All-new in 2005, the Pontiac Montana SV6 minivan undergoes a few changes for 2006, including a new 3.9-litre, 235 hp V6 that can be added as an option to front-wheel-drive models.

Also available are new second-row side-impact airbags; an available Security Package with remote vehicle starter, dual-stage driver and passenger front and side-impact airbags and theft deterrent system; an available Sport Package that combines the 3.9-litre with 17-inch Chrome Tech aluminum wheels, engine cooler and Sport badging; and two new exterior colours, Cranberry Red Metallic and Bronzestone Metallic.

GM prefers to call the SV6 a “mid-van”; its styling is more like an SUV, with a flat, truck-like nose. It appears elsewhere in the company’s stable as the Chevrolet Uplander, Buick Terraza and Saturn Relay. American buyers can only order the Montana SV6 as an extended-wheelbase model, but in Canada, it’s available in two sizes, including a regular-wheelbase length.

The standard engine for all SV6 models is a 3.5-litre V6, mated to a four-speed Hydra-Matic transmission. There are three trim levels: base, Uplevel 1 and Uplevel 2. The long-wheelbase Uplevel 2 can also be ordered with an on-demand, all-wheel-drive system; it powers the front wheels exclusively until it detects slippage, whereupon it transfers torque to the rear wheels. It also has the ability to transfer torque from side to side.

Base models include power heated mirrors, dual sliding doors, 17-inch steel wheels, 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.

Along with the new Security and Sport Packages, Pontiac has bundled several options into three other extra-charge packages, the Convenience, Preferred and Premium Seating packages. Available features include performance suspension, deep-tinted glass, universal home remote, brushed silver luggage rails and rear parking assist.

Driving the SV6 is a pleasant surprise; handling is more car-like than a typical minivan, and it has enough power for merging on the highway. There’s a lot of storage space, especially in the larger version, although passengers in either wheelbase length 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 isn’t the greatest on the SV6, and the optional rear parking assist is a definite asset. 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 have all-wheel-drive in the Chrysler, because the storage wells get in the way. In U.S. government crash testing, the SV6’s new line of minivans received the top “good” rating for frontal crash protection. And best of all, there’s been an across-the-board price cut from 2005, with the base model dropping $2,095.

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