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Pontiac advertising seems to suggest that Montana is something more exciting and adventurous than the standard-issue suburban minivan. The truth is, the Montana differs only in detail from minivans offered by Chevrolet and Oldsmobile. And yet, the Montana does indeed offer some engaging characteristics, which set it apart from even its closest, GM-built cousins.
For one thing, you grab Montana by a steering wheel that's thick and meaty, and roll on tires that don't squeal unless drive with a sports-sedan level or enthusiasm. Those things alone relate to a better driving experience.
For another, Montana is really quite handsome by minivan standards, especially with the new and neater front bumper and grille it has acquired for 2001. And that contributes to the ownership experience.
Finally, like its GM nest mates, Montana can be ordered with a slickly integrated video entertainment system that can significantly improve your family's traveling experience.
Whatever Pontiac wants it to be, Montana is the perfect family truckster. Cross winds won't make it wander on the way to Wally World. Veer off onto poorly maintained secondary roads and the suspension doesn't get upset. You feel confident driving on bad roads.
The Montana corners quickly for a minivan, especially versions that have the Sport Performance and Handling Package. It's tires don't complain until you push very hard, and that's unique for a minivan. Body roll is less noticeable in the Montana than it is in the Silhouette and Venture; part of the Montana's handling package includes stiffer springs and larger shock absorbers in the rear.
Back on the big highways, you'll feel no pain. The noise from the powerplant is limited to an isolated and distant hissing. At 80 mph, which we found to be the average cruising speed on most Western highways marked at a 75 mph limit, the engine is revving at just 2400 rpm. The Montana doesn't sound like it's straining to keep up, and passing slower cars can be done without too much prior planning.
The V6 engine has good throttle response in traffic, and it's efficient; we managed 25 mpg on a fast trip across the state. The EPA estimates highway fuel economy at 26 mpg. Traction control is optional; and it's a good idea for easier control in winter driving. Without traction control engaged, you can easily spin one of the front wheels during a spirited take-off on dry pavement. With a torque-pumping V6 and front-wheel drive, torque steer is sometimes noticeable as a slight tug on the steering wheel under hard acceleration.
The brake pedal is typically spongy, as it is on most GM platforms that were designed in the early 1990s. Newer designs, such as the latest Bonneville and GM's newest big pickups and SUVs, lack this mushy feeling, so the Montana will likely get a better-feeling brake pedal in the future. Having said that, the antilock brake system works well, without undue clattering of the pedal.
The Pontiac Montana is one of our favorite minivans because of its styling, handling and braking. The Montana was also the favorite of women responding to Good Housekeeping's latest driving survey.
The Montana is the most appealing of the three GM minivans to us, and that's just because we prefer the Ducks Unlimited-style colors, the stickier tires and the '99 Bonneville sports sedan steering wheel. It handles rough roads without any ungainly bouncing around. And it still has all the bins and cubbies of the Oldsmobile and Chevy versions.
Montana feels smaller than the big new Honda Odyssey, faster than the new Mazda MPV, but it's not as quick as the latest Mercury Villager or Dodge Caravan. Stocked as it is with a lot of lookalike vehicles, we think there's plenty of room in the minivan market for Montana.