Introduced in 1985 to compete against the first Chrysler minivans, the midsize-truck-based Astro was Chevrolet's original entrant into that market. It's available with rear- or all-wheel drive and is positioned between a true minivan and Chevrolet's full-size van, the Express.
Passenger vans come in a single basic trim level, but LS and LT option groups are offered. A two-seat Cargo Van remains available for commercial applications. Chevrolet also offers conversion units that can be modified by specialty manufacturers.
GMC's Safari is nearly identical to the Astro, but Chevrolet's van outsells its GMC cousin by a wide margin. Neither van has been selling strongly against smaller, more modern front-wheel-drive minivans, and both declined significantly during 2003. For 2005, Chevrolet is introducing a new Uplander minivan that could attract customers who might otherwise have favored an Astro.
Produced in a single body length, the Astro rides a 111.2-inch wheelbase, measures 189.8 inches long overall and stands 75 inches high. A regular-length Dodge Caravan is nearly as long as the Astro, while the Dodge Grand Caravan stretches nearly 11 inches longer. Optional running boards help ease entry and exit.
A sliding door is installed only on the passenger side, and swing-open rear cargo doors are standard. Dutch doors with a swing-up rear window on top and twin swing-out doors on the bottom are optional. A rear defogger is included with the Dutch-door setup.
Passenger vans are equipped with a tilt steering wheel, cruise control, and power windows, locks and mirrors. Eight-passenger seating consists of two front bucket seats and two rows of three-place bench seats. An optional seven-passenger configuration for the LT puts two second-row bucket seats in place of the bench. The LT van can be equipped with optional leather seating. With the second- and third-row seats removed, cargo space totals 170.4 cubic feet.
Under the Hood
A 4.3-liter V-6 produces 190 horsepower. The four-speed-automatic transmission incorporates a Tow/Haul mode that alters shift patterns when transporting heavy loads. A rear-drive passenger model can tow up to 5,400 pounds, while the Cargo Van is capable of pulling 5,700 pounds. All-wheel-drive Astros offer towing capacities that are 200 to 300 pounds lower. Rear-drive passenger Astros have a 1,764-pound payload rating, versus a 1,667-pound rating for all-wheel-drive models.
Optional all-wheel drive normally sends full power to the back wheels. When wheel slippage occurs, the system begins to deliver power to the front wheels until the Astro is able to regain traction.
Four-wheel all-disc antilock brakes are standard. Side-impact airbags are not available.
In terms of size and the overall driving feel, the Astro and its Safari cousin are more like scaled-down Express vans than enlarged minivans. Despite refinements in recent models and an impressive load of comfort and convenience features, rear-drive Astros inevitably produce a more trucklike sensation than you'd experience in a front-drive minivan.
For ample hauling capacity and a spacious cargo hold, the Astro can be a useful compromise. But for everyday driving, most people would be more comfortable in a conventional front-drive minivan.
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