2003 Pontiac Montana GT - 'MontanaVision'
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Story and photos by Grant Yoxon

How’s your vision?

Mine’s just fine too, at least until I have to figure out the cooking instructions on a package of soup (is that two cups or three? I can never be sure). My Optometrist says it is normal for someone my, um, age.

I was doing just fine with a magnifying glass for the really tough stuff. But what brought me to make an appointment with the Optometrist was not the fuzzy little print that passes for the recommended dosage on medicine containers (no one can read that), but the fuzzy little pink symbols on function buttons and switches in the ‘MontanaVision’ minivan.

2003 Pontiac Montana GT - floor console

2003 Pontiac Montana GT- overhead console
Click image to enlarge

Obviously Pontiac’s marketing people weren’t thinking of my poor eyesight when they came up with that name for the DVD entertainment-equipped Pontiac Montana minivan. It is certainly better than ‘Montana Myopia’.

There are more than a dozen buttons on the dash, the centre console and the roof mounted console of the Pontiac Montana minivan that do everything from open the passenger power sliding door to turning off the traction control. The problem is I couldn’t tell what those buttons did, because I couldn’t distinguish the symbols.

The owner’s manual recommends “spending some time” learning what all these buttons do. You’d better hope your memory is better than your vision. Mine wasn’t, and the owner’s manual became my constant companion during my week with Pontiac’s extended wheelbase minivan. Of course I had to stop and put on my reading glasses to read the manual, so I wasn’t much further ahead.

2003 Pontiac Montana GT - 'MontanaVision'

2003 Pontiac Montana GT - 'MontanaVision'

2003 Pontiac Montana GT - 'MontanaVision'
Click image to enlarge

For people with compromised vision, and you don’t have to be visually impaired, high contrast is just as important as size. That’s why this web-site uses black on white text, so you can read it without struggling. Well Pontiac, pink on dark grey is not high contrast.

And locating these buttons where you have to take your eyes completely off the road to use them – either at the base of the centre console or above your head – is hard to comprehend. The last thing you want to do on a rotten winter night is turn off the traction control when you thought you were turning on the fog lights – the two switches are side by side.

This would be just a niggling complaint about what is otherwise a pretty fine minivan except that if you owned it, this little aggravation might drive you to trade it in.

Our test vehicle was the extended wheelbase Montana GT – Pontiac’s top-of-the-line minivan – equipped with such standard features as GM’s OnStar service, electronic traction control, rear parking assist, upgraded suspension, accessory inflator kit, six-way power drivers seat and power sliding rear passenger door.

Oddly enough a power-sliding driver’s side rear door is an optional feature our van didn’t have. One power slider and one manual slider. Weird.

Options our van did have included light taupe metallic lower body cladding ($205), a 6-disc in-dash CD changer which adds a leather wrapped steering wheel with audio controls ($570), and for $1595, the ‘MontanaVision’ DVD entertainment system.

The system has a DVD player with wireless remote and four wireless headsets and features a folding 7-inch (178 mm) video screen with on-screen programming. Accessory jacks allow you to plug in a video game with an AC adaptor. Pontiac press material says passengers can use the DVD player, the radio, and the CD player all at the same time. But just getting it to play audio on the speakers and DVD on the headphones was challenging enough as the owner’s manual wasn’t much help. Intuitive it is not.

Naturally, the MontanaVision DVD entertainment system was the feature my children liked the most about the Montana, but I was never sure if it was the pleasure of watching a movie on a Sunday drive or the challenge of making it work.

What I liked the most about the Pontiac Montana was ride and handling. This is a big minivan, but upgraded suspension on GT models makes this van handle like a regular wheelbase model. Steering is a good as it gets with a minivan and the ride is, of course, comfortable without being bouncy.

