Logic suggests that sportiness and minvans dont quite blend together, but Pontiacs version of the GM front-drive minivan trio does its best to warrant that description. In appearance, at least, it is the sportiest member of the group, which also includes the value-priced Chevrolet Venture and the luxurious Oldsmobile Silhouette. All three date their heritage back to 1990 and were redesigned for the 1997 model year. Pontiacs minivan originally was called the Trans Sport.
Like Chevrolets Venture, the Montana comes with a regular- or extended-length body and sports a restyled grille and front and rear fascias. Option packages can provide a selection of comfort and convenience features. The ultrasonic rear parking assist system, which gives an audible warning if you get too close to an obstacle while backing up, is a new option on extended-length Montanas.
A new stowable third-row seat with a floor-mounted convenience center is optional and can be installed in extended-length models. GMs OnStar communication system is now standard. MontanaVision, Pontiacs backseat video entertainment system that is optional in extended-length models, gets a larger screen and new cordless headphones. The VCR is mounted in the dashboard.
Regular-length Montanas have a 112-inch wheelbase and measure 187.3 inches long overall. Extended-length models ride a 121-inch span and stretch just past the 200-inch mark. Measurements are close to those of the newly redesigned Dodge Caravan and Grand Caravan.
All Montanas have dual sliding doors. A power-operated passenger-side door is optional, while one for the drivers side also is available. All Montanas now come with a luggage rack, and automatic load leveling is optional.
Montana minivans can be fitted for six to eight passengers. Bucket seats go up front, and the second row of a regular-length Montana can have bucket seats or captains chairs. Twin buckets or a split-folding three-passenger bench seat can go in the third row. Extended-length models may have captains chairs and a rear bench to seat seven or front buckets and a bench for eight occupants. Extended models also can have the new stowable third-row seat. Cargo capacity is 133 cubic feet for regular-length models and 156 cubic feet for the extended version.
Pontiac dropped the integrated child-safety seat for the second row, but outboard seating positions in that row now are fitted with lower anchors for child seats. Standard equipment includes a CD player and remote keyless entry. New options include an in-dash six-CD changer and a HomeLink universal garage door opener. Pop-out, dashboard-mounted cupholders replace the former seat-mounted units.
Under the Hood
The Montana, Venture and Silhouette minivans share the same 185-horsepower, 3.4-liter V-6 engine and a four-speed-automatic transmission.
Side-impact airbags for the front seats, antilock brakes and puncture-sealing tires are standard. The side airbags gain head and chest protection for the driver this year. Traction control is standard on the extended-length Montana and optional on regular-length models that are set up for seven passengers.
Because their powertrains are identical, the driving experience in a Montana isnt markedly different from that of a Venture or Silhouette, despite its sportier reputation. All three minivans have improved since their 1997 debuts, especially in terms of second-row seating comfort.
Performance is a strong plus, and GMs solid powertrain functions with impressive competence. Energetic when starting from a standstill, these minivans also pass and merge effectively. Though faults are few, none of these vehicles stand tall against the ever-tightening competition, including the latest versions of the Dodge/Chrysler minivans.