Chevrolet Venture represents a solid alternative among minivans, one that will appeal to a lot of buyers. Its V6 engine is willing, and its ride is smooth and car-like. While neither the most economical minivan you can buy, nor the most powerful, Venture remains competitively priced for a van with V6 power.
Its best feature may well be its wide range of seating and cargo configurations. Available modular bucket seats and captain's chairs allow you to precisely tailor the Venture's interior for any conceivable combination of passengers and cargo.
Last year's Venture added two significant new options: GM's Versatrak four-wheel drive, and a DVD-based entertainment system in the special Warner Bros. Edition. The 2003 Venture remains unchanged.
Value Van ($21,520); Plus ($24,920); Plus Extended ($25,920); LS ($25,770); LS extended ($26,770); LT ($30,040); Warner Bros. ($30,820); LT AWD ($32,600); AWD LT ($32,375); Warner Bros. AWD ($33,570)
The first thing you might notice about the Chevrolet Venture is the cheery, bright-metal grin of its front grille.
Otherwise, Venture's appearance is either undistinguished or restrained, depending on your point of view. Compared to minivans from Ford and Chrysler, Venture is more traditional, less overtly streamlined. We do like its decisively horizontal lines and relatively short front overhang. It's a more purely functional look, one that's entirely appropriate for a practical family vehicle.
The Venture seats seven, and there's plenty of head room and elbow room no matter which seat you're in. Up front, a height-adjustment lever allows the driver to change positions without getting too close or too far from the steering wheel. The fore-and-aft range of the driver's seat is long enough for folks over six-and-a-half feet tall. The front seats hold you securely with large side bolsters, yet the seating surface itself is relatively flat, which makes getting in and out easy, while encouraging you to move around on long trips.
The Venture stays abreast of more recently designed minivans with lots of cupholders and bins for passengers to store stuff.
There isn't a lot of legroom in the second row, however, even in the long-wheelbase versions. Mainly, the longer wheelbase adds extra space in the cargo area.
Value Van, Plus, and LS come with bench seats in the second and third rows. The seatbacks are split and fold separately; that's handy for carrying two-by-fours and a couple of rear-seat passengers at the same time. But the bench seats are relatively heavy to remove and replace, should you need more space for grandfather clocks or dog cages.
More convenient are the modular bucket seats found in the more up-market models. They weigh just 38 pounds, light enough that plucking them out and leaving them in the garage is not a painful act. Five of them are standard in the Warner Bros. edition, and you can order six in LS and LT models. The backs of these seats fold down flat and compact, and have indentations so cups won't slide off while underway. When folded, the bucket seats are much easier to stash in the garage than the heavy bench seats.
A combination of captain's chairs for the second row and a split bench for the third row is standard in LT and optional in LS. The LT seems to be the more adult-oriented Venture, as its captain's chairs are more comfortable for grown-ups. The captain's chairs will not recline fully unless they are moved all the way forward, however.
The Warner Brothers Edition comes with leather seating surfaces and cloth inserts. The leather part is easy to wipe up after the youngsters have an in-van picnic. Only the LT offers full leather.
The Warner Bros. entertainment system has a 7-inch, flip-down screen, four wireless headphones and a wireless remote control. The system plays DVD video, DVD audio, and CDs. The screen has a 1.5- second video memory feature that prevents potholes, railroad tracks or other road irregularities from interfering with the sound and picture. Three auxiliary jacks for such things as video games or camcorders put some flexibility in your on-the-road entertainment. Talk about versatile: Passengers can use the DVD player, the radio and the CD player all at the same time.
The Chevrolet Venture operates seamlessly. The drivetrain is smooth, nearly invisible. The engine delivers good response in traffic, even though the Venture is less powerful than the Ford or Honda minivans. It's quiet, isolated. You can hear a distant growl from the engine, a pleasant muted sound.
The traction control system, which came standard on our LT, engages under hard acceleration. You are reminded constantly that this is a front-wheel-drive vehicle, especially when there is a lot of weight in the back. The front wheels spin easily, and when they spin in a corner you feel small tugs on the steering wheel.
All of this is addressed by the available all-wheel-drive system, which GM calls Versatrak. Versatrak keeps the vehicle moving as long as at least one wheel has traction. In normal conditions, power is delivered to the front wheels, but the system automatically transfers power to the rear wheels if the front wheels lose grip.
The touring suspension makes the Venture a good highway cruiser. It does hop around a bit on bumpy metropolitan surfaces, but you won't notice this if you do most of your driving on well-paved suburban roads. We drove Ventures with the standard Smooth Ride suspension, and we did not see a big difference in ride quality.
The brake pedal feels more spongy in the Venture than it does in Chevrolet's sedans. But the anti-lock brake system engages smoothly and without drama on loose surfaces.
Rear park assist is a terrific aid. It can warn the driver of that little red wagon in the driveway, which is especially important when the little red wagon is occupied. But it also comes in handy when parallel parking or when backing up to a wall. Besides helping to avoid bumping a bumper, it can speed up the parking process by making it easier. That's particularly nice when you have a crowd waiting to head into a restaurant.
We tested the load-leveling suspension on a long-wheelbase LT by hauling a 450-pound motorcycle for a ride across several states. The full-size bike fit with room to spare, though we had to compress the front fork to get it through the rear hatchback. The seat-mounting latch bars in the floor made perfect tie-down points. The load-leveling suspension compensated for the extra weight, so our headlights weren't pointed to the stars. Nor did our loaded-down Venture wallow or lean excessively during quick maneuvers through downtown Chicago. We don't recommend you try this at home, but it shows that the Venture is a capable cargo hauler.
The 2003 Chevy Venture is ready to haul a bunch of folks on vacation, or a load of hardware from the home-improvement center.
Venture seats seven or eight people comfortably. The long-wheelbase models add more cargo space. There are plenty of storage bins and cubby holes on all models. On the road, Venture is smooth and quiet, with good throttle response and car-like handling.
The LT combines luxury and load-hauling features, and is the only model to offer full leather. The Warner Bros. Edition entertains restless rugrats, which is luxury in another form. With the optional Versatrak four-wheel-drive system, bad weather shouldn't keep you home.
The minivan market is highly competitive, and other minivans offer similar features. It helps to know your own needs very well before you select the van that's right for your family. Only you can judge whether the Venture is the best minivan for your particular needs, but we think any minivan shopper ought to give it consideration.