What a beleaguered group of vehicles make up the large MPV sector. An ageing, unloved fleet that has been overshadowed by the rugged sexiness and vigour and seven-seat capability of SUVs.
But Chrysler is hoping that its all-new Grand Voyager can inject some life back into the segment, with a dash of chintzy chrome and American style, a plethora of cupholders and some trick seats.
Gone is the amorphous blobbiness of the old model, replaced by straight lines and powerful flanks, supposedly reminiscent of the 300C, although apart from the retro grille it’s hard to make a very large metal box look much like a gangster saloon.
That said, it looks very much designed for purpose, which is to be big and trustworthy.
It is now bigger and marginally longer, at 5.1 metres.
But these cars are all about what’s on the inside, about what it offers the family on the move in terms of practicality and comfort. Here, there has been no shortage of revisions, and some are very clever.
Some are less so. And fortunately some things haven’t been changed at all.
Such as the seating system.
The new Grand Voyager retains the Stow ’n Go facility which rescued the old car from obscurity.
It really is very clever, with the second and third rows tumbling into holes in the floor, eliminating the need to remove them – the bane of every other MPV on the market.
Not only is this system easily the best on the market, but the Grand Voyager also has a large amount of useful luggage space when the seats are in place, which has been a problem for many MPVs.
In this sense, with the key requirement of an MPV to be a multi-purpose vehicle, the Chrysler really is very hard to beat.
But Stow ’n Go can now be supplanted at a cost of £750 with Swivel n’ Go which, alongside an electrically folding third row for the terminally lazy if need be, comes with a second row that can spin through 180 degrees, so rear passengers can face each other.
Due mainly to engineering constraints, right-hand drive models lose a few features fitted to left-hand drive cars, including adjustable pedals, the top passenger side glove box and the dash mounted gear shift.
That now goes to the floor, and with a traditional handbrake rather than footbrake, which is just as well because the dash-mounted version was distinctly wobbly.
Which brings us to build quality. What exactly did Chrysler learn from its ill-fated relationship with Mercedes-Benz?
Nothing about building interiors, that’s for sure.
Some of the plastic trims in here are lamentable. Rough sharp edges and ill-fitting surfaces. But having said that, the layout of the interior is much more ordered and logical than the scattergun approach of the old car, and it has a certain functional aesthetic.
There has also been some thought to lift the cabin above the workmanlike job set out for it.
Green halo lighting around the roof storage box casts a comforting glow in the dark, while a clever DVD system allows the second row of seats to watch a DVD of Bob the Builder while the third row enjoys High School Musical, ensuring sibling harmony.
This dual DVD mode (a £1,750 option) can be added to a package called MyGIG, standard on Limited models, which comes with a USB port 20GB hard drive for 1,600 songs and pictures, wireless headphones, remote control and touchscreen control and navigation in the front.
The Grand Voyager still has a 2.8-litre diesel engine (and a 3.8-litre V6 petrol), but it has been significantly upgraded from the clattery 150bhp unit in the old car and comes with a six-speed auto box and no manual option.
It has a new common rail fuel injection system as well as a turbo that delivers power earlier.
Top power is now 163bhp, but more significantly peak torque of 225lb-ft. Official combined fuel consumption is 30.4mpg, while CO2 is 247g/km, ensuring a working life in the highest BIK tax band.
Prices start at £25,995 for the LX, rising to £32,995 for the Limited, which is the same as the old model.
Residuals for this sector aren’t nearly as strong as equivalently-priced seven seat SUVs but Jason King, forecasting editor, EurotaxGlass’s, reckons this car can expect to achieve mid to high 30s in percentage terms after three years/60,000 miles which, alongside the Ford Galaxy would make it one of the better performers.
As for sales, the huge levels of chauffeur and corporate business out there for a car like this should see fleet and retail split far more evenly than the 80-20 split in favour of retail for the outgoing Grand Voyager.
Behind the wheel
Does anybody care how it drives?
If they do, it drives OK.
The engine is a little clattery still but has enough performance, and the steering is suitably slow while it has a relaxed soft-ish ride.
Of far more importance is what happens further back.
The electric sliding doors, standard across the range, are a child-pleasing trick while the Stow ‘n Go seats dive to the floor quicker than a theatrical footballer.
The second row features two perfectly comfortable seats but, if you opt for the swivelly contraption, they are much bigger and more heavily cushioned.
Unfortunately they make it a real nuisance to get right in the back as they don’t tip forward.
Expect knocked heads and scuff marks on the seats to follow.
Getting into the back is altogether easier with Stow and, once there, there is lots of room for a proper-sized adult.
The dual DVD system seems useful, although controlling the options screens from the front is difficult on the move as you have to use the remote control and can’t see the menu.
Standard automatic climate control in all three zones will keep each row happy. In the UK version, we will be hamstrung by only nine massive cup holders rather than the 13 on left-hand drive models.
As something enjoyable to drive, the Chrysler does nothing to invoke joyful emotion.
As an attractive car to own, it hardly tugs at the heartstrings. As a people carrier, it does everything asked of it and more. And that’s a very important thing.
|Model:||2.8 CRD||3.8 V6|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||163/3,800||193/5,200|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||266/1,600||225/4,000|
|Max speed (mph):||n/a||n/a|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||30.4||22.2|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||247||302|
|On sale:||March 2008|