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Expert Reviews 1 of 2
By Jim Flammang
April 15, 2002
Vehicle Overview Pontiacs minivan used to be front-wheel-drive only, but Versatrak all-wheel drive is available on the 2002 model. This years Montana can also be equipped with an optional DVD-based video entertainment system for middle and rear passengers; it includes wireless remote control and wireless headphones.
Built from the same design as the Chevrolet Venture and Oldsmobile Silhouette, the Montana looks sportier than its GM mates. All three date back to 1990 and were redesigned for the 1997 model year. Pontiacs version used to be called the Trans Sport. Regular- and extended-length versions are available.
Montana sales fell by 17 percent during 2001 to 49,416 units, according to Automotive News. This seasons buyers can dress up the extended-wheelbase minivan with a new Thunder Sport Package that includes a rear spoiler, 16-inch chrome wheels, two-tone leather interior and a fully independent suspension.
Exterior Regular-length Montanas have a 112-inch wheelbase, measure 187.3 inches long overall and stand 67.4 inches tall. Extended-length models ride a 121-inch wheelbase, stretch to nearly 201 inches and stand 68.2 inches high, without the roof rack. Measurements are close to those of the Dodge Caravan and Grand Caravan.
All Montanas have dual-sliding side doors. A power-operated passenger-side door is optional, while one for the drivers side also is available on higher-end models. All Montanas come with a luggage rack and an optional automatic load leveling system that prevents the rear of the vehicle from sinking down when heavily loaded.
Interior The Montana is more versatile inside than some minivans; it can be fitted for six to eight passengers. Bucket seats go up front, and the second row of a regular-length Montana may be equipped with 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 two bench seats in the second and third rows to accommodate eight occupants. Extended models can have a stowable third-row seat with a floor-mounted convenience center. Cargo capacity is 119.8 cubic feet for regular-length models and 140.7 cubic feet for the extended version.
Standard equipment includes a CD player, power windows and door locks, remote keyless entry and dashboard-mounted cupholders. Options include an in-dash six-CD changer and a HomeLink universal garage door opener.
An ultrasonic rear parking assist system is optional for extended-length models; it gives an audible warning if you get too close to an obstacle while backing up. GMs OnStar communication system is standard or optional, depending on the model. An optional MontanaVision DVD-based video entertainment features a fold-down, 7-inch screen and onscreen programming.
Under the Hood Like its cousins from Chevrolet and Oldsmobile, the Montana uses a 185-horsepower, 3.4-liter V-6 engine and a four-speed-automatic transmission. Versatrak AWD is offered only on extended-length Montanas.
Safety Standard side-impact airbags for the front seats provide head and chest protection. Antilock brakes and puncture-sealing tires are standard on all models. Traction control is available in a Sport Performance and Handling Package. Outboard seating positions in the second row are fitted with lower anchors for child-safety seats.
Driving Impressions Because their powertrains are identical, the driving experience in a Montana isnt markedly different from that of the Venture or Silhouette, despite the Pontiacs sportier appearance. All three minivans have improved since their 1997 debuts, especially in terms of second-row seating comfort.
Even though the presence of Versatrak AWD isnt evident in ordinary driving, it gives a feeling of added confidence just in case the road gets slippery. An AWD Montana rides comfortably, handles capably and is on par with most rivals it even scores better than some.
The Montanas performance is a strong point, as GMs solid powertrain functions with impressive competence. Each of these GM minivans is energetic when starting from a standstill, and they pass and merge effectively.
None of GMs vehicles stand much taller than the ever-tightening competition, including the latest versions of the Dodge and Chrysler minivans. But because differences among the available models tend to be slight, theyre well worth a test drive.