Review and road test of the Chrysler Voyager (1997 - 2001)
PIONEER PEOPLE MOVER
BY GRAEME ROBERTS
If you want to upset a Chrysler executive, tell him that Renault was first to invent the modern large MPV people carrier with the Espace, which arrived in Britain in 1985. He'll soon tell you that, in fact, the Michigan company began work on what they then termed a 'Super Wagon' way back in 1978.
When what Chrysler eventually called the Voyager was finally launched Stateside in 1983, Uncle Sam and his family took to it immediately. Over 210,000 were sold in the very first year, sending rival makers scurrying back to their drawing boards. Today, with around six million sold since the car's original introduction, it is the undisputed MPV world leader, a position strengthened by the third generation version launched to the rest of the world in 1994.
However, until 1997, Chrysler ignored the UK market. That was because, until recently, right hand drive buyers here saw People Carrying MPVs as glorified minibuses rather than real cars.
Now of course, with almost every franchise fielding at least one MPV range, it's very different and Chrysler's UK importers are a major player in the market. If you want one of the biggest MPV People Carriers available, the Voyager is now plentiful on the used market and well worth a look.
Chrysler Voyager - 1997-2001: (Five-door, 5/7-seat People Carrier: 2.0 [SE, LE] / 3.3 [LE, Grand Voyager LE, LX] / 2.5 turbo diesel [SE, LE, Grand Voyager SE, LX])
The five-door Voyager arrived here in March 1997 (though there were some unofficial left-hand drive imports before this). The first examples had either the 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine introduced with the Neon the previous year or a 3.3-litre V6. Automatic transmission was standard with the V6 and the four was offered only with a five-speed manual. Note, too, that only the four-cylinder models offered the alternative of five or seven-seat SE trim as well as the more luxurious seven-seat LE.
There was also a lengthened version called the Grand Voyager offered (initially) only as a 3.3V6 auto with LE trim.
American vehicles sold in the UK are generally well equipped ('fully loaded' as the Americans say) and the Voyagers were no exception. Even the base SE had anti-lock brakes, remote central locking, air conditioning, dual airbags, power windows and mirrors, an immobiliser and an RDS stereo with four speakers. LE versions added cruise control, power-adjusted driver's seat, adjustable steering column, alloy wheels, a roof rack and front fog lights.
An even more luxurious, leather-trimmed LX version of the Grand Voyager arrived in September 1998 but, more importantly for buyers with fuel economy in mind, so did a full range of VM-engined 2.5-litre turbodiesel variants in five and seven-seat SE and seven-seat LE forms. More recently, the diesel option was extended to the longer Grand Voyager models, again with a choice of SE or LE trim. A thoroughly revised Voyager was announced for the 2001 model year.
What You Get
As mentioned, there are entry-level five-seat SE variants, but those apart, all Voyagers comes with seven seats - individual 'captains chairs' for the first two rows and a comfortable fold-away bench at the very back. As usual in MPVs, you can fold, reverse or remove the seats as you wish.
Where the Voyager is almost unique however, is in the way that it solves the traditional People Carrying bugbear. It's all very well being able to seat up to seven people but where on earth do you put their luggage? Buy a Ford Galaxy/VW Sharan/SEAT Alhambra (all the same design) or indeed the Peugeot 806/Citroen Synergie/Fiat Ulysse (another joint effort) and you'll probably also have to buy a roof-box.
The Voyager's different. For a start, the short wheelbase model offers 450 litres of storage space behind the rear third row of seats - much more than the competition. Moreover, if that isn't enough, then there's that long wheelbase Grand Voyager model which offers 671 litres, as well as 150mm more cabin space. Take all but the front seats out and the capacity rises to a vast 4880 litres - almost enough to move house with.
What to Look For
The Italian-made VM turbo diesels need their oil changed more regularly than the petrol models so check the vehicle's service records to make sure the former owners have done so. US engines are renowned for going long distances without trouble and the petrol-powered cars have no known problem areas but, as with the diesels, a service history is always desirable and may help when selling on.
The interiors are well enough assembled though the plastics used aren't up to the best European standards. Check that all the 'convenience' features like the central locking, electric windows and mirrors plus the air conditioning are working properly as they're expensive to fix. Also look for worn interior trim as a result of hard family use and check the body extremities for parking scrapes - these cars are often driven by people unused to their sheer bulk.
(Based on a 1998 2.0-litre SE - approx excl VAT) A replacement clutch assembly will be about £340. A new starter motor is close to £270, a radiator is around £470 and a replacement headlamp will cost you around £170.
On the Road
The two-litre Neon engine does surprisingly well to deal with the Voyager's considerable bulk but, with a 0-60mph time of over 13 seconds, it's probably just as well it comes only with the five-speed manual 'box. Still, use it wisely and performance isn't too bad. If you can afford the heftier fuel bills, the 3.3-litre V6 is much quieter and smoother helped in no small part by the four-speed automatic with its shift lever mounted on the right of the steering column, saving costs on the right-hand-drive conversion, you might suspect.
The VM turbodiesel is not the best of its type in terms of refinement but nevertheless pulls lustily through the gears and returns far better economy than the V6 - around 33mpg compared with 23. However, the diesel offers very little improvement in economy over the petrol four (33mpg vs. 31mpg) and is a bit slower off the mark, so it might pay to try one before you part with the £1,200 or so extra usually asked.
The Voyager's handling isn't quite on a par with the Ford Galaxy/VW Sharan/SEAT Alhambra products - but then this is a bigger car. Nevertheless, it's surprisingly good for a model developed primarily for American tastes.
One of the original 1984 model Voyagers now sits in the Henry Ford Museum in America, its development hailed as "one of the shrewdest business decisions in modern automotive times". Chances are that if you end up spending your money Chrysler's way, you might end up feeling much the same about it.
Chrysler Voyager (1997 - 2001) review by GRAEME ROBERTS