For the first time in our marriage, we were fighting over who got the back seat. That’s because the 1999 Oldsmobile Silhouette Premiere Edition has one of the coolest standard features in a domestic minivan – an entertainment center that allows rear passengers to watch videos. Thus far, you can only get this level of luxury on the top-of-the-line $31,000 Premiere version of the Silhouette minivan.
Unfortunately, this may signal the end of license-plate bingo, I Spy and other simpler forms of on-the-road entertainment.
She: Our spoiled college kid not only asked to be picked up from the airport for Christmas break, but he had a special request, remember? “Mom, could you make some of your famous seven-layer dip and bring it in the car?” Little did he know that we’d not only bring the dip, but reproduce the family room with those leather seats and cupholders all around. What was the video that night? I think it was A Charlie Brown Christmas. It sure felt homey in that Silhouette.
He: So homey, I wanted to curl up in the driver’s seat and fall asleep. Too bad we couldn’t build a fire. You know something? Minivans have sure come a long way since we hauled our kids down to Walt Disney World and up to Mackinac Island in our 1986 Plymouth Voyager. A videotapeplayer like this, with a color monitor that swings down from the overhead console, would have come in handy. The player is mounted in the floor console up front, and the overhead controls let you switch between CD, cassette, radio or videotape.
She: Grownup passengers don’t have to be subjected to The Lion King or Little Mermaid. The kids can watch their favorite movie while the parental unit listens to talk radio – or enjoys the silence. I’m just waiting for the next step in minivans – a bathroom. Or maybe a bottled-water dispenser. Or a wok.
He: So you can wok the dogs? How about a little better visibility? Or maybe two power doors? You can get that on some of the competition, such as the Honda Odyssey. In all honesty, the vehicle is pretty nice, but the basic design of the Silhouette – one of the General Motors Corp. minivan triplets – doesn’t really live up to the promise of its state-of-the-art entertainment center. It’s decent, but it doesn’t merit four stars.
She: Wait a minute. How many minivans can brag about four airbags, including dual side airbags for the front-seat passengers? And on our version of the Silhouette, you get standard traction control and anti-lock brakes. That’s peace of mind on slippery roads. Besides, I thought you’d give me more of an argument about that VCR. You know, a vehicle is one of the last places to have an old-fashioned family talk, not just be glued to the boob tube.
He: You can have it either way here, as far as I’m concerned. I just wish I could control the remote from the driver’s seat.
She: That’s typical guy talk. Although I don’t know what you’re complaining about. The Premiere gives you plenty of gadgets to play with, not to mention the fact that you can also plug in a Nintendo or Sony system to the entertainment center. Also, you’ve got the six-waypower seats in the front, the driver-information center and the exterior-temperature readout.
He: Those are all nice touches. I just wish they would have put a little more effort on the horsepower side of the equation. Even though Oldsmobile brags that it has increased both torque and horsepower on the Silhouette, the 185 horsepower on our 3.4-liter V-6 engine stilllags behind the class leaders. The engine still feels a little lackluster, especially merging on the highway with suitcases and a semester load of dirty laundry from college boy.
She: think the Silhouette Premiere really raises the bar when it comes to minivans, especially for families who have to travel long distances with small, fidgety kids. I remember too well what a challenge it is to keep them entertained – sometimes even in carpool-to-school ituatio . The Silhouette Premiere may not have a bargain-basement price tag for young families, but if you can afford it, it’s worth a test drive.
Oldsmobile Silhouette Premiere Edition
Type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, seven-passenger minivan
Price: Base, $31,000; as tested; $31,580 (including $580 destination charge)
Engine: 3.4-liter V-6; 185 hp at 5,200 rpm; 210 lb-ft torque at 4,000 rpm
EPA fuel economy: 18 city/25 highway
12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan : $1,068
(*Estimate. Rates may be higher or lower depending on coverage and driving record.)
Where built: Doraville, Ga.
What we liked: The entertainment center-on-wheels concept; front side airbags are standard; rear heating and cooling with fan and temp controls; captain’s chairs for middle row; anti-lock brakes and traction control standard on this model
What we didn’t like: Visibility not great; only passenger-side sliding door has power; front overhang feels too short (Anita); engine down on power.