driver sits in front of a simple gauge cluster with a big speedometer in the center, fuel and water temperature gauges on either side, and warning lights hidden in the background. Large, dark graphics on a white background make the instruments exceptionally easy to read. Radio and climate control buttons are concentrated in a center pod between the front seats. The switches feel reasonably sturdy and can be reached with minimal distraction from the task of driving. Large dash vents move lots of air.
The finish inside this minivan is not bad at all. The door panels are unadorned hard plastic-perfect for easy clean-up when they're smudged with mud or chocolate. The vinyl headrests look substandard, and the material around the backs and sides of the seats is only a small step up. Yet the seating surfaces are soft and plush, even in the Voyager eC. All panels and trim match nicely and the cabin is lined throughout with decent grade carpet.
Our test Voyager had only two adjustments on the front seats-fore-aft and seatback recline-and its steering column was fixed. Nonetheless, it allows an excellent driving position for a wide range of drivers, and the seats themselves are very good. They're wide enough to accommodate large folk, and soft enough to be comfortable without feeling too cushy.
Voyager has a shorter wheelbase than many minivans, but the third bench in back still seats average-size adults in reasonable comfort. While the two-place middle bench seat may not be as fashionable as second-row buckets, it has definite advantages. All things equal, we prefer it. No, the middle bench won't keep squabbling siblings separated. On the other hand, it allows easier access to the third seat and more cargo options without removal.
Speaking of removal, Voyager's seats come out easily, latching and unlatching from the floor mounts with a couple of levers. It helps having two to heft them out, but a reasonably robust individual can manage in a pinch. Once the seats are on the ground they roll easily on their wheels.
Such conveniences are a critical part of a minivan's appeal, and when it comes to conveniences the Voyager's value equation gets a little tricky. The crank windows are no problem at all. Indeed, if you've repeatedly flicked the power switch on an electric window up and down, trying to get it open just the right amount, you might actually prefer the cranks. The biggest downside is the inability to roll down a passenger window while driving.
The side mirrors are another story. They're big enough for a good range of vision, and they fold inward to fit tight spaces or prevent damage at the bank machine. Yet they must be adjusted manually, and it can be a cumbersome process--particularly when a driver is alone. There is, on the other hand, a standard rear wiper. Might some buyers prefer electric mirrors to the rear wiper, particularly in households with multiple drivers? Probably. Value is as value does. The same conundrum can apply to other features Voyager lacks or includes.
There are no pockets or bins on Voyager's doors or seatbacks-just a cargo net between the front seats and an open space in the center portion of the dashboard. There are four hooks for clothes hangers in the headliner, and four hooks on the front seats to secure the handles on plastic grocery bags. The glove box is small, but that's balanced by a locking drawer under the front passenger seat. There are decent cupholders at every seating position; two power points in the dash (one switched with ignition) and a third near the hatch; map lights in front, a dome for both the second and third seats, and those handy flood lights in the rear hatch.
In overall cargo capacity, the Voyager doesn't give up much to longer-wheelbase vans such as the Town & Country. With the seats removed, it will handle most jobs the typical household demands, be it hauling sheets of building material or a 35-inch TV in the carton, all fully protected from the elements. It's when all seats are installed that the extended wheelbase vans have an edge. Voyager has noticeably less space behind the third seat. On the other hand, with a family of five buckled in and the third row stowed in the garage, the Voyager still leaves room for several suitcases or the accoutrements required for a typical weekend trip.
Yes, Virginia, you can still get plenty of civilized, all-purpose family-mobile at an attractive price. We know this because we drove the Voyager, kids in tow, across lower Michigan and back. Only a lack of power from the base engine intruded in an otherwise rosy picture.
Voyager's 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine makes plenty of torque as four-cylinders go (167 foot-pounds). Steady refinement that past few years has made this engine smoother and much quieter, and the new four-speed automatic takes better advantage of its power band. On the plus side, we managed an honest 24 mpg on the Interstate without a single thought toward maximizing fuel economy.
Yet in a 3900-pound minivan, 150 horsepower is adequate and not an ounce more. Off the line, Voyager is one of the more sedate performers we've encountered in some time. Around town, it's not particularly a problem, as long as you judiciously choose your holes in traffic. On the open road, with a light load and the little four-cylinder engine wound up to high revs, you can pass slow traveling vehicles without much angst. Yet during those filled-to-the-gills family trips, particularly if there's anything resembling an upward grade in the road, this minivan is best suited to staying in line behind the semi trucks and large motorhomes.
Therefore, the 3.3-liter V6 is the first upgrade we'd recommend. It's smoother and less intrusive than the four-cylinder engine and, measured by performance or peace of mind, it's $970 well spent.
Beyond the lack of punch from the standard four-cylinder engine, there's nothing to limit Voyager's performance or its operator's satisfaction. The short wheelbase relative to some minivans is actually an advantage. Voyager's turning circle is quite manageable and it negotiates tight parking lots as adeptly as a mid-size sedan. Ride quality is good, but there's no feeling of disconnection from the pavement; the steering is light, but never sloppy. In short, the Voyager driver feels firmly in control in all circumstances. At 75 or 80 mph, even in the presence of a crosswind, this minivan is stable and firmly grounded.
Voyager stops with less authority than some minivans, but we have no gripe about braking distances. If there's an issue, it lies in the pedal. The brakes can be tricky to modulate just short of lockup on bumpy surfaces. In the name of carefree operation and peace of mind, ABS is the second upgrade we'd recommend.
Improvements to Voyager's body shell have nearly eliminated squeaks, rattles and flex, and they've done much to enhance the driving experience. Compared to the Voyager LX, there is noticeably more ambient noise inside the standard model. But that noise isn't intrusive, and whether the standard family fare is news radio, classic rock, or Britney Spears, the standard AM/FM/cassette goes a long way toward masking it. Finally, the view from the Voyager's driver's seat is nearly unobstructed in all directions, and it eliminates a problem sedan drivers face on American roads circa 2002: a proliferation of SUVs that limit sight distances.
In that sense, the Voyager is, indeed, like having your cake and eating it too. It delivers the commanding view outward that many drivers seek in an SUV, and it does so in a vehicle that-image or psychology aside-is more economical, efficient and practical for the vast majority of the buying public.
You get what you pay for. With Voyager, you're paying for a solid minivan with all the essentials and even a few frills. This might be the ideal vehicle for the one-car family that wants space, comfort, convenience and reasonable economy without hocking the future. Even with our recommended upgrades (V6, ABS), a smart shopper should have no trouble finding a Voyager for under $20,000. Anyone who is certain they want the four-cylinder engine can beat $17,000. Many subcompact sedans retail for more than that.
Wonder why Chrysler sells 62 percent of the minivans priced under $20,000? Take a look at the Voyager.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.