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by David Zatz
When the Chevrolet Venture was first introduced, it was clearly superior to most of its competitors. Yet, due to what can only be described as a terrible advertising campaign (remember "Let's go!"), few people have heard of them, much less bought them. That's a shame.
Like the market leading Dodge Caravan, the Venture is a well-mannered, civilized vehicle with many touches of luxury. All Ventures come with the same responsive, smooth-idling 185 hp engine, which can easily handle heavy loads or fast acceleration. The transmission quickly kicks down, adding to the available power.
The Ventures extended-wheelbase version has about 12 cubic feet more room than the Ford Windstar, which is in the same price class. It can accommodate a great deal of cargo if the seats are taken out; yet it rides quite nicely, handles well, and accelerates with ease.
The interior was very well done, except for the usual GM high beams/washer/ wiper/cruise control/turn signal stalk. There were a few removable rubber surfaces which kept noise down by providing quiet places for coins and gadgets. Most controls were easy to use, but the sun visors were inadequate for the wide windshield. Visibility was surprisingly good, though our test vehicle was aided by oversized mirrors from the towing package. Clear removal instructions are sewn onto the optional 38-lb seats: pull on one loop, then pull on the other, squeeze a wire, and lift. Installation is also easy after the first time, though we recommend reading the instructions (in the owners manual). The standard bench seats are more difficult to remove, but they do fold flat to make space.
Getting in and out was easy, though you have to step back quickly when opening the rear liftgate. Its unique electric sliding door, well implemented, was nice but not invaluable.
The Venture has side-impact airbags. The daytime running lights light turn signal bulbs rather than the high beams, to avoid annoying other drivers.
The GM minivans could still learn from Chrysler, which makes a cheaper model with nearly the same positive attributes, puts wheels on its seats to make them easier to roll around (and install), and, as you would expect, has far superior cup-holders.
Most motorists should opt for the touring suspension (about $200-250) and the trailer towing package (about $150), which includes components that can keep your long-term repair costs down.
The Venture drove like a luxury sedan, with little wind noise, smooth suspension and strong acceleration, and good handling and braking. We'd easily place it alongside the 2000 Caravan as one of the best minivans on the market.
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