General Motors has had two unsuccessful tries at building a minivan that the American public wants. Finally, GM may have found a workable formula with a selection of all-new long-nose family haulers: the Pontiac Montana SV6, the Chevrolet Uplander, the Saturn Relay and the Buick Terraza.
The long-nose design gets the engine completely forward for additional crash protection, and out of the way, and lets the interior open up so that real American families can use every cubic foot. GM also believes that the long-nose design makes the minivans look more like SUVs and thus makes them more acceptable to those buyers who attach some kind of less-than-macho stigma to minivan ownership. Montana competes against the Honda Odyssey, the Toyota Sienna, the Dodge Grand Caravan, the Ford Freestar, and the Nissan Quest.
We found the all-new Pontiac Montana SV6 to be pleasant and easy to manage, though not bristling with horsepower. It's roomy and competent, though it doesn't offer the latest in interior innovation. The Pontiac may be the best of the GM minivans with sporty, distinctive styling in a vehicle class not noted for those attributes. All-wheel drive is available, a key feature for owners who battle wintry weather. The Montana SV6 is priced well below the Odyssey and some of the other minivans, and cash incentives can sweeten the deal considerably.
All use the same engine, transmission, tire and wheel package. The standard setup is one right-side power sliding door for the second- and rear-seat passengers in the 2-2-3 seating layout. The left-side power sliding door comes as part of the $815 premium convenience package that includes the left-side power sliding door, rear park assist, an alarm system, and a three-way universal transmitter for garage doors, lights and gates.
Safety equipment on all models includes ABS, childproof door locks and the federally mandated dual front air bags. Side air bags are optional at $350. We recommend getting them. Traction control is also optional for the front-wheel-drive models at $195. All models come with OnStar and a year's worth of basic services.
Driving the Pontiac Montana in the American heartland is pleasant. The engine is smooth and quiet, though not exactly rippling with musculature. Its 200 horsepower will accelerate at a good but not a quick pace. Performance for making passing maneuvers is acceptable. This minivan weighs in at over 4300 pounds empty. It wouldn't be our choice for hauling the family and a 3500-pound trailer at the same time. Just not enough grunt here to do a job like that.
Steering is typically GM over-assisted, very light and lacking in road feel, but it turns the truck. The anti-lock brakes work well at light loads and perform extremely well in panic stopping situations.
Two different suspensions are used. The front-wheel-drive models have MacPherson struts up front with a simple, inexpensive twist-beam axle at the rear mounted on trailing arms, with coil springs. Opt for Versatrak all-wheel drive, however, and you get a fully independent double-wishbone rear suspension that's a bit more aggressive and flatter in the corners. It adds considerably to the bottom line, however.
Our Montana was EPA-rated at 18 mpg City/24 Highway, but got 25 mpg overall after draining one tank on a highway trip, which would give a cruising tank range of 625 miles with its 25-gallon tank.
The all-new Pontiac Montana SV6 is a nice minivan that appeals to budget-conscious buyers who need room for family, dogs, and cargoes of all shapes and sizes. We found the Montana to be the most pleasing of the new GM minivans. Retailing for less than $32,000 including destination and delivery charges, the Pontiac Montana SV6 retails for $6,000 less than a Honda Odyssey, the current class leader in minivans. Cash incentives can sweeten the Pontiac deal considerably.
New Car Test Drive contributor Jim McCraw filed this report from Detroit, Michigan.