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The people at Chrysler's Jeep./Eagle division can call it a station wagon if they want - we'll call it like we see it. We think the '94 Eagle Summit LX Wagon, with its versatility and many features, should be planted firmly in the minivan category.
Complete with a sliding side-cargo door and a rear liftgate, the Summit LX Wagon offers those in search of a second family vehicle, or commuter car, some very pleasant alternatives to the larger minivans in terms of creature comforts, cargo capacity-even performance.
Further, with the broad expanse of front, side and rear glass, our Summit LX Wagon offered us more scenic cruising possibilities than most of the larger minvans we've tested.
We suspect Eagle dubbed it a wagon instead of a minivan because of the Summit LX Wagon's comparatively short (99.2-inch) wheelbase, small (2.4-liter) engine displacement and car-like fuel mileage ratings of 20 city and 26 highway.
Yet, the Summit eclipses the usual expectations for a wagon in passenger room, cargo area, loading convenience and the like. As such, it comes very close to being a vehicle with a niche all its own - perhaps we could call it a mini-minivan?
It's MSRP of $17,107 is likely to put the amply equipped Summit LX Wagon well within the small-wagon buyer's price range. In addition to a premium interior and a driver-side air bag that are standard, that price afforded us options such as air conditioning, a six-speaker AM/FM stereo with a cassette player, speed control, a keyless entry system, four-speed automatic transmission and a roof rack.
The great expanse of glass caught our attention as we began our exterior examination of the Summit LX Wagon. A sharply raked windshield stretched from the short hood to meet the roof at a point well over the typical driver's head. The high roofline not only permitted a big windshield but also allowed for large front- and rear-side windows. The rear liftgate appeared to have more glass than metal. Overall, it was a vehicle that looked as though it would put its occupants on display and provide them with excellent scenic possibilities.
The upper two-thirds of our two-tone Summit test vehicle was finished in a rich Dark Red Pearl, and the lower one-third, bumper to bumper, was painted Light Silver Metallic. The color match between metal and vinyl components and the overall fit-and-finish were close to excellent. The roof rack, window moldings and recessed door handles were black vinyl. The result was a nicely trimmed, color-coordinated "glass house."
In front, a small grille worked well with the abbreviated and sharply sloping hood and complemented the look of the air scoop under the bumper. The halogen headlamp assembly and cornering lights wrapped around the front fenders.
In back, wraparound taillight/cornering lamp assemblies were positioned high on the rear fenders just under the back glass. The liftgate came with a wiper-essential for all that glass. That's just one example of the many thoughtful features Eagle included on this vehicle.
The more we looked, the more we liked the flow and balance of our Summit LX Wagon.
We would expect plenty of visibility and room from a minivan, but this was a wagon. So the Summit LX surprised us by offering a barrier-free view and plenty of head- and legroom to spare. Front bucket seats and the rear bench seat were high off the floor, putting the door sills well beneath shoulder height for both front and rear passengers. This nice feature gave us the feeling of being in a much larger vehicle.
The back seat folded down to create more cargo space, easily accessible through the sliding side door. The seat was also removable, creating a whopping 79 cubic feet of carpeted cargo space.
The instrument panel of our Summit LX was in a rectangular housing and contained a big speedometer flanked by temperature and fuel gauges and warning lights.
From the placement of controls to overall seating comfort, the Summit LX Wagon boasted successful ergonomic design. We especially liked the positioning of the armrests, the easy access to power-assist controls on the driver's armrest, and the prominent speed control switch mounted on the steering wheel.
We weren't terribly thrilled, however, by the effort it took to see and use the controls for the air conditioning and stereo-both were mounted flat against the dash. We think in future versions of this wagon, Eagle should angle these controls toward the driver for better visibility and access.
The Summit Wagon's remarkably soft and comfortable ride surprised us when we hit the road. We experienced some lean in cornering, and slight pitch and roll over bumpy roads. However, these occurrences were neither unpleasant nor unsettling, and they were what we expected from this small vehicle that sat high off the ground.
From a standing start and in highway passing situations, the Summit's 16-valve, 2.4-liter engine was filled with pleasant surprises. While it certainly wasn't a high-performance machine, it did take off from 0 to 60 mph in satisfactory fashion without sluggishness. We briskly accelerated from 50 to 70mph and felt we still had power to spare. That performance was enhanced by the vehicle's ultra-smooth four-speed automatic transmission with overdrive. In passing situations starting in fourth gear, the transmission paused slightly in third before downshifting to second, making passing punch less jarring to us and the engine.
Braking tests, including a near-panic stop, produced no noise or lockup and left us with a good impression of the Summit's optional anti-lock braking system. We did hear a lot of wind and road noise at higher speeds. We attributed that to the vehicle's vast expanse of glass, and the fact that the Summit just didn't have the superb insulation and sound-deadening material present on more costly vehicles.
We wouldn't recommend equipping this vehicle with anything less than the optional 2.4-liter power plant. With that engine, the Summit exceeded - by a comfortable margin-our performance expectations for a small station wagon.
We're convinced that this vehicle is a roomy and well-designed minivan masquerading as a small station wagon.
The '94 Eagle Summit LX Wagon transported us high off the road, treated us to scenic vistas and provided us with a soft, comfortable ride-just as a good minivan should.
The seating configuration, cargo capacity and sliding side-door access were all attributes of the minivan family. And with the optional 2.4-liter engine, the Summit LX Wagon even rivaled the performance capabilities of some minivans.
Whatever its category, this is a solid vehicle worth serious consideration.
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