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Car reviews - Chrysler - Grand Voyager - CRD Limited people-mover

Our Opinion

We like
Super-functional interior, great Stow ’n Go seat folding arrangement, lots of standard features, high safety levels, relaxing drive, comfortable adult seating
Room for improvement
Diesel noisy, not a driver’s people-mover (one exists – the European Ford Galaxy!), no overhead grab-handles, brittle-feeling trim inside, floor lever too far away

30 Jul 2008

OWNERS of the faithful old Volvo 700 Series were regularly regaled with jokes about how their beloved wagon “...looked like it was still in the box it came in”.

It was a tongue-in-cheek jibe at a vehicle which won legions of fans for its unswerving practicality and functionality simply because it was so geometric in design.

That some of us still think of this Swede as handsome, daring and charming still fuels mirth and hilarity, but – really – there are literally tens of thousands of people out there who are still searching for a spiritual successor to the last of these rear-drive Volvos.

Now this new-generation Chrysler Grand Voyager from America – though front-wheel drive – might just be it. And don’t smirk, Europhiles: the glamourous post-war Chevrolets, Plymouths and Studebakers heavily influenced early Volvo styling, so why can’t the reverse be true too?

Seen in this light, today’s new RT-series Chrysler van’s squared-off looks and proportions don’t seem so shocking after almost a dozen years of the swoopy, egg-shaped visage that helped lure so many people into the previous Grand Voyagers.

Gee, they’re not happy, though. We were peppered with comments along the lines of: “What the hell was Chrysler thinking!”

We asked this very question to the company, and its response is that Chrysler’s artisans tried to bring in a soupcon of the super-successful 300C sedan’s “Art Deco” style to the series, while retaining the people-mover’s signature hidden door tracks and dual sliding doors.

Apparently the 300C connection is reflected in the Grand Voyager’s similar body-to-glass proportion, large wheel-arches, low daylight opening drip line, big grille, chrome accents and detailed ornamentation.

Well, perhaps Chrysler is praying that fans of the curvy old model might learn to love the new one’s inner beauty – like they might an ugly pet.

So let’s take a closer look at what the Americans have done with the model that saved Chrysler from bankruptcy in the 1980s.

In a nutshell, the roof has been squared off, pulled out at each corner, and the pillars straightened, to create stacks more space inside. The same thing happened to the latest Ford Falcon too, by the way.

Here are the official stats: The roof is 152mm wider, with a more upright tailgate and a greater beltline rake, while the wheelbase and overall length have increased (3078mm versus 3030mm and 5143mm versus 5096mm respectively).

Upsides? Literally! Besides liberating more space for heads, shoulders, hips and luggage, going the box means there’s now far greater strength in the body, so the pillars don’t have to be so fat, improving outward vision – great for parking in tight places.

It’s also easier to get in and out of (hurrah, says Nanna, who probably misses her trusty old Volvo), while the tighter body should mean less annoying squeaks and creaks.

Frustratingly, we did hear a few from the rear of our top-of-the-line 2.8 CRD Limited – though we did have a broken third-row electric seat mechanism due to our carelessness with a blanket that fouled the mechanism’s floor latch – as well as from the fascia area.

Typical of recent Chrysler offerings, the dashboard sounds hollow the plastics are hard and uninviting, and the general ambience is well below that of even the latest Kias and Hyundais, let alone an $80,000 vehicle.

On the other hand, despite the ill-matching illumination of the otherwise stylishly symmetrical instrument panel and centre stack, the cockpit area is extremely functional, just like the rest of the car.

The dials – another 300C-like feature – are dead easy to read and comprehensive in their information, thanks to the trip computer screen just under the speedo. There are no issues with ventilation from any of the three rows, while the driver has a cornucopia of choice via large fascia slits.

And most controls are where you expect them to be, although the automatic gear lever is awkwardly positioned on the floor, while the lower dash DVD switches are also quite a stretch away. Plus, having them there means you actually lose the main front cup-holders. Have the Americans gone insane?

Chrysler makes quite a lot of noise about its latest multi-media set-up, and it is excellent – in sound quality, flexibility, clarity and function. Once mastered, it really does take on a home hi-fi persona all of its own, and goes a long way in keeping the troops inside entertained. The in-built satellite-navigation is also a cinch to work out too.

This is a people-mover, so it’s important to paint a picture of how easy it is to get comfortable. If you’re the driver or front passenger, you simply swing open the large door and plant yourself on the big but supportive front seat, use the electric controls to find your desired position, and forget about it.

For hours on end, you’ll be happily perched up in a sort of mobile lounge of pleasure. It’s quite lovely.

The same is true for the bucket seats behind, but the last split bench is pretty much perfect for kids only – especially if all three seats are used – although a pair of adults will tolerate shorter journeys there.

Now, if you are heading for the centre or rear rows, all you have to do is move your legs, bend your knees and swing your bottom, because the driver will have hopefully operated the electrically operated side doors, that slides open and shut majestically to offer a large enough cavity for Portly Priscilla, Queen of all the Desserts to saunter in and out. This is so easily a rock star’s car of choice.

