By Jeremy Cato
The Oldsmobile Silhouette is one of three General Motors minivans all built on identical mechanical components. The others? The Chevrolet Venture and the Pontiac Trans Sport. Of the three, the Silhouette was the last to arrive in the Canada, about a year after the Chevrolet Venture and Pontiac Trans Sport were introduced in 1996 as 1997 models. The Silhouette will also be the first to depart.
The 2004 model year will see Olds wind down its business. Olds calls it the “grand finale” for the Silhouette, Alero compact car and the Bravada sport-utility vehicle.
In any case, the three vans represent adequate, competent minivans, but they most certainly are not industry leaders. Among other things, they’re a little smaller than the Honda Odysseys and Ford Windstars and Dodge Grand Caravans of the world.
The Silhouette and its GM sibling minivans are solid in the engine/transmission department, comfortable and versatile in the passenger/cargo equation and comfortable on the road. But again, nothing outstanding jumps to mind. Truth be told, they seem the product of far too much committee work and compromise. And quality has been at best average. A large number of recalls is noteworthy.
If you’re looking at a used one, note that the Silhouette was the first GM minivan in Canada with an electronically-powered door operated from the driver’s seat or via the key fob. It’s such a handy feature rivals have power sliding doors, too. The Silhouette’s, though, has suffered a number of service issues (see Buyer’s Alerts).
Inside, the Silhouette’s seating combinations offer versatility, and it’s a simple but not necessarily an easy process to remove and re-install the second-row captain’s chairs and the third bench in older vans. The rear seatbacks fold flat to act as tables or load areas, too.
For 2001 the Silhouette received a number of improvements wrought to keep it competitive with rivals from Honda and DaimlerChrysler. Most noticeable was the flat-folding third seat. Stowable third seats add tremendous functionality because they don’t have to be taken out and stored in the garage when maximum hauling capacity is needed.
Although the Oldsmobile’s seat doesn’t fold into the cargo load floor like the Honda Odyssey, the practical effect is essentially the same. The third seat’s fairly thin cushions allow the seat to be less than a foot tall when folded.
For power, the Silhouette has come with GM’s 3.4-litre V6 linked to a four-speed automatic. This is a no-frills pushrod engine but it does a reasonable job here. But do-it-yourselfers take note: the 3.4’s underhood accessibility is good only for checking fluids and changing oil; if you want to change the three far-side spark plugs, you must remove two engine mounting bolts and rock the engine forward.
GM has sold all sorts of versions, with the best equipped being the Silhouette Premiere edition with all sorts of luxury features – including a flip-down TV screen.
As with many GM products, the Silhouette is competent but not a spectacular, “gotta have it” minivan. The big hook for used buyers is pricing. That is, these vans have not held their value particularly well, so there are good buys to be had.