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Chevrolet Venture
Warner Brothers Edition

The Chevrolet Venture's new Warner Brothers edition has the most cargo room in the minivan world, coupled with one of the most powerful standard engines and relatively good gas mileage. That's a pretty potent combination, but it does have drawbacks.

We enjoy driving minivans, not because of their sporty nature, but because it lets us move things around. SUVs are nice for those who want to go off-road, but nothing beats the sheer utility of the mini, especially when it is as capacious as the Venture. Indeed, we were able to easily haul a full-size library card catalog, lying down, without even removing the middle row of seats. Try that in a Ford Expedition. Even if you can do it, will you still get 26 mpg on the highway?

The Warner Brothers edition comes with a sophisticated internal sound system, with a PDT (pointless display of technology) stereo which, nonetheless, has poor reception in fringe areas. We won't go into the feature list, but we will move on to the passenger controls - and there are lots of them. Parents will be happy to know that the Venture comes with separate headphone controls for each mid-seat passenger, as well as a standard integrated child seat for the little one. (This is a terrific feature, and much safer than the strap-in variety).

For long rides or TV-addicted families, a built-in VCR connects to a small video screen built into the roof. The system is very simple and easy to operate, and comes with a remote control so the driver doesn't have to think about operating a VCR. The system does not receive television broadcasts.

The interior was very well done, except for the usual high beams/washer/ wiper/cruise control/turn signal stalk. Most controls were easy to use; we truly wish Chevrolet would stop foisting their overloaded stalks on us. Did someone at GM order ten million of these things by mistake? The air conditioner indicator tends to wash out in bright light. The trip computer, on the other hand, was helpful and well placed.

An intelligent computer warns you of any problems, such as open doors or dirty oil. Run-flat tires are a good safety touch.

There were a few removable rubber surfaces which kept noise down by providing quiet places for coins and gadgets. One thoughtful gesture was rubber padding on the side of the steering column, to keep keys from jangling. Generally, we enjoyed the luxury of having many places to toss coins and sunglasses.

Clear removal instructions are sewn onto the optional 38-lb seats: pull on one loop, then pull on the other, squeeze a wire, and lift. Installation and removal are easy after the first time, though we recommend reading the instructions (in the owner’s manual) and maybe getting the dealer to demonstrate how the seats work. The standard bench seats are more difficult to remove, but, like the individual seats, they do fold flat to make space. With all seats in place, it is somewhat difficult to get into the rearmost row. We suspect most people will leave the center seat out.

Cup holders are unfortunately not very sophisticated, but they do exist throughout the van.

There is more cargo space behind the rearmost seats than in competing minivans, and several cargo nets help to make that space as usable as possible.

Getting in and out was easy, though you have to step back quickly when opening the rear liftgate. We got a model with two sliding doors, neither powered; we found that the door detents were not well implemented, so that the forward doors tended to swing too wide, while the rear doors did not stay in place as well as they could have.

The daytime running lights light turn signal bulbs rather than the high beams, to avoid annoying other drivers. Automatic headlights turn on only when needed.

The engine was smooth and provided enough power not only for ordinary acceleration, but also to surprise uninitiated passengers. The transmission on our model was apparently tuned for smoothness, but it was also indecisive on acceleration, and sometimes seemed unable to choose a gear. This did not occur the last time we drove a Venture. The engine also took quite a while to warm up completely. It did, however, give us surprisingly good gas mileage - better than the Toyota Sienna or Town & Country, despite the minivan's larger size.

Most motorists should opt for the touring suspension (about $200-250) and the trailer towing package (about $150), which includes components that can keep your long-term repair costs down. The touring suspension keeps the Venture from wallowing and floating on the road, with minimal loss of ride quality. We found the Venture to be somewhat unstable at highway speeds without that option.

The Venture had little wind noise, a smooth suspension and strong acceleration, and good braking. We'd easily place it alongside the 2000 Caravan as one of the best minivans on the market; if you were tempted by the Honda, Toyota, Ford, or Nissan minivans, we strongly suggest you look at Chevrolet first.

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