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Voyager moving on

Space creator: Chrysler's new people-mover can handle seven adults and luggage.

The biggest people-mover has also become the most expensive

11 May 2001

CHRYSLER has introduced the latest generation Voyager people-mover to Australia, bumping up the cheapest on-road pricing past $50,000 and the most expensive to around $70,000 in the process.

The seven-seater, which goes on sale June 1, is available in SE base-model form with a choice of short or long wheelbase and two long wheelbase-only variants, the LX and Limited. The LE grade has disappeared while the Limited nameplate is new.

The SE short wheelbase retails for $49,990 while pricing for the three longer - or Grand - Voyagers climb from $55,130, through $62,300 for the LX to $68,000 for the Limited, making it the most expensive people-mover on the market, topping Toyota's Tarago Ultima.

Previously, the range started at $45,300 and progressed through $52,900 and $57,300 before topping out at $62,450.

Chrysler Australia is predicting 150 sales per month for its new Voyager range - a bullish estimate for the tiny Australian people-mover market. That's a far cry from the US, where the Voyager has sold in the millions since its 1983 launch.

A glance at the mechanical specification sheet might make you wonder why there has been such a price hike compared to the old model.

The fundamental measurements are identical or very close, the suspension remains the same and the 12-valve, 3.3-litre pushrod engine is still there - albeit tuned for increased power and torque - and is still mated to a four-speed automatic transmission.

Inside, the 2-2-3 seating position is familiar, the shift lever for the four-speed automatic gearshift stays on the right side of the steering column and there is still no left-foot footrest for the driver.

The increased pricing is more the result of exchange rate woes than any radical changes Apart from evolutionary styling which has made the Voyager keener and sharper inside and out, Chrysler has concentrated on features that are vital for people-movers - ease of use and safety - as well as adding some more luxury items to the specification list.

Claimed "industry firsts" include a powered opening tailgate, powered dual sliding doors with inside-the-door motors and obstacle detection system and a removeable centre console in the second row which includes a power outlet.

Side airbags - dual front airbags are already standard - for the front seat passengers and a 20 per cent increase in the body's torsional rigidity are safety highlights. And in the wake of the previous generation's disastrous showing in European NCAP offset barrier crash testing, Chrysler is stressing improvements in this area also.

In other areas it is detail work that has taken place. The engine is a classic example. A thoroughly upgraded valvetrain helps boost power from 116 kilowatts at 4700rpm to 128kW at 5100rpm, while torque - already best in class - is up slightly, from 275 Newton metres at 3250rpm to 278Nm at 4000rpm.

The extra oomph is needed to counter extra kerb weight that is up across the board, from 1862kg for the SE to almost two tonnes for the Limited.

A lengthy standard equipment list plays a role in that. In the SE, anti-lock braking, central locking, power front windows and rear quarter vents, single CD audio system, cruise control and dual-zone air-conditioning are all standard.

The LX adds alloy wheels, three-zone climate control, a four-disc in-dash CD player, roof racks and an overhead console with trip computer.

It is not until you get to the Limited that the "industry firsts" make an appearance as standard features, along with leather seats, steering wheel audio and cruise controls, traction control and load-levelling suspension with height control.

The only option on Limited is individual captains chairs for the third row, while an eight-way powered driver's seat with memory is due to arrive as standard equipment in the fourth quarter.

SE Voyager $49,900
SE Grand Voyager $55,130
LX Grand Voyager $62,300
Limited Grand Voyager $68,000
(All auto)


THE Voyager has always seemed something of a blunt instrument. Hectares of space and an enthusiastic if somewhat coarse engine are its main weapons when lined up against clever opposition from Japan and cheaper options from South Korea.

That impression remains valid. It is just this blunt instrument has become that little more graceful in its latest iteration, without forsaking its assets.

The amount of space is still unbeatable with room for seven adults and some luggage, and the flexibility level with removeable middle row captains chairs and the rear bench is still excellent. But those seats are still too heavy to heave in and out, particularly the massive rear seat.

Some impressive noise deadening work has dulled the engine's worst aural excesses and the power and torque boost have helped combat the extra weight.

But the transmission seems to have lost some of its alacrity, taking a decent prod on the throttle before kicking down and sometimes less than smoothly.

The ride from the ultra-long wheelbase (2878mm and 3030mm respectively) is soothing on most surfaces, only big, sharp-edged bumps catching out the leaf spring rear-end.

And despite being so big and heavy, the levels of steering and grip make this an easy drive on the open road, although it is still a disconcertingly big package to manoeuvre around town.

The interior styling makeover has made the Voyager a lighter, brighter and more modern place to be, that effect aided by hectares of window glass, which make it easier for young kids to see out.

But the chrome rings on the dials in the LX and Limited and the tombstone air vents at the top of the centre console strike a discordant retro note.

The new power doors are fun to play with from the remote and the obstacle detection system certainly works. The centre console comes with its own instruction manual which gives you an idea how many functions that has.

But the unltimate test is the cupholder count: 10 in total for the new Voyager, which mean three extra for those people who are feeling really thirsty. These Americans think of everything.

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