For those who want the flexibility of a good-size minivan but don't want to appear hopelessly domesticated, the Pontiac Montana offers a sporty alternative.

Montana looks like a cross between a minivan and a sport-utility vehicle, although its capabilities are solidly in the people-moving camp. The raised-white-letter tires, boldly contoured body cladding, sharply styled front end with Pontiac's signature flaring nostrils and that "Montana" logo with the mountain peaks all speak to the adventurer image.

But Montana's cool appearance is not its main attribute, according to the two boys in the back seat. And it's not the legroom, nor the comfort, nor the automatic sliding passenger door. It's not even the rear controls for the stereo.

Nope. According to the boys, the best feature about this minivan is MontanaVision, GM-speak for its fine TV setup. Fully incorporated into the ceiling, it's much better than the tacked-on deals we've seen in most production and custom vans.

Now, there are few trips as agonizingly dull as the drive down Interstate 10 to Tucson, but the boys in the back had a fine time, headphones on, chortling to themselves.

Montana's small TV screen is tucked up into the ceiling, out of sight until someone touches a spring-loaded button, and it swings down. Everybody in the back can see the screen clearly, and the sound comes through either the stereo speakers or individual headphones.

The VCR sits at the bottom of the center console in front, pretty much out of the way.

There is also a hookup for video games, though you need to have either a lighter plug-in or battery power.

There is one problem with the TV: its $2,600 price tag.

But enough about the TV.

The Montana is an great long hauler, smooth and comfortable with decent gas mileage and a huge fuel tank. In the extended-length test van, legroom, headroom and visibility are all first-rate.

The 3.4-liter engine is an old mainstay for General Motors and for good reason. It's strong and smooth, though it does set up a roar under acceleration or in hill climbing. Some improvements make the V-6 better-running, more efficient and, according to Pontiac, more durable.

Front-seat passengers will find plenty of space, with lots of convenient cubbies, cupholders and cargo nets. It's a great machine for a road trip, although those who enjoy back-road maneuvering will find the minivan to be fairly numb and boring to drive. On the freeway, just lean on the steering wheel, trucker-style, and cruise.

Aside from the pricey TV option, some other bottom-line enhancements on the test van included $1,935 for an option group that included a power driver's seat, a luggage rack and rear AC; $930 for a sport handling package with aluminum wheels, traction control and automatic load leveling; $550 for a stereo/CD upgrade, which sounded great; $450 for the powered passenger door; and $280 to increase seating from seven to eight.

Four-wheel anti-lock brakes are standard, as they should be for all vehicles, and GM's OnStar communications system also comes as standard equipment for 2001.

Stylistically, there's no mistaking this for anything but a Pontiac, with that ribbed plastic cladding and white-letter tires. The styling may be over the top, but Pontiac designers know their market. For everything from Sunfire and Grand Am to Bonneville and Firebird, the look that sells is the look that screams performance.

So, the Montana may be more show than go, but it's a nice-running, roomy minivan that is high on comfort and accommodation. And that TV setup is priceless.

Vehicle type: Seven-passenger, four-door minivan; front-wheel drive.

Base price: $24,535.

Price as tested: $31,940.

Engine: 3.4-liter V-6; 185 hp at 5,200 rpm; 210 lb-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm.

Transmission: Four-speed automatic.

Curb weight: 3,942 lbs.

Wheelbase: 120 inches.

EPA mileage: 19 city, 26 highway.

Highs:
• Nice TV setup.
• Roominess.
• Highway cruising.

Lows:
• TV too expensive.
• Overwrought styling.
• Engine noise.