In the old days, when it came to minivans, size wasn't everything - it was, to borrow from Vince Lombardi, the only thing. But today, cargo capacity is just one of many factors to consider - the others being comfort, styling, ride quality and handling. On all those fronts, the Plymouth Grand Voyager delivers.
The Grand Voyager is just one of Chrysler Corp.'s industry-leading entries in the minivan field. Chrysler has created a minivan for every taste and price range, and the Voyager SE is one of the sleeker stallions in Chrysler's minivan stable, which includes the luxurious Chrysler Town & Country Limited and the more modestly priced Dodge Caravan.
The Voyager sits somewhere in the middle of those other two. Priced about $8,000 less than the Town & Country Limited, the Voyager has successfully outpaced many entries in the minivan field. Like all of Chrysler's minivans, the Voyager comes in a variety of flavors. It's offered in both the short-wheelbase Voyager and long-wheelbase Grand Voyager versions, and each comes in two trim levels - the base model and the SE.
A few changes were made for 1999. The rear floor pan and spare-tire winch were redesigned to increase the angle of departure, which means the back of the vehicle is less likely to scrape the ground when traversing gullies, steep driveways and other obstacles that challenge the Voyager's ground clearance. Designers have upgraded the appearance with a body-colored grille and door handles. Also, Light Cypress Green was added to the palette.
Inside, a front-seat cargo net has been added. And a mini trip computer is now available on the top-line Grand Voyager SE. A next-generation airbag has been added. Head restraints for the middle and rear seats are now standard, and a child safety seat is available on models with the quad-seat configuration. An accident response system unlocks the doors and turns on the interior lights whenever the airbag deploys.
We tested the front-wheel-drive Voyager SE. Its sloping, redesigned front fascia and sweeping grille give it a handsome, almost regal look. Its rounded corners, slanting windshield, sculpted body panels and understated side moldings, in conjunction with its dusky hue -- which Chrysler has dubbed Deep Amethyst Pearl -- give the Voyager a sporty visage that is both elegant and slightly imposing. The dark-tinted windows blended perfectly with the deep-purple paint job.
The Voyagers offer a choice of four engines. The base Voyager comes standard with a twin-cam 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and 3-speed automatic transmission. Three V6 engines are available: 3.0-liter, 3.3-liter and 3.8-liter. All come with four-speed automatic transmissions. A 3.3-liter flexible fuel V6 is available in some states that will run on ethanol.
Obviously, people who buy minivans are space conscious, so here are some statistics: The wheelbase of the Grand Voyager is 6 inches longer than that of the Voyager -- 119.3 inches, compared to 113.3 inches. Besides providing more space, that makes the Grand Voyager more stable at high speeds and in cross winds, though less maneuverable than the Voyager in tight quarters. Grand means bigger in this case, and the Grand Voyager is longer than the Voyager - 199.6 inches versus 186.3 inches. The extra length adds weight, however; the Grand Voyager weighs in at 3,812 pounds, compared with the base Voyager's 3,516 pounds. In theory, less weight means better acceleration performance, shorter stopping distances, better handling and improved fuel economy. The total cargo space afforded by the Grand Voyager is 147.7 cubic feet with the seats removed, compared with the Voyager's 126.7 cubic feet.
Prices range from $18,485 for the base Voyager to $23,355 for the Grand Voyager SE.
A Voyager SE like our test model retails for $22,460 (including the $580 destination charge) and comes with a level of standard equipment normally associated with a luxury car. Ours came equipped with a $2,025 option package that included an overhead console with trip computer, front and rear floor mats, second row reading lamps, ignition/glovebox/ash try light group, power speed-sensitive locks, illuminated visor vanity mirrors, four bucket seats, and 8-way power driver's seat with lumbar adjustment. That boosted the total to $24,485.
It's surprising it took us so long to realize that minivans could have more than one sliding door. Sliding doors on both sides of the Voyager make getting in a breeze. Once you've had two sliding doors, you'll never go back to one - whether you're moving toddlers, teens or tools. You'll love the speed and convenience of loading cargo from the driver's side.
The Plymouth Voyager is spacious - particularly after the seats are removed. Removing the seats required a yeoman effort in years past, but it's much easier now. Our SE's center-row bucket seats can be unlatched and removed via the sliding side doors, while a solid yank on a lever pops the third-row bench seat up onto a set of wheels, allowing it to be rolled backwards and removed via the tailgate. However, it's still a two-person job as those seats are heavy. For smaller loads, the seat backs can also be folded down - affording enough room for the proverbial sheet of plywood.
Head and legroom are quite sufficient, in both the front bucket seats and the second-row seats. Although Chrysler says the Voyager's rear bench can seat three, one of them would have to be a child.
The Voyager was redesigned in 1996 with a revised suspension that makes it handle much more like a sedan. The rigid chassis works with the suspension to keep the tires firmly planted in corners. That's definitely a benefit in the Voyager, which, at 68.5 inches tall, tends to lean a bit in corners. Even when it leans, however, the Voyager feels solidly planted. Power rack-and-pinion steering adds to the responsiveness during abrupt lane-change maneuvers. In 1998, designers improved the Voyager's ride and reduced noise. It now rides as smoothly and as quietly as many sedans.
The Voyager SE's 3.3-liter V6 engine, coupled with a 4-speed automatic transmission performed admirably, delivering sufficient power in all situations - whether it was launching from a standing start or passing slowpokes on the highway. At higher engine speeds, the engine is a bit noisy, but it offers strong low-rpm torque for towing light trailers. If you feel you need more power, a 3.8-liter V6 has been added for 1999 that packs more punch; we recommend it for the bigger and heavier Grand Voyager.
Brake performance is always critical, but especially in larger vehicles that may be carrying a heavy load or a lot of people. The brakes brought our Voyager to a controlled stop, without grabbing or pulling.
As we said at the top, cargo capacity doesn't have the final word when it comes to choosing a minivan. Gone are the days when minivan drivers have to endure rocky rides just to get more cargo space. Anyone who has to haul a lot of people around should find that the Voyager offers an appealing blend of value, ride quality and spaciousness. Besides that, we found it to be one of the more attractive, comfortable minivans on the market.