Story and photos by Greg Wilson
Buick Terraza, Chevrolet Uplander, Pontiac Montana SV6. Click image to enlarge
Brentwood Bay, British Columbia – There’s little doubt that minivans are the most practical family vehicles on the market, but many buyers just can’t warm up to their typically conservative – some say ‘boring’ – styling.
General Motors hopes to remedy this situation with their new line-up of 2005 ‘crossover sport vans’. “We’ve designed these minivans for those who aspire to an SUV but want all the functionality and cargo space of a minivan,” said Peter Bannon, Director of Vehicle Marketing for General Motors of Canada at a recent vehicle introduction on Vancouver Island.
The 2005 Chevrolet Uplander, Pontiac Montana SV6, and the all-new Buick Terraza and Saturn Relay, have taller, more aggressive front-ends, higher headlamps, more prominent grilles, wider C-pillars, and bigger standard tires (16 in. vs 15 in.) than the 2004 Chevy Venture and Pontiac Montana. There’s also some additional grey body cladding on the front bumper that looks like a skid plate, and some more cladding on the side sills and rear bumper. The new vans are about 3.5 in. longer, mostly at the front, and 3 to 4 inches taller.
All four 2005 GM minivans are available in extended wheelbase (121 in.) models (EWB), but for Canada only, the Chevy Uplander and Pontiac Montana SV6 will be offered in regular wheelbase (113 in.) models (RWB) as well. This is good news for Canada because RWB minivans are much more popular here than they are in the United States (as a percentage of those sold). Even so, it’s significant that GM of Canada was able to convince its parent company to produce RWB models soley for Canada – and nowhere else in the world. They must be expecting to sell a lot of them!
The Chevrolet and Pontiac minivans are already selling well in Canada, but according to Bannon, Saturn dealers really wanted a minivan to sell to their family-oriented buyers. As well, General Motors needed an upscale minivan to replace the now-departed Oldsmobile Silhouette. Since Buick is an upscale brand, they received the well-equipped Terraza model.
Though each van is aimed at a different type of customer, the differences between the vans are limited to the exterior styling, some interior differences such as gauge colour and trim colour, pricing, standard equipment levels, and option choices. Oh, and the Terraza is the only one with an independent rear suspension.
The higher front-end design is not just for looks. GM has improved crash protection substantially, they claim, although third-party crash tests have not yet been conducted. The front-end structure has been extended by 50 mm to provide more crush space in a frontal collision, and an improved safety cage around the passenger compartment provides better side impact and rollover protection. GM is hoping for five star ratings in government frontal and side impact crash tests, and a ‘Good’ rating in the Insurance Institute’s 40 mph frontal offset crash test.
2005 Saturn Relay
In addition, the new minivans have three-point seatbelts at all seven seating positions, large height adjustable head restraints in six of the seven seating positions, dual-stage front airbags, a front passenger seat sensor to turn off the passenger airbag when a child, or no one is sitting there; and optional side airbags in the front seats. However, side curtain head airbags are not offered.
Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS are now standard, and traction control, stability control, and VersTrak all-wheel-drive are available as options. As well, the new minivans have brighter headlamps, optional rear back-up sensors, and standard OnStar.
Under the hood is a more powerful 200 horsepower 3.5 litre V6 (up from 3.4 litres and 185 horsepower). This overhead valve engine offers generous torque (220 foot pounds vs 210 foot pounds), and is mated to a standard 4-speed automatic transmission. Properly equipped, these vans can tow up to 3,500 lbs.
Fuel consumption has increased over previous models to 13.3 L/100 km City and 8.8 L/100 km (FWD) from 12.0 L/100 km and 7.8 L/100 km. Still, fuel consumption is better than some of its competitors, and GM claims the vans have a segment leading driving range of 965 kilometres.
2005 Chevrolet Uplander
Engine noise and vibration in the cabin have been substantially reduced due to a revised suspension design, new engine mounting and more sound insulation. On the road, the new vans feel more refined than previous models, with a quieter highway ride, improved steering feel, and more powerful brakes. The Buick Terraza in particular has been given some unique upgrades to make it quieter, including a forged steel crankshaft, engine cover and sound absorption materials. In addition, its independent rear suspension improves ride and handling on bumpy surfaces.
Interiors are where many minivan buyers make or break their purchasing decision. With this in mind, GM added a 50/50 split fold-flat third row seat, more comfortable third row seats, a more attractive and better-finished control layout, a unique entertainment system, and more storage areas.
The new 50/50 split rear seatbacks allow one person, but not two, to sit on one side of the third row bench while the other side is folded down for cargo-carrying. The third row seatbacks fold flat without having to remove the head restraints, and the second row bucket seatbacks also fold flat.
The protruding third row head restraints need to be removed if you want a completely flat loading surface. Optional storage boxes behind the third row seats provide a handy place to secure smaller packages, and raise the floor height level with the folded rear seatbacks.
GM says they chose not to use third row seats which fold into the rear cargo floor because these type of seats have a lower, and less comfortable seatback. As well, they cannot be lowered if there is cargo in the cargo floor well.
The third row seats in the GM minivans are more comfortable than most, and have outboard head restraints high enough to protect heads against whiplash. However, there is no centre rear head restraint.
Second row passengers have standard bucket seats, or optional Captain’s chairs with folding armrests. But because a three-person bench seat is no longer offered, these new minivans will now seat a maximum of seven passengers rather than eight.
An 8-speaker stereo with CD and MP3 player is standard, and an in-dash 6-disc CD player is optional. A new DVD entertainment system is now available on all minivan models, not just the uplevel models. And GM offers a unique digital storage cartridge, called ‘Phatnoise’, which can store hundreds of hours of music, movies, TV shows, computer games or audio books all one small cartridge.
Storage areas abound, including an optional storage box that can be fitted between the centre row buckets, folding storage trays on the back of the front seats which can be used to store the wireless headphones for the DVD entertainment system, an overhead storage system, and a dozen cupholders.
2005 Chevrolet Uplander. Click image to enlarge
Other unique options include 115 volt power outlet, and a remote vehicle starter.
Each van is priced differently according to the level of equipment and target customers.
Chevrolet Uplander vans, which are aimed at “modern families” range in price from $25,405 for the RWB model to $37,470 for the EWB AWD model.
Pontiac Montana SV6 vans, targeted at “drivers with active families”, start at $26,620 for the RWB model, and go up to $37,845 for the EWB AWD van.
Saturn Relay models, “for the confident and well-informed family”, run from $27,995 for the base EWB model to $36,330 for the EWB AWD model.
2005 Saturn Relay. Click image to enlarge
And Buick Terraza vans, aimed at “confident, accomplished people with active lifestyles”, range in price from $33,745 for the EWB CX trim to $42,810 for the EWB CXL van.
GM’s new vans have made big strides in comfort, noise reduction, safety, utility, interior quality, and value for money, and it’s great to see that Canadians can still get regular wheelbase models. But it’s disappointing that eight-passenger seating and curtain airbags are not available.