Grand plan

Chrysler’s peo­ple-mover his­tory spans 25 years and the com­pany rates its new Voy­ager the ul­ti­mate in fam­ily trans­port, writes STEPHEN OT­T­LEY

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive -

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.

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