2003 Pontaic Montana

2003 Pontaic Montana

2003 Pontaic Montana
Click image to enlarge

GM’s 3.4 litre V6 is not the most powerful engine in this class – both Ford and DaimlerChrysler offer 3.8 litre powerplants with 200 hp and 215 hp respectively and Honda’s 3.5 litre produces a whopping 240 hp. But the 3.4 feels stronger than its rated 185 hp, providing excellent acceleration while beating the competition at the gas pumps with class leading fuel economy. The Montana will tow up to 1590 kg with optional trailer towing package.

Safety is a top concern for minivan buyers and the Montana has many features that will appease concerns including dual-stage front airbags, driver and front passenger, seat-mounted side airbags, electronic traction control and four wheel anti-lock brakes. But shoulder belts and headrests are only available in outboard positions. The 2002 long wheel-base Pontiac Montana received four out of five stars in front impact crash testing by the US National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration, while the side impact rating was five stars for front seat occupants and four stars for rear – equal to many of its competitors but not as good as the Ford Windstar, Kia Sedona and Mazda MPV which earned five stars across the board.

Personal safety is a high point with the Montana GT which includes GM’s OnStar service with one year Safe and Sound Plan free. With this plan you can get assistance when you need it, whether you have a flat tire or are involved in a serious accident. An OnStar advisor can open your Montana’s doors if you lose your keys, remotely diagnose a ‘check engine’ light, or provide guidance after a fender bender. Regular cost for the Safe and Sound Plan is $24.95 per month or $289 per year.

2003 Pontiac Montana GT - Convenience Centre

2003 Pontiac Montana GT - air pump

2003 Pontiac Montana GT -  gauges
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GM’s long wheelbase minivans have one of the most configurable interiors of any minivan. They can be ordered with seven or eight seat configurations, quad captains chairs, 60/40 split bench middle seat, 50/50 split bench rear seat, or fold-flat, stowable 3rd row bench seat.

Our test vehicle had quad captains chairs with fold-flat rear seat. This seat unfolds and lays flat on the floor, a novel solution to the problem of gaining cargo space without having to remove the seat. A rear cargo “convenience centre” is included providing covered storage space for those MontanaVision head sets. A convenient air pump is also available in the rear quarter panel capable of inflating beach balls, air mattresses and even a tire if your need it.

The Montana GT’s cloth covered captains seats were wide and comfortable (leather is an available option). The driver’s seat is six-way power adjustable. Of course the Montana includes the usual assortment of power equipment including door locks (programmable), windows, rear quarter windows and heated remote outside mirrors. Rear parking assist, cruise control, tilt steering, fog lights, roof rack and air conditioning with rear seat fan and temperature controls are also standard on the GT. Unfortunately, automatic climate control is not available.

The Montana’s gauge cluster – tachometer, speedometer, fuel and ampmetre – is Pontiac’s trademark hot pink on black gauges. And then there are those pink on grey switches and knobs. Well, you already know what I think about pink.


Technical Data:

2003 Pontiac Montana GT – ‘MontanaVision’
Base price (Extended Wheelbase) $31,805
Base price (GT EWB) $37,530
Options 2-tone paint ($205), AM/FM/6-disc in-dash CD changer ($570), MontanaVision ($1595)
Price as tested $40,995
Type 4-door, 7 passenger minivan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 3.4 litre OHV V6
Horsepower 185 @ 5200 rpm
Torque 210 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Transmission 4-speed electronic automatic with Overdrive
Tires P215/70R-15 all-season
Curb weight 1790 kg (3940 lb.)
Wheelbase 3047 mm (120.0 in.)
Length 5113 mm (201.3 in.)
Width 1847 mm (72.7 in.)
Height 1730 mm (68.1 in.)
Cargo capacity (max.) 3985 litres (140.7 cu. ft.)
Towing capacity 910 kg (2000 lb.)/1590 kg (3500 lb.) with towing package
Fuel consumption City: 12.3 l/100 km (23 mpg)
  8.3 l/100 km (32 mpg)
Fuel regular unleaded
Warranty 3 years/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 years/100,000 km

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