Chrysler Voyager 3-3

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Description: There are very few MPVs in which the third-row passengers get as good a deal, for legroom and headroom, as those in front. It takes a very large machine to provide better than occasional seating

There are very few MPVs in which the third-row passengers get as good a deal, for legroom and headroom, as those in front. It takes a very large machine to provide better than occasional seating right at the back.

The Chrysler Grand Voyager has absolutely no problem here. It's the biggest and, in 3.3-litre form, the biggest-engined people carrier on the UK market, and each of its six seats (seven if you use the full width of the rear bench) offers lolling room for full-sized adults well above the anorexic fashion-catwalk scale.

Ever since the long-wheelbase Grand Voyager was introduced here (Chrysler people don't like to use the expression "long-wheelbase", actually, because they prefer to regard the Voyager and Grand Voyager as two separate model lines) it has sold far better than forecast. In fact, the UK is the largest market in Europe for the Grand design, which - and this seems even more peculiar - has a particularly high penetration figure in London-area MPV sales.

The latest 3.3-litre model, on sale this month, costs under £26,000 in LX form as tested here. That's a stage below the more lavishly equipped 3.3 Limited, but I thought the LX is pretty well kitted out anyway.

Changes to the exterior appearance have given all the Voyagers more of a Chrysler family look around the front end. The headlamps are much more powerful, the bonnet has been remodelled, there are new styling lines front to rear, the back-end look has been improved by moving the high brake light and the rear washer outlet, and there's an impression of extra solidity in the angled C-pillar. Sliding rear doors have been retained, and they are undoubtedly more convenient than hinged doors for an MPV of this size.

The extra solidity is more than just an impression, because the design team for the new model was part-way through its work when the previous Voyager got very poor marks in the Euro NCAP impact tests. That provoked bad publicity, a lot of red faces, and a decision to build plenty more robustness and crumple-ability into the 2001 machine.

The LX is a really big car in both length and width - those standard power-operated door mirrors are very handy in a tight spot. In the case of some earlier American cars, Chrysler Jeeps among them, UK and European critics used to run screaming from the smooth, slippery, plastic tabletop-look leather upholstery, but the £1250 leather seat facing option on the LX seems worth the money. The presentation is much better, and the Grand Voyager seats also offer plenty of support.

There are two in front, two (fold-down or removable) in the middle row, and a fold-down split bench at the back. When all the seats are in position there's a modest amount of luggage space before you get to the tailgate, and, unlike some other MPVs, it comes with a security cover.

Thanks to the really generous amount of cabin room, the Grand Voyager is one of the few MPVs in which that subtle arrangement of taking out one or two of the middle-row seats, to give somebody right at the back unequalled legs-out lounging room, is a reasonable proposition.

There's a good high-set driving position, with a fine view through a very large windscreen, at the foot of which the cross-over wipers lurk. The Grand Voyager is loaded with stowage spaces, from the usual barrage of cup-holders to a bigger fold-down sunglasses case in the roof.

It has a very appealing instrument array, with the chrome-rimmed, ivory-faced main dials looking, as Chrysler hoped they would, like vintage-style "designer" watches. Most of the switchgear has been re-designed or slightly re-located, and it's immediately noticeable how much more delicately the switches work.

Many of the warning lights are contained in a very slim cowl across the top of the instrument panel. There's a new central console complete with power socket at the bottom, although this is the one place where Chrysler has gone for wood-effect trim, which is not usually an American strong point. 'Nuff said.

Of course, the latest Grand Voyager, like its predecessor, is actually built at Graz in Austria, and I'd say the quality control there has been perked up. The new model is also quieter running, and the long-wheelbase (oops!) Grand Voyager still seems to have a more supple ride quality than the Voyager tout court. as they say in the best circles.

The 3.3-lire V6 petrol engine has had a 16bhp power boost and been given beefier torque. This engine isn't used in any other Chryslers for the European market - not in the 300M or the Sebring as sold exclusively in left-hand drive form over on the Continent. It has been substantially modified for 2001, runs more quietly, and provides the pull a large-scale MPV like this needs. The latest model also has reassuringly powerful all-disc brakes.

Standard transmission is a four-speed automatic box worked via a spring-loaded lever on the right-hand side of the steering column. The wheel itself has fingertip controls for the cruise control and audio system.

So the gear selector is out of the way, to provide walk-through space to the middle-row seats, which themselves have a space between them if you want to continue your stroll right to the back. But the Grand Voyager still has a central handbrake, tucked in towards the left-hand edge of the driver's seat.

As an aside, and not germane to the present issue, I hope the Stuttgart element in DaimlerChrysler notices that not all American-designed cars have a foot pedal parking brake with a slam-forward fascia release.

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