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Chevrolet's Venture offers a willing engine and a car-like ride. It is neither the most economical minivan you can buy, nor the most powerful, but it is competitively priced for a van with V6 power. Traction control is either standard or optional on the upper trim levels.
The Venture offers a wide range of seating and cargo configurations, plus an integrated entertainment system that's almost guaranteed to take the "Are we there yet?" out of family travel.
The first thing you might notice about the 2001 Venture is its new front-end styling. Last year's cross-hatch grille has been replaced by a cheery, bright-metal grin. Otherwise, Venture's appearance is either undistinguished or restrained, depending on your point of view. We do like its decisively horizontal lines and relatively short front overhang.
The Venture stays abreast of more recently designed minivans with lots of cupholders and bins for passengers to store stuff.
The Venture offers generous head room and elbow room no matter which seat you're in. A height-adjustment lever on the driver's seat aids comfort on long trips, allowing you to 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, yet the seating surface itself is relatively flat, which makes getting in and out easy, while encouraging you to move around on long trips.
There isn't a lot of legroom to spare in the second row of the Venture, however, even in the long-wheelbase versions. The longer wheelbase models add most of their extra space in the cargo area.
Value Van, Plus, and LS come with bench seats in the second and third rows. The seatbacks are split and fold separately; that's handy for carrying two-by-fours and a couple of rear-seat passengers at the same time. But the bench seats are relatively heavy to remove and replace, should you need more space for grandfather clocks or dog cages.
More convenient are the modular bucket seats found in the more up-market models. They weigh just 38 pounds, light enough that plucking them out and leaving them in the garage is not a painful act. Five of them are standard in Warner Bros., and you can order six in LS and LT. The backs of these seats fold flat and compact, and have indentations so cups won't slide off while underway. Folded flat, the bucket seats are easier to stash on your garage shelves than the heavy bench seats.
A combination of captain's chairs for the second row and a split bench for the third row is standard in LT and optional in LS. The LT seems to be the more adult-oriented Venture. Its captain's chairs are more comfortable for adults. The captain's chairs will not recline fully unless they are moved all the way forward, however.
The Warner Brothers Edition comes with leather seating surfaces and cloth inserts, and at least the leather part is easy to wipe up after the youngsters have an in-van picnic. (Only LT offers full leather.)
The Warner Bros. entertainment system features six rear headphones, so the whole brood can be engaged without disturbing the driver too much. A flat panel display 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. It's similar to the systems offered by Pontiac and Oldsmobile. By comparison, aftermarket systems we've sampled tend to rattle and shake more, and are prone to interference from other electronics in the vehicle.
Our test van, however, was a long-wheelbase LT. We decided to put its standard load-leveling suspension to work, and hauled a 450-pound motorcycle in the rear for a ride several states away. The full-size bike fit with room to spare, though we had to compress the front fork to get it through the rear hatchback. The seat mounting latch bars in the floor made perfect tie-down points. We don't recommend you try this at home, however.
The drivetrain of the Venture shines in being nearly invisible. It's isolated, and offers good response in traffic, even though the Chevy is 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.
The traction control system, which came standard on our LT, engaged under hard acceleration. You are reminded constantly that this is a front-wheel-drive vehicle, especially when there is a lot of weight in the back, like a motorcycle, for example. The front wheels 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 touring suspension, standard on LT and optional on LS and the Warner Bros. Edition, makes the Venture a good highway cruiser. It does hop around a bit on bumpy metro surfaces, but you won't notice this if you do most of your driving on well-paved suburban roads. We also drove Ventures with the standard "smooth ride" suspension, and did not see a big difference.
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. The longer wheelbase models add more cargo space. Lots of storage bins and cubby holes on all models add convenience. On the road, the Venture is smooth and quiet with good throttle response and car-like handling.
The LT combines luxury and load-hauling features, and is the only model to offer full leather. The Warner Bros. Edition makes an earnest attempt to entertain those restless rugrats, which is luxury in another form.
The minivan market is tightly competitive, and so a lot of minivans offer similar features. It helps to know your own needs very well before you select the van that's right for your family. Only you can judge whether Venture is the best minivan for your particular needs-but we think any minivan shopper ought to at least give it some consideration.
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