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Second-hand: 2005-2007 Chevrolet Uplander

Want a used Chev Uplander? Make sure the door stays on.

  • Power supply for electric car charging. Electric cars charging station. Power supply plugged into an electric car being charged.

Thinking its vans the Chevrolet Venture, Pontiac Montana and Oldsmobile Silhouette needed some hot-selling SUV qualities, GM stretched the hood and front fenders, specified larger wheels and tires, and tacked on faux skidplates, hoping consumers would embrace its “crossover sport van.”

The transformation fooled few shoppers and, worse, repelled its returning minivan customers.

“This proboscis could land a cameo on (HBO drama) Nip/Tuck and makes us want to drive it into a wall,” Car and Driver wrote in a review of the industry’s worst automotive makeovers.

CONFIGURATION

The newly christened 2005 Uplander recycled the extended-length platform from Chevy’s 1997-2004 Venture minivan, but with the SUV honker and a bit of added overall length and height.

If there was an upside to the rhinoplasty, the front-drive Uplander earned an improved crash test rating in offset frontal impacts over its predecessor, according to the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

In a last-ditch attempt at badge engineering, the Uplander was joined by the Montana SV6, Buick Terraza and Saturn Relay – all virtually identical vans save for the front fascia and some minor trim differences.

The Chevy and Pontiac came in short- and long-wheelbase versions. While they all offered seating for seven, the longer models provided more cargo space behind the third row, as well as more generous legroom and a larger fuel tank.

The biggest improvement was found inside, where better materials and tighter assembly tolerances gave the cabin a pricier look.

Hamstrung by the old platform, GM couldn’t offer seating that disappeared into the floor, but it did introduce a few crowd-pleasing innovations.

New features included foldable “food management trays” between the seats and an adaptable overhead rail system with integrated audio and climate controls, lighting and optional back-seat entertainment system.

Fetching stuff, but be forewarned that the loss-leader base models were stripped of such niceties as rear-seat armrests.

The enlarged engine room got an enlarged engine: a 3.5 L pushrod V6, good for 200 hp and 220 lb.-ft. of torque, which replaced the Venture’s 185 hp, 3.4 L powerplant. GM’s aging four-speed automatic transmission was retained, while most competitors offered five cogs.

Four-wheel antilock disc brakes were standard. All-wheel drive was available on uplevel models, while GM’s Stabilitrak traction/anti-skid control was optional across the range.

Front side airbags were also optional, but no full-length curtain side airbags were available.

For 2006 GM offered a stouter 3.9 L V6, making 240 hp and 240 lb.-ft. of grunt, as an option. The smaller 3.5 L was dropped the following year, leaving the 3.9 L as the sole engine. The AWD system was also nixed because it could not handle the larger motor’s torque.

Minivan production at the Doraville, Ga., plant wound down in September 2008 after a run of 2009 models was assembled for the Canadian and Mexican markets (U.S. sales petered out the previous year).

ON THE ROAD

Thanks to a stronger and quieter engine, as well as better sound insulation and door seals, driving the 2005 Uplander or any of its siblings demonstrated a marked improvement over the Venture/Montana.

The standard 17-inch wheels and tires were better suited for long-distance marathons, and turn-in and ride characteristics likewise had been upgraded.

A 3.9 L Uplander sprinted to 96 km/h in 8.1 seconds in a magazine test, about a half-second quicker than the original 3.5 L van.

Fuel economy was acceptable, though less so with the larger 3.9 L engine.

WHAT OWNERS REPORTED

Owners of the newest generation of the General’s minivans have given mixed reviews. Some, like reader Steve Sholtz, have had a pleasant experience while others have been disappointed in the vehicle.

The most common gripes have to do with the van’s brakes, which require frequent service for warped rotors, as well as a maddening array of problems with the power-assisted sliding doors.

“(I) went to close the driver’s side sliding door; it completely fell off and hit my son in the side of the head,” one angry owner post on a consumer website. Best to avoid models with these doors.

Electrical faults plagued the earlier (2005-06) models, with many having replaced the alternator at least once. The radio has also been known to malfunction and the fuel gauge may give squirrelly readings.

Other maladies include short-lived front wheel bearings and batteries, slipping transmissions, prematurely worn tie-rods, faulty steering columns and broken rear-window wipers.

Try as it might, the General’s minivan makeover was not very successful, prompting it to abandon the segment altogether.

In fact, a 2004 or 2005 Venture or Montana (non-SV6) might be a more reliable alternative; after eight years in production, the bugs had largely been worked out.

We would like to know about your ownership experience with these models: Ford Mustang, Jeep Commander and Volkswagen Jetta. Email: toljagic@ca.inter.net.

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