Chrysler’s people-mover history spans 25 years and the company rates its new Voyager the ultimate in family transport, writes STEPHEN OTTLEY
IF ANYONE should know how to build a people mover, it’s Chrysler. After all, the company claims to have invented the ‘‘mini-van’’ segment in 1983.
The latest descendant of that first people mover is the new Grand Voyager, soon to go on sale locally.
It is the biggest overhaul of the model since the quiet American arrived here in 1997, and Chrysler has grand hopes for the newcomer.
‘‘This is the ultimate vehicle for families and people on the go,’’ Chrysler Australia managing director Gerry Jenkins says.
‘‘It offers the flexibility of seven seats and room for heaps of gear without sacrificing fuel economy. It epitomises travel in style and comfort.
‘‘The Grand Voyager is the new standard.’’
That is a bold statement for the under-pressure brand, which has been trying to gain traction here since 1996 when it launched the Neon sedan.
Chrysler has failed to live up to expectations with its new models. Sales were down 15 per cent last year in an overall market that was up 11 per cent.
The popular 300C sedan does remain strong and accounted for more than half of the brand’s sales to February.
The good news for Chrysler is the Grand Voyager is a good performer in its class. It offers vastly improved exterior style, good space, clever seating and good in-car entertainment options.
The most notable change is the styling. The people mover has taken some design cues from the 300C, which is not surprising, because the Voyager design team was led by Trevor Creed, who was responsible for the 300C.
The Voyager is longer and wider than the one it replaces. The designers gave the car a more square look with sharper lines.
They tried to use similar proportions as the 300C’s in the wheel flares, sleek pillars and chrome accents.
The result is a much-improved look, though comparisons with the 300C are perhaps a touch optimistic.
The improved design outside carries over to the interior.
Though the quality still lags behind European and local standards, it is better than previous American models.
Hard plastics and unsupportive seats remain the biggest complaints.
But what it lacks in quality it makes up for in quantity. The Grand Voyager will seat seven people comfortably, unlike some of its people-mover rivals.
Chrysler takes a unique view to fitting seven seats. Unlike its competitors, which adopt a two-threetwo seating layout, the Grand Voyager uses a two-two-three system.
Because the second row has only two seats, they can be larger.
Chrysler has two different clever seating options available for the second row. The first is ‘‘Stow ’n’ Go’’ — the seats fold down into under-floor storage bins to give more cargo space. HE second is ‘‘Swivel ’n’ Go’’ — the two chairs can rotate through 180 degrees so passengers can face the rear.
The second and third-row seats are also packed with clever features. They can be stowed away to turn the car into a two-seater, or the third row
Tcan be folded backwards to provide comfortable ‘‘stadium seating’’ at local footy games.
The in-car entertainment system can include three video screens and satellite navigation.
Chrysler has also incorporated ‘‘trends in home lighting’’. The Voyager has halo lights to give the car ‘‘atmosphere’’ at night.
Another plus is the rear parking camera, which is standard across the range.
The three-model line-up costs from $56,990 for the 3.8-litre V6 petrol LX. The mid-level Touring starts at $62,990 and the rangetopping Limited starts at $72,990. The 2.8-litre diesel adds $3000 across the range.
Chrysler Australia expects 60 per cent of customers will choose the Limited model.
ON THE ROAD
THE good news is the Grand Voyager has a diesel for the first time. The bad news is it is not as sophisticated or smooth as its European rivals.
But its real saving grace is its low fuel consumption, which makes it the engine of choice.
On our drive we used 8.8l/100km on a long stretch of country driving. Chrysler claims it will use 12.3l/100km in the city.
Though it may not be an impressive engine — 120kW at 3800 revs and 360Nm from 1600 revs— the CRD is up to the task of moving a van that weighs more than two tonnes.
The V6 petrol engine produces 142kW at 5200 revs and 305Nm at 4000 revs, so it takes a lot of revs to get going compared with the oil-burner.
But with a combined city fuel use figure of 18.8l/100km, it cannot match the CRD.
In addition to adding a diesel, Chrysler has also upgraded the gearbox from a four-speed automatic to a sixspeed.
This is a big improvement. It contributes to fuel economy and helps improve performance.
Australia also receives the European suspension tune, which is firmer and more responsive than the American settings.
Despite this, it’s still a soft ride. It is also extremely comfortable, especially on long trips. Even through you won’t mistake the people mover for a car, it does hide its size well and the handling is neutral. Comfort is the key and the designers have tried to maximise interior space by ‘‘shrink-wrapping’’ it.
The interior shape follows the mechanical structure underneath, which results in a more cluttered look but, importantly, opens up a lot more usable space for the passengers.
The Grand Voyager sits in a competitive segment.
Competitors such as the Honda Odyssey and Citroen C4 Picasso are cheaper and worth considering. They lack the Grand Voyager’s interior space, but offer a far superior driving experience.
But in the end you’ll buy the Grand Voyager not for its performance credentials, but because it will comfortably carry a large family. And it’s a winner at doing that.