Chevrolet's Venture has two new features for 2002 that deserve consideration. One is GM's Versatrak four-wheel drive. The other is a new DVD-based entertainment system in the special Warner Bros. Edition.
Venture already earned its place on minivan buyer shopping lists because it offered a willing engine and a car-like ride. While neither the most economical minivan you can buy, nor the most powerful, it remains competitively priced for a van with V6 power.
The best feature, however, may be the wide range of seating and cargo configurations.
The first thing you might notice about the Chevrolet Venture is the new front-end styling it received in 2001, when the old cross-hatch grille was 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. Hey, it's a minivan. It's designed to be functional, not beautiful.
There's plenty of head room and elbow room no matter which seat you're in. A height-adjustment lever on the driver's seat lets you change driving positions 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.
The Venture stays abreast of more recently designed minivans with lots of cupholders and bins for passengers to store stuff.
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 the Warner Bros. edition, and you can order six in LS and LT models. 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 in the garage 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. 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 has a 7-inch, flip-down screen, four wireless headphones and a wireless remote control. The system plays DVD video, DVD audio and CDs. The screen has a 1.5- second video memory feature that prevents potholes, railroad tracks or other road irregularities from interfering with the sound and picture. Three auxiliary jacks for such things as video games or camcorders offer additional versatility. Talk about versatile: Passengers can use the DVD player, the radio and the CD player all at the same time.
The Chevrolet Venture operates seamlessly. The drivetrain is smooth, nearly invisible. The engine delivers good response in traffic, even though the Chevy is less powerful than the Ford or Honda minivans. It's quiet, isolated. 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.
All of this is addressed by the available all-wheel-drive system, which GM calls Versatrak. This system keeps the vehicle moving as long as at least one wheel maintains traction with the road. In normal conditions, power is delivered to the front wheels, but when the system detects those wheels losing traction, it automatically transfers power to the rear wheels.
The touring suspension 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 between the touring and smooth ride suspensions.
The brake pedal of the Venture feels more spongy than in Chevy's sedans. The anti-lock brake system engages smoothly and without drama on loose surfaces.
The rear parking assist system is a terrific aid. It can warn the driver of that little red wagon in the driveway, which is especially important when the little red wagon is occupied. But it comes in really handy when parallel parking or when backing up to a wall. Besides helping to avoid bumping a bumper, it can speed up the parking process and make it easier. That's nice when there's an audience.
We put the load-leveling suspension to work on our long-wheelbase LT by hauling a 450-pound motorcycle in the rear for a ride across several states. 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. The load leveling system compensated for the extra weight of the motorcycle, so our headlights weren't pointed to the stars. Nor did our loaded down Venture wallow or lean excessively during quick maneuvering through downtown Chicago. We don't recommend you try this at home, but shows that the Venture is a capable cargo hauler.
The 2002 Chevy Venture is ready to haul a bunch of folks or a load of hardware from the home-improvement center.
The Venture seats seven or eight comfortably. The long-wheelbase models add more cargo space. There are plenty of storage bins and cubby holes on all models. 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 entertains those restless rugrats, which is luxury in another form. With the optional Versatrak four-wheel-drive system, bad weather shouldn't keep you home.
The minivan market is tightly competitive, and other 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 the Venture is the best minivan for your particular needs-but we think any minivan shopper ought to give it some consideration.
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