Review: 2006 Chevrolet Uplander

Review: 2006 Chevrolet Uplander

Chevrolet moved to distinguish itself in the crowded minivan segment by refurbishing and renaming its old Venture. The Uplander, as this vehicle is now known, looks quite different than its predecessor, but has basically the same running gear. The larger nose addresses increasingly stringent safety standards, with the buzz-ready benefit of giving the Uplander a visage more common among SUVs, which have been siphoning minivan sales over the years. If you believe Chevrolet marketing, it's a "crossover" with "the bold styling of an SUV."

Aside from minor cosmetic differences and unique footwear, there's little to distinguish the Uplander from its General Motors siblings, the Pontiac Montana SV6, Buick Terraza, and Saturn Relay. And when it goes toe-to-toe with segment leaders, such as the Honda Odyssey and Dodge Caravan, the Uplander has a hard time measuring up. This is true not only of the dynamic aspects such as powertrain performance, ride, and handling, but also of crucial features such as seating convenience. For distinction, the Uplander turns to gimmicks such as programmable infotainment. A new advertising and cross-promotional deal with the Nickelodeon cable network aims the Uplander, just like sugary breakfast cereals, right at kids. A uniquely badged variant of the minivan will install Nick's programming in this vehicle from the beginning. Like other Chevrolet trucks, the Uplander is available in LS and LT trim. Buyers may specify either front-wheel drive or Versatrak all-wheel drive. A commercial cargo version is also available.

Oversized windows and an elongated snout help the Uplander, and its corporate siblings, standout among the competing one-box minivans. Being low-waisted and long-nosed affords it a generous amount of outward visibility, so the driver never misjudges where the corners are. Body-colored trim and a minimum of plastic cladding add purposefulness to the appearance. Moldings under the front and rear are supposed to call to mind the skidplates found on serious off-road vehicles. The optional, 17-inch alloy wheels look exceptionally good. However, the body is tall and narrow, carrying a more top-heavy appearance than other minivan models. True to older minivan designs, the sliding door tracks are exposed on the rear flanks, rather than sculpted into the bodywork, or concealed beneath the rear side glass.

A handsome, well-organized layout confronts the Uplander's driver. Everything about the instrument panel and center stack is just as it should be. Each gauge is easily read, and every control and knob falls readily to hand. The cruise control stalk actually surpasses those found in some of General Motors's high-end vehicles. Unlike the minivan class leaders, which choose to position the shift lever in the center stack, the Uplander's shifter is located on the steering column. The trim is all perfectly fine, even when it's obviously fake wood.

Seating is for seven occupants. (Some competing minivans will accommodate eight.) The narrowness of the chassis is felt in the lack of elbow and hip room. Second-row seats fold and tumble against the front row, or they may be taken out to maximize cargo capacity at 136.5 cubic feet. The third row splits 50/50 and folds flat, though the load floor height is higher than that of most other minivans. The overhead rail system locates snap-in storage compartments for placing such items as headphones and DVDs. A rear, flip-down DVD screen is available. XM satellite radio will brighten up those waits outside the preschool.

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