Versus the competiton:
When people ask me about the high-tech car of the future, I ask them a simple question: What about the Chevrolet Venture Warner Bros. Edition minivan that’s on sale right now?
They usually laugh. High-tech and Chevrolet? High-tech in a minivan?
Well, it’s true.
We took the specially equipped Warner Bros. version of the Chevy Venture minivan on a recent family road trip, and here’s what accompanied the duffel bags, coolers, beach toys and bikes that we carried:
A vehicle entertainment system consisting of a video-cassette player, a flip-down LCD monitor positioned on the ceiling behind the front seats, four wireless headphones and a remote control.
These systems are a godsend to parents taking long trips with little kids (and with teenagers, too, I’d imagine). But when we’ve tried them previously, they either didn’t have headphones or they came with headphones with cords that got tangled or pulled out. The result was that while the kids enjoyed “Barney’s Big Adventure” or similar fare, my wife and I got to hear it, too, which wasn’t a whole lot of fun.
On this trip, the kids (now 4 and 5) mastered the wireless headphones rapidly, and the technology enabled them to watch and hear their videos while my wife and I listened to a book on tape. In short, everyone was happy.
The Venture includes General Motors’ OnStar system as standard equipment on every model, except the cheapest one, which Chevy calls the Value Van. With the push of a button, we could get directions to the nearest McDonald’s or ATM. It also includes safety features, such as instant notification of emergency personnel in case our air bag activated.
This van also has a rear parking assist system with sensors that activate beeps and lights in increasing intensity as you get ever closer to smashing the rear of the van into another vehicle, a parking pole or a kid’s bike.
GM deserves major kudos for recognizing that such features give it a competitive edge in the minivan market where function rules.
We found the extended-wheelbase Venture to be very functional in almost every way. We met the grandparents at our Central Coast beach destination, and then we took day trips, which required a fairly frequent shifting of the third row of seats from folded up flat for maximum storage to back in use to accommodate people. The switch was done very easily.
The second-row seats slide back and forth to further adjust the cargo vs. leg formula. Getting into the third row of seats was a rather simple task, too, taking about five second to fold and scoot one of the seats on the outside of the second row. The access, however, while perfect for the legs of children, was a bit tight for the adults in the crowd.
Once everyone was safely seated, there was nice roominess and enough cupholders to serve everyone.
On the road, the Ven ture is an adequate performer. The 3.4-liter V-6 makes 185 horsepower and 210 pound-feet of torque. That’s enough to move this two-ton van at California highway speeds. But both the Ford Windstar and the Chrysler vans have more powerful engines these days. Handling is predictable, but the turn radius is a bit long.
Like almost every good minivan on sale these days, the Venture comes with four doors (five if you count the rear hatch.) GM only offers one power sliding door — on the passenger side — and I’d prefer two.
So, what’s not to like about the Venture Warner Bros. Edition minivan? Well, while, a base Venture starts at just over $21,000, this one has a suggested price of $30,000-plus. Throw in the trailering package, self-sealing touring tires and upgraded radio — as was found on our test model — and the out-the-door sticker topped $32,000.
That’s a pretty expensive minivan, and, unfortunately, GM doesn’t offer the entertainment packag as a stand-alo e option on cheaper versions of the Venture.
Also, compared to some competitors, the GM trio of vans — including the Olds Silhouette and Pontiac Montana as well as the Venture — don’t do well in Consumer Reports ratings, where they are criticized for “subpar reliability and poor crash-test results.”
In short, the Venture doesn’t have neat features like the Honda Odyssey’s fold-in-the-floor third-row seats or the new power rear hatch found on the Chrysler vans. But it still offers a nice combination of function and fun for on-the-go families.