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Chevrolet Venture represents a solid alternative among minivans, one that will appeal to a lot of buyers. Its V6 engine is willing, and its ride is smooth and car-like. While neither the most economical minivan you can buy, nor the most powerful, Venture remains competitively priced for a van with V6 power.
Its best feature may well be its wide range of seating and cargo configurations. Available modular bucket seats and captain's chairs allow you to precisely tailor the Venture's interior for any conceivable combination of passengers and cargo.
Last year's Venture added two significant new options: GM's Versatrak four-wheel drive, and a DVD-based entertainment system in the special Warner Bros. Edition. The 2003 Venture remains unchanged.
The Chevrolet Venture operates seamlessly. The drivetrain is smooth, nearly invisible. The engine delivers good response in traffic, even though the Venture 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.
The traction control system, which came standard on our LT, engages 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. The front wheels spin easily, and when they spin in a corner you feel small tugs on the steering wheel.
All of this is addressed by the available all-wheel-drive system, which GM calls Versatrak. Versatrak keeps the vehicle moving as long as at least one wheel has traction. In normal conditions, power is delivered to the front wheels, but the system automatically transfers power to the rear wheels if the front wheels lose grip.
The touring suspension makes the Venture a good highway cruiser. It does hop around a bit on bumpy metropolitan surfaces, but you won't notice this if you do most of your driving on well-paved suburban roads. We drove Ventures with the standard Smooth Ride suspension, and we did not see a big difference in ride quality.
The brake pedal feels more spongy in the Venture than it does in Chevrolet's sedans. But the anti-lock brake system engages smoothly and without drama on loose surfaces.
Rear park assist 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 also comes in 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 by making it easier. That's particularly nice when you have a crowd waiting to head into a restaurant.
We tested the load-leveling suspension on a long-wheelbase LT by hauling a 450-pound motorcycle 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 suspension compensated for the extra weight, so our headlights weren't pointed to the stars. Nor did our loaded-down Venture wallow or lean excessively during quick maneuvers through downtown Chicago. We don't recommend you try this at home, but it shows that the Venture is a capable cargo hauler.
The 2003 Chevy Venture is ready to haul a bunch of folks on vacation, or a load of hardware from the home-improvement center.
Venture seats seven or eight people comfortably. The long-wheelbase models add more cargo space. There are plenty of storage bins and cubby holes on all models. On the road, 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 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 highly 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 consideration.
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