All-new for 2005, the confusingly-named Pontiac Montana SV6 replaces the outgoing Pontiac Montana minivan. It’s one of four new vans in GM’s stable, also appearing as the Chevrolet Uplander, Buick Terraza and Saturn Relay. Like the Uplander, the Montana SV6 is available in regular- or extended-wheelbase versions; the Terraza and Relay are extended only.

Although it’s a minivan, GM prefers to call the SV6 a “mid-van”; its styling is more like an SUV, with a flat, truck-like nose. All SV6 models are powered by a 3.5-litre V6 mated to a four-speed automatic; an on-demand all-wheel-drive system is available on the top-level, extended-wheelbase model.

Along with its odd name, the SV6 says a mouthful when it comes to trim lines, too; there’s the base SV6, the Uplevel 1 and Uplevel 2.

Base models include power heated mirrors, dual sliding doors, 16-inch steel wheels (17-inch on extended wheelbase), variable intermittent wipers, rear washer/wiper, air conditioning, floor mats, tilt wheel, power front windows, power swing-out rear quarter windows, cloth seats, CD/MP3 player, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, power locks with keyless entry and OnStar.

The Uplevel 1 adds cruise control, driver information centre, and roof rack side rails, plus the ability to option a power feature to the passenger-side sliding door. The Uplevel 2 and AWD add 17-inch aluminum wheels, rear air conditioning (on extended wheelbase), cargo net (on RWB), rear cargo organizer (on EWB), overhead storage bin, leather-wrapped wheel, second-row captain’s chairs, six-way power driver’s seat, front- and second-row utility trays and front-row side airbags.

Driving the SV6 is a pleasant surprise; handling is more car-like than a typical minivan, and the V6 gives it enough power for merging on the highway. There’s a lot of storage space, especially in the larger version, although passengers in both wheelbase lengths can’t complain about the legroom. All models come with an overhead rail system that looks like it came from IKEA, but optional items, including a DVD entertainment system or storage bins, can be snapped onto it, or moved around for greater versatility.

Rear visibility suffers with the van’s large seats and tall headrests. The second and third rows fold to form a flat floor, but Chrysler’s Stow ’n Go folding seat system still reigns. In the SV6’s favour, you can’t all-wheel-drive in the Chrysler, because the storage wells get in the way. And in recent U.S. government crash testing, the SV6’s new line of minivans received the top “good” rating for frontal crash protection, a monumental improvement over the previous models.

The SV6 is built in Doraville, Georgia.

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