Car reviews - Chrysler - Voyager - SE people-mover
Space for both passengers and luggage, smooth, quiet road performance
Room for improvement
Right-hand column gearshift
24 Oct 2001
By TIM BRITTEN
CHRYSLER has really set the benchmark for MPVs with its Voyager, which is quite appropriate for the company that claims it invented the concept in the first place.
The big American has secured a place as the correct multi-passenger vehicle to be seen in during the four short years it has been on sale in Australia, with a combination of good looks, smooth performance and plenty of interior space - plus a certain cache that comes with the Chrysler badge.
Now, there's a new Voyager on the streets, sharing virtually nothing in terms of body design with its predecessor - yet looking entirely identifiable - and relying on proven mechanical underpinnings. It is stronger, quieter and smoother as well as being safer. And you pay for the privilege because it costs more.
Chrysler says the only carry-over body component from the previous version is the windscreen, although the A-pillars were redesigned as part of the toughening-up of the entire structure, which is now said to be 20 per cent stiffer torsionally.
Weight has crept up slightly too, in the case of the short wheelbase versions by around 140kg - although Chrysler claims a lot less when averaged out across the range - while increased length, width and height mean there is more room to move inside, particularly for front-seat passengers who get an extra 10mm of rearward travel.
Development cash has also been spent generously on improving the way the Voyager cruises on the road. More power and torque is wrung out of the 3.3-litre pushrod V6, the suspension has been refined to transmit less noise and vibration, and the braking system has been given a workover that includes the adoption of anti-lock on all models.
Chrysler has also worked at enabling the Voyager to pass crash barrier test requirements - a sticking point with the previous model although statistics indicated it performed well in the real world - with the adoption of head-thorax front side airbags across the board on top of a general rework of the structure.
The Voyager also comes with some enticing technology aimed at making it a most user-friendly MPV.
Leading the charge here are what Chrysler says are two industry firsts: An optional power tailgate that opens or closes by remote control and, also optional, remote-control opening and closing for the sliding side doors.
Chrysler says the former comes as a result of commentary from MPV users complaining about the difficulty of reaching up to close the massive, yawning, flip-up rear door. That's now no problem provided you are considering upmarket Grand Voyager models and, in case you were wondering, there's an obstacle detection device in both cases to prevent the jamming of wayward body parts.
Equipment levels are appropriate for the pricing, which starts around $50,000 for the base short wheelbase Voyager SE (a long wheelbase Grand Voyager - our test car - is also available in SE trim) and climbs to not far short of $70,000 for the top-of-the-tree Limited. Like the Limited, the mid-range LX version comes only in long wheelbase Grand Voyager form.
All models, Voyager and Grand Voyager, come with dual front airbags, side airbags, anti-lock brakes, cruise control, remote central locking, power windows and exterior mirrors, headlamp levelling, air-conditioning and seven-passenger seating.
The long wheelbase SE adds an overhead console with trip computer, a rear cargo cover and three-zone climate control air-conditioning.
LX adds the "designer watch" instrument display, alloy wheels, roof rack, fake-wood trim on the centre console and a leather-trimmed steering wheel.
The Limited has leather seats with power front seats including driver memory, front seat heating, steering wheel radio controls, an upmarket Infinity sound system with 10 speakers and four-disc CD changer, load levelling and height control, plus the power side doors and rear tailgate that are optional on LX.
Externally, there is no mistaking that this is a new model, even if it is immediately identifiable as a Voyager.
Chrysler has been producing some pretty bold front-end designs in recent times and the Voyager now rides the same wave with its broad, smiling face and raised bonnet line giving it a more beefy look at the front.
The side view shows some sign of wedginess (the aerodynamic drag figure is 0.35) and the rear end, Chrysler says, has some 4WD influence in the higher positioning of the tail-lights and in its general, tougher demeanour.
Inside, the architecture is also fresh and new, from the instrument panel that no longer flows visually into the side doors but is an entity unto itself, to the new, full-depth centre console. The front seats, in addition to having more rearward adjustment, get higher, more comfortable backrests.
The layout is as before, seating seven passengers in a two, two, three configuration and the second and third rows can be removed entirely to create a massive cargo-carrying area. The top of the line Limited and mid-range LX are also available with optional rear bucket seats, cutting the capacity back to six very well catered-for passengers.
Clever little touches can be found in a lockable compartment under the front passenger's seat, along with numerous lidded compartments littered around the interior. You'll find them in the side panel alongside the rearmost seat, and just inside the sliding door at floor level as well as below the centre console. And the Voyager is one MPV that has useable space behind the rear seat even when adjusted to its rearmost position.
The varied seating configurations available are stupendous, right down to the removal of everything but the front buckets - although hefting the rear bench out through the tailgate is more comfortably handled by a forklift truck than your average mortal.
In terms of seat comfort, the Voyager merely carries on the tradition established by the previous model. The seats are shaped and padded to support passengers comfortably but of course the space available decreases as you move towards the back.
On the road, the new Voyager excels as an MPV with an amazingly silent ride and a smooth, absorbent suspension working in well with the nicely supportive seats.
The driver will find the steering to be suitably responsive in an MPV sort of way. It is not, and never can be a sports van, but it delivers driver satisfaction in all normal operating conditions, from cruising the highways to manoeuvring around town.
The V6 is not a large engine, especially when you consider the Voyager approaches two tonnes in Limited guise and still weighs more than 1800kg in basic, short-wheelbase form, but you rarely notice this because of its mid-range torque and obviously well-chosen gear ratios.
It can reasonably be said that the quoted torque figure does not look particularly impressive for a 3.3-litre engine, but that does not tell the full story - which is that low-speed torque is up 10 per cent over the previous engine. The driver will find the V6 responding nicely without needing to resort to high-rpm kick-down antics.
It is also generally a smooth and quiet performer on the open road. About the only downside is that the right-hand column shifter for the four-speed transmission leaves the driver feeling ergonomically short-changed.
But this ends up being a minor glitch in the well-sorted, very appealing MPV package that is the Chrysler Voyager.
The vehicle has only one real competitor in terms of price - the Toyota Tarago - but it is hard to think of another people-mover that does so many things so well and looks as stylish at the same time.
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