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At first glance, the 1994 Chevy Astro van looks a bit like a delivery vehicle with its squarish profile, short hood and old-fashioned rear double doors.
It's a traditional design that may not compare favorably with some of the slinky, aerodynamic minivans from Chrysler and Ford, but the '94 Extended-Body Astro CS we tested had its strong points. Bonus passenger and cargo space, heavy towing capabilities and surprisingly easy handling were a few pluses that helped us overlook the Astro's less-than-breathtaking styling.
Understand that the Astro CS, particularly the extended version we tested, falls somewhere between a minivan and a full-size passenger van. Our test vehicle stickered out at $19,593 and gave us options such as eight-passenger seating with reclining front buckets, an AM/FM stereo with a cassette player, air conditioning, locking differential rear axle, power locks and a tilt steering wheel. Standard equipment included a four-speed automatic transmission with overdrive, a 4.3-liter, 165-hp V6 and a driver-side air bag. It was well-equipped for a family van, but boaters and campers might choose the optional 200-hp V6 engine for more towing power.
On the road, the Chevy Astro CS was satisfying. Simply put, it performed and drove the way it looked - like a traditional, rear-wheel drive, high-center-of-gravity van.
The Astro's performance was adequate during acceleration from standing starts and highway-passing trials. However, the standard 4.3-liter, fuel-injected V6 produced some noise and seemed to limit out at higher speeds. For more muscle, we would recommend the optional central-port fuel injected version of this engine.
Parking and steering maneuvers were nearly effortless, thanks to one of the quietest and smoothest power-steering systems we've tested. We were equally impressed with the sureness of the Astro's standard four-wheel, anti-lock brakes, even in near-panic stops.
True, there was a little lean in cornering, and a trace of rock and roll when negotiating bumpy roads. But, overall, this roomy vehicle treated us to a soft, comfortable and quiet ride around town and on the highway.
Although Chevy isn't going to set many styling or performance benchmarks with the '94 Astro CS, it's still a hard-working, high-riding and reasonably priced alternative to some of the more contemporary minivans. The Extended-Body Astro CS is bigger and roomier than several of its competitors. With its rear-wheel drive and 5,500-pound towing capacity, it's also a good choice for boaters and campers.
While we gave it only average marks for fit and workmanship, the Astro CS had major pluses: It delivered a quiet, stable ride and performed consistent on the road.