All-new for 2005, the Saturn Relay takes its place above the smaller Vue in the brand’s growing line-up.

Versions of the Relay appear in four of GM’s brands. At Chevrolet, it’s called the Uplander and it replaces the Venture; as the Montana SV6, it replaces the Pontiac Montana; at Buick, it’s a new addition, the Terraza. The Chevrolet and Pontiac versions come in regular- or extended-wheelbase, but the Relay and Terraza are extended-length only. Of all the extended-wheelbase models, the Relay has the lowest base price.

You’ll now have to watch for parking-lot door dings; the Relay’s body panels are metal, instead of polymer plastic.

Although it’s a minivan, GM prefers to call the Relay a “mid-van”; its styling is more like an SUV, with a flat, truck-like nose. All Relays are powered by a 3.5-litre V6 with a four-speed automatic, and come in front-wheel or all-wheel-drive configuration. It’s a torque-on-demand system that’s front-wheel-drive unless they slip, whereupon it sends power to the rear wheels, although the AWD adds a fully independent rear suspension that makes for better handling.

Trim lines go by the odd designations of Relay.2, Relay.3 and Relay.3 AWD. Relay.2 includes 17-inch steel wheels, air conditioning, front console, power windows, power locks with keyless entry, heated mirrors, cruise control, rear washer/wiper, 50/50 folding third row bench seat, second-row fold-flat bucket seats, CD/MP3 player with eight speakers, automatic headlamps and OnStar.

Relay.3 adds 17-inch aluminum wheels, rear air conditioning with separate rear controls, universal garage door opener, driver information centre, leather-wrapped wheel, six-way power driver’s seat, second-row fold-flat captain’s chairs and remote start. AWD models add side-impact airbags.

Ultrasonic rear parking assist is bundled in an option package with dual power sliding doors, and it’s a handy one: the Relay is a cumbersome vehicle to park. It’s big and bulky, and its tall seats and hefty head-restraints steal almost all of the rear visibility.

Driving ahead, though, the Relay is a pleasant surprise, with handling that’s responsive and light but with enough road feel to inspire confidence. The V6 is surprisingly quiet and is sufficient to propel the heavy vehicle. There’s a great deal of interior space, with comfortable seats that offer plenty of legroom in the second row and enough to keep passengers quiet for short hauls in the third. An overhead rail system looks like it came from IKEA, but optional items, such as storage compartments or a rear-seat DVD system can be easily snapped on, or moved about for greater versatility.

The Relay is built in Doraville, Georgia.

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