Mirror-image minivans?

By: 
October 23, 1995

Take the redesigned 1996 Plymouth Grand Voyager SE, the new-in-1995 Honda
Odyssey LX, and the popular Ford Windstar for test drives, and one might become
confused, at least when it comes to styling. The new Voyager looks remarkably
like a Windstar. Also, each of the models I drove offers dual airbags,
side-impact protection and ABS as standard equipment. But, after a week in each
vehicle, important distinctions among the three became apparent.

PASSENGER ROOM COMPARISONS


VEHICLE
GRAND AREA


ODYSSEY
LX


VOYAGER
SE


WINDSTAR
GL WAGON

Front Head

39.9

39.8

39.3

Front Leg

40.6

41.2

41.8

Middle Head

39.3

40.1

38.9

Middle Leg

38.5

36.6

39.2

Back 3 Head

37.6

38.1

38.1

Back 3 Leg

34.1

35.8

35.3

With its 3.3-l MPI V-6 engine, the Grand Voyager SE offers a smooth, comfortable ride. Its convenient 20-gallon fuel tank allows for long periods between fill-ups, as does the Windstar with its 20-gallon tank. Odyssey's 17.2-l fuel tank most likely is a byproduct of the smaller vehicle size, but don't let the size fool you when it comes to cargo space.

None of the three vehicles is fuel thrifty. Gas mileage averages out to be almost identical. The Honda comes in at the high end with 20 mpg city/24 mpg highway, the Plymouth claims 18 mpg city/24 mpg highway, and the Windstar averages out at 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway.

The Odyssey LX has the best fuel mileage by a bit, and also costs the most at $23,889, by the same margin. Its 2.2-liter, 16-valve engine produces 140 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque. A 4-wheel, double-wishbone suspension and 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS make the minivan handle like a passenger car. But at times the 4-cylinder engine seemed to need a power boost, such as when the air conditioning runs at full tilt.

The Plymouth, with the SE Luxury Package, sells for $23,855, just $34 less than the Odyssey. The package includes: air conditioning, rear window defroster/wiper de-icer, 7-passenger seating, power door locks, power windows, a climate group with sunscreen/solar glass, rear heat and ac, dual-zone temperature control, overhead console, integrated child seat, engine upgrade to 3.3l MPI V6, and driver-side sliding door.

At $22,280, Windstar offers even more amenities than the others. Included in the Preferred Equipment package are radio controls and headset mounts in the middle row of seats, and a remote keyless entry system with a panic button. However, it's the new-for-1996 traction control that sets Windstar apart from the two other vehicles.

The All-Speed Electronic Traction Control provides better traction for acceleration on slippery surfaces by determining how best to regain traction at the "driven" wheel. The system uses brake and engine management to transfer power to the wheel with the most traction.

The traction control system also measures the speed of each front wheel independently so, if one of Windstar's wheels hits an icy patch, the system will apply the brakes to the slipping wheel, allowing the torque to be transferred through the differential to the wheel with greater traction.

The 1996 Windstar GL model features a 3.0-liter SEFI engine as standard. However, you might want to consider a 3.8-liter V-6 engine rated at 200 hp at 5,000 rpm and 230 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm as an upgrade. Ford promotes this engine as offering 10 years/100,000 miles without the need for major servicing when driven under normal conditions.

Family safety. Each model has its own special offerings when it comes to safety. On the 1996 Grand Voyager SE, for example, Plymouth engineers reduced the turning circle (on the long-wheel-base version) by more than three feet. They also increased visibility with a 32% larger windshield. The windshield wipers contain their own "de-icer" for safer driving in winter conditions. The de-icer, an electronic grid like the rear window defroster, covers a small area of the glass at the base of the wiper pattern where the wipers park.

SPECIFICATIONS


FEATURE


Windstar


Odyssey


Voyager

Wheelbase (in.)

120.7

111.4

119.3

Length (in.)

201.2

186.7

199.6

Height (in.)

68.0

64.7

68.5

Width (in.)

75.5

70.5

75.6

Seating capacity

7

6

7

Engine as driven

3.8 SPI

2.2 SOHC

3.3 V6

Displacement (cu.in.)

3.8

131.6

201.5

[email protected] RPM

200 @ 5,000

140 @ 5,600

158 bhp @ 4850

Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)

230 @ 3,000

145 @ 4,600

203 @ 3,250 rpm

Transmission

4-sp auto

4-sp auto

4-sp auto

Curb weight (lbs)

3,487

3,435

3,766

Price as driven

$22,280

$23,889

$23,855
HANDLING IMPRESSIONS


FEATURE


Windstar


Odyssey


Voyager

Handling

Good

Very good

Very good

Ride Comfort

Very good

Very good

Good

Acceleration

Very good

Good

Good

Quietness

Good

Good

Very good

Roominess

Excellent

Very good

Excellent

Visibility

Very good

Excellent

Very good

Overall quality

Very good

Very good

Excellent

The first minivan manufacturer to offer integrated child safety seats, Plymouth now offers a multiple-position recliner. And, for overloaded parents, the maker claims the child safety seats buckle up with just one hand (I didn't have a fidgeting child to test it out on). Also, for safety's sake, the Odyssey LX includes more than 293 degrees of outward visibility from the driver's seat. The wiper design, with two 600-mm wiper blades and arms that move in mirror image, ensures complete coverage to the A-pillars. Insetting the windshield 7 mm, rather than having it flush with the windshield post, helps prevent rainwater from flowing onto the side windows, further preventing vision obstruction.

