EXPERT REVIEW

KansasCity.com's view

About the only thing that differentiates Oldsmobile’s Silhouette Premiere Edition minivan from your family room is, well, an engine–and maybe a couple of end tables.

The Premiere has leather armchairs, wall-to-wall carpet and a video entertainment center complete with a VCR, CD player and an AM/FM stereo with cassette.

Oh yeah, it’s smaller than your house, too.

The heart of the Premiere is its fully integrated VCR system, mounted on the floor under the dash. It plays through a LCD color monitor that folds down from a small overhead console in front of the second-row passengers. The console has individual controls for the VCR, plus headphone jacks for up to six passengers are located throughout the rear section of the vehicle.

For trips punctuated by “Are we there yet?” being repeated with the punishing regularity of Chinese water torture, the Premiere is like a Get Out of Jail Free card. Up front, mom and dad can listen to a CD or the radio, while kids in the back can slip on their headphones, watch a movie or hook up their favorite video game. A handheld remote gives them control over the front-mounted VCR.

While aftermarket TV/VCR units are available for minivans and SUVs, most lack the Premiere’s slick installation that takes up a minimum of room and plays through the vehicle’s built-in audio system. This is not a stand-alone option. It is a complete package fitted to the top-line Silhouette GLS and also includes the touring suspension, rear-mounted air inflator, leather seats and dual sliding doors (power on the right side).

Aside from this week’s test drive, I rode in the back seat of a Premiere Edition earlier this fall as Oldsmobile executives demonstrated the system. Both times I was impressed with the clarity of the picture, even though the LCD screen is only about 6 inches. The audio quality was first rate, and each rear-seat passenger can adjust their own volume.

Folding down the screen causes only a minor intrusion on rear vision, which is not much of an issue because minivan drivers have to be experts with their outside mirrors anyway. When not in use, it folds flat into the ceiling.

The Silhouette GLS is a an excellent vehicle on which to create the Premiere Edition. It rides on a 120-inch wheelbase, has seating for seven and is the same basic unit as the Chevrolet Venture and Pontiac Montana (formerly the Trans Sport, but renamed for 1999).

Its 3.4-liter, V6 engine with 185 horsepower drives the front wheels through an automatic transmission. Both horsepower and torque have been boosted for 1999, and consequently it feels a bit livelier from a stop. The extra power is particularly helpful when full of people.

The touring suspension gives a bit more road feel and keeps body sway in check, especially on the highway when carrying four or more people. Automatic load leveling is accomplished with an air suspension and a built-in inflator, the same one that has an au xiliary hose and outlet in the back for inflating bicycle tires, soccer balls or air mattresses.

In town, the turning radius is such that maneuvering in parking lots took extra concentration, but I was easily able to get in and out of spaces in one swing.

The list of standard equipment includes front and side airbags for front-seat passengers, traction control, anti-lock brakes, tilt steering wheel, keyless entry, power-operated right-side door, aluminum wheels, rear heating and cooling and steering-wheel controls for the radio.

Our test vehicle had captain’s chairs in the second row. Third row seats can be folded forward, or removed, individually, as hauling needs dictate, and they are light enough for one person to handle.

In light of the popularity of SUVS, minivans are continuing their maturation process, and specialized versions like the Premiere Edition’s “family room on wheels” approach are just around the corner from most manufacturers.

Price

The base price of our test vehicle was $30,605, with all equipment standard. Add in freight and the sticker price was $31,175.

Warranty

Three years or 36,000 miles.

To get in touch with Tom Strongman call 234-4349 or e-mail: strongmn@kcstar.com.

Point: How else can you listen to Beethoven while the kids watch Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons? Integrating a video entertainment center into a fully equipped minivan with a minimum of disruption is not easy, but Oldsmobile has done an excellent job.

Counterpoint: Some might find the 6-inch screen too small, but a larger one would interfere with the driver’s rear vision.

SPECIFICATIONS:

ENGINE: 3.4-liter, V6

TRANSMISSION: automatic

WHEELBASE: 120 inches

CURB WEIGHT: 3,942 lbs.

BASE PRICE: $30,605

PRICE AS DRIVEN: $31,175

MPG RATING: 18 city, 25 hwy.

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