We had the superb Stow ‘n Go system, introduced in the previous Voyager in 2004, which sees the second and third-row seats fold neatly flush into special floor cavities in under 30 seconds this goes from seven-seater MPV into a two-seater panel van – or, if you like, the scene of the crimes that resulted in you needing a kid’s bus in the first place... unless you are Priscilla, in which case this is a fabulous way of entertaining on the go. The heavily tinted privacy glass on our car certainly would come in handy.

A word about the centre-row seats: they’re hefty to fold, and the front seats must be moved (via a button, thankfully) as far forward as possible to clear the folding floor cover, in order to complete the operation. Having an extra arm sewed onto you would probably help too, but – really – this is a brilliant solution that more people-movers need to adopt.

Meanwhile, the last row does its little acrobatic fold with the press of a button – although we’d keep an eye on the mechanism and try to get the Chrysler dealer to somehow extend the warranty on its operation if you’re going to keep the car for a few years.

Here are a few more observations from the back: the sliding doors’ windows retract at last (hooray!) the side ones behind them also crack open via a switch (as they have for years) the roof-mounted consoles have the sort of media-entertainment devices that will silence attention-challenged people of all ages for ages, while keeping them in climate-control comfort thanks to second and third-row heating and cooling switches and vents. How civilised is that!

Oh, and the tailgate also opens electrically, which is excellent for when you’re holding something light but awkward and fragile with one arm. Your free hand will be able to have the third-row folded in no time, creating a usefully long and tall wagon area. And a low sill and cavernous aperture make for easy loading. Brilliant!

Now, underneath that flat floor lies a revolution for the Grand Voyager. Out goes the Jurassic-era leaf-spring rear suspension, for the circa-mid-20th Century technology of a torsion beam and coil springs.

Ride quality first: None of your occupants will even notice the everyday road surface flotsam and jetsam, as they sit ensconced in this overtly plasticky palace of carpet, leather, storage spaces, air-vents and darkened glass. The Grand Voyager skims over everything, aiding its relaxed, laid-back character and soft spring settings.

Up the speed, though, and you’ll hear the suspension working over them pesky speed humps, while rougher roads will start transmitting their topography with increasing volume, in sympathy with the creaking plastics inside. Oh well, this is a big, long wagon, after all.

But the peace is soon shattered by the noise blasting from the nose of the Chrysler, undermining all the feel-good fuzzy feeling felt inside up until now – and all the instant you fire up the turbo-diesel.

Despite brandishing common-rail and Piezo injection technology, we found the Italian VM Motori-sourced 2.8-litre CRD unit a tad too baritone for our liking – basically it was too noisy and vibration-prone at idle, especially at start up. This was also evident to a lesser degree even when warmed up at standstill.

Yet, in a Jeckyl-and-Hyde manoeuvre that will have you wondering whether somebody’s swapped the engine at around 60km/h, it all becomes much, much quieter at speed, to the point where it is barely ticking over past 1500rpm at a steady 100km/h. This is where the Grand Voyager impresses most. It’s like the Valium has just kicked in.

Plant your foot and it is easy to have the front wheels scrabbling for traction. But this only happens after a short delay, and so acceleration is quite languid until the turbo is spooling. It is only then that the Chrysler really starts to shuffle along, helped out by a willing and unobtrusive six-speed automatic gearbox.

Our fuel consumption figure hovered around the 10L/100km mark no matter how laden our Chrysler became, so the economy is okay but not brilliant for a relatively high-tech diesel engine. And you can’t really blame the blunt styling for creating wind resistance either: with a Cd of 0.34, this box is surprisingly aerodynamic.

The steering is overly light, devoid of any real feel, and quite low geared – but, once again, at cruising speeds, it feels fine and actually quite comfortable to hold.

This is a big heavy box on wheels so forget about finding any dynamic capability or finesse beyond feeling well planted. The Chrysler changes direction safely and securely.

The standard ESC stability and traction controls helps keep everything in check, while the fact that this is a weighty front-driver means that scrub understeer accompanied by a roly-poly attitude is the order of the day.

Nothing for keen driver’s here, but what did you expect!

It brakes with urgency though, and pulls up straight and steady all the time.

We thought the Grand Voyager Limited at $75,990 is quite expensive, until we added up all the standard features – and there are lots of them – and then compared it to all the full-sized seven-seater SUVs available. This is far preferable to drive than most, and is more socially acceptable these days than virtually all of them.

Since all the essentials are available in the sub-$60,000 LX CRD, our advice is to spend the least amount on this car, which also helps better justify the cheap trim that does so much to undermine the Grand Voyager Limited’s lofty market aspirations.

The bottom line is that the diesel is preferable to the Toyota Tarago overall as a package (but the Toyota is better to drive despite its torque deficit anyway), feels less like a van than the VW Multivan/Caravelle and is better overall to drive, sit inside and use than the cheap and cheerful Kia Grand Carnival.

In the end, the Chrysler is the box on wheels it looks like – an accommodating, functional, capable, noisy (at idle) and even slightly brash one, which, though lacking the easy style of its Voyager predecessors, does eventually win you over with its abilities.

Just like boxy old Volvos inevitably always did.

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