The Odyssey's parking break lever mounts on the floor on the right side of the driver's seat. To ensure that someone walking through the aisle doesn't bump the lever and release it, the lever must first be raised before the release button can be pushed. The Ford Windstar brake contains a similar design, while the Voyager's hand-petal/hand-release brake to the left of the steering wheel gets it out of the aisle all together.

In the Grand Voyager redesign, Chrysler dropped the sill about one-and-a-half inches, and ramped the floor down to it, which lowered the step-in height. The driver's height remains the same as in the previous version.

Everyone I asked reacted positively to the Voyager's driver's side sliding door. It seems so obvious, yet it took a decade for an automaker to make the "go anywhere" family vehicle accessible from both sides for loading passengers and cargo. Actually, the Odyssey offered the first four-door minivan design in 1995, but the Voyager's slider is more convenient, particularly in tight parking spaces. It should be pointed out, however, that the 4-door design on the Odyssey allows second-row passengers to roll down their windows.

All-new hinging and latching mechanisms on both of the Voyager's sliding doors help make the door open and shut effortlessly. Inclined tracks allow gravity to assist door closing on a level surface.

The Voyager also has "wheels" on the bench seats. These Easy-out Roller Seats(TM) wheel into storage and are easy to remove. Each seat is latched to floor-mounted strikers. When unlatched, eight rollers lift each seat so that it can be rolled forward and backward. An ergonomic lever at the back of each seat riser releases the floor latches and raises the seat on its rollers in a single motion. To ensure that the seat is properly latched, a red indicator projects out of each handle until latching is complete.

Honda's engineers get kudos for their third-row retractable bench seat. Because the seat retracts completely into the floor, providing a flat, open cargo area, the seat adjustment can be made just about anywhere. A 7-liter storage compartment in the rear of the vehicle forms a convenient place to stow the third-seat head restraints.

For example, suppose the kid's soccer practice ends early and three neighborhood children need rides home. Pull the extra bench out of the floor in the Honda and off everyone goes. Those in the Plymouth or the Ford need a dry place to store the benches when not in use, making removal near the garage the only practical solution.

The Odyssey provides 150-plus feet of interior volume, more than the Windstar or the Plymouth, which surprised me. On the downside, only 9.8 cubic feet of that storage area is located behind the third seat. When all seats are occupied, there isn't much room left for cargo. The Voyager and the Windstar have more than double the space behind the third seat.

On the other hand, the Odyssey is the only vehicle with a deep storage well behind the third seat to help keep loose items from rolling about. Other benefits: a low step-in height and 64.7-inch-high roof, making it easier to load.

The Windstar GL cargo area offers 144 cubic feet with the seat folded down. There are 22.0 cubic feet behind the third row seat.

The new Voyager has 11% more passenger and 27% more cargo space than last year's model. It contains 22.2 cubic feet behind the rear seat, and totals 141.9 cubic feet with the seats removed. Chrysler claims that, with both benches folded flat, it's the only minivan that can carry a 4-x 8-ft sheet of plywood with the seats in and the liftgate closed.

The long-wheelbase Voyager measures 1.6 inches shorter than the Windstar, but has almost 20% more cargo space. Short-wheelbase versions with nearly 15 inches less length even exceed Windstar's cargo space.

A comparison of the three minivans wouldn't be complete without mentioning cupholders and storage compartments, for they abound. Voyager, Odyssey, and Windstar designers took into consideration the thirst of a family on the road and incorporated cup holders all over the place, but the Voyager's are unique. They adjust to various size containers. As the drawer containing the containers is opened, movable arms swing out to create two openings, each deep and large enough for the largest drink containers, including cups with handles. Each arm swings in on a three-position ratchet to grip smaller containers, even holding a juice box in place. Pushed inward past the smallest position, the ratchet releases, and the arms swing out again to the largest position.

Every family requires storage compartments, and in this regard the Grand Voyager beats the Odyssey and Windstar hands down. Under the rear armrests are two large storage bins. Tucked neatly beneath the front passenger seat is a drawer with its own lock. A center console offers a slide-away coin holder, a cubbyhole, and a compartment for storing CDs and cassettes. An overhead console will hold sunglasses and a garage-door opener.

Several friends asked if I found the bulky minivans difficult to park. Parallel parking the Honda seemed a breeze with its smaller size and excellent visibility. The others felt a little more awkward; gauging just where the back bumper ends when parallel parking had a more precarious feel. Still, all are manageable.

Honda Accord owners who need more space may enjoy owning an Odyssey. The Voyager attracts cargo haulers with its driver's-side sliding door and roomy interior. The Windstar, while very comparable, will probably lose some potential customers because it doesn't offer back-seat accessibility on the driver's side, but it does have traction control available for safety-conscious buyers. In the end, no single vehicle stands alone in the winner's circle.

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