Model: Grand Voyager 2.8 CRD LX
Engine: 2776cc, 4-cylinder, 16 valve, diesel
Transmission: 6-speed Automatic
Performance: 115mph, 29.4 mpg official average, 0-60 in 12.8 secs, 161 bhp
Let’s face facts. Unless it’s unavoidable, no one in their right mind is going to buy a people carrier. Quite simply, it is a car bought out of necessity rather than choice. With that in mind, it would probably be very unfair to judge the all-new Chrysler Grand Voyager on anything other than the task it’s designed for: its ability to carry people. So, let’s have a look at who buys this MPV, an insight to Chrysler’s stereotypical consumer for this gargantuan 7-seater.
She’s a middle-class, middle-thirties, Daily-Mail-reading, coffee-with-the-girls, mum of five children. Let’s call her Nicola. Her husband, Julian, works at an advertising agency – not quite a partner but still on a high five-figure salary with the usual perks. He begrudgingly relinquishes the keys to his company Saab at the weekends because as a family they don’t all fit into that carriage of convenience, and their children are the ubiquitous combination of school-bag toting, football-loving, ballet-class attending darlings ranging from 5 to 11 years old. This is Chrysler’s picture of domestic bliss.
It’s all white picket fences and Mom’s homemade apple pie. Chrysler understand the appeal of this scenario only too well and they have every reason to be smug over the sales demographics supporting their stance in this market. They kick-started the whole MPV revolution twenty years ago. There are a few more contenders for the 7-seater crown these days, but 11 million cars sold would suggest they know what they’re doing when it comes to people-carriers.
To keep the competition at bay, they’ve reinvented the Grand Voyager – again – although to the untrained eye, not much has changed. (It doesn’t really have the flexibility of architecture to evolve into anything other than a stylish van with three rows of seats and tinted glass.) However, it has never been shy of adding a few creature comforts… and at this point I’m going to metamorphose into Nicola, my alter-ego, to give this car a fairer critique.
Now normally, if I’m testing a car and it wallows around bends and corners like a drunken hippopotamus you can bet your next months mortgage payment I’ll have something derogatory to say about it. However, in this instance behaviour like this is completely acceptable. That’s because Nicola doesn’t drive like a lunatic on Red Bull. She’s sensible. She’s a responsible mother of five who knows that slinging it around corners is something she considers comparable to an affair; contemplated but rarely carried out. She wouldn’t notice that the re-tweaked 2.8-CRD diesel engine is now more refined; telling her that 1st gear on the 6-speed automatic box has been lengthened for a smoother start is like trying to explain the off-side rule to her.
What she really cares about is nine cup holders and an innovative second row of 180-degree swivel n’ go seats. Petrolheads always want to know about performance figures, “how fast from 0 to 62 mph? What’s its top speed?”, and so on. But Nicola feels her life is burdened enough with unnecessary reports from three different geography teachers and she doesn’t really care that it won’t beat the Nuerbering lap record – wherever Nuerbering is. She does care, however, that it costs about £75 to fill-up with fuel. Julian has done the calculations and – so long as she doesn’t wander too far off her usual school/gym/shopping route – that tank of diesel should last her about ten days, or 500-odd miles.
But where the Grand Voyager lacks in pace, it more than compensates in comfort for the passengers seated inside the vast cabin. The Yanks are improving their interiors and, although it’s still a generation away from German manufacturing, the commitment to improving materials and workmanship is there to be seen. There are acres of head and legroom for all seven occupants – even those in the last row of seats – and there’s more leather here than you’ll find in a DFS showroom. Remove the two seats in the second row, fold the third row flat, and this MPV takes on the dimensions of a two-man removal van.
Pound-for-pound then, the well-equipped entry-level LX model does seem reasonable at £25,995. But here’s the thing. At first glance, Nicola (mum-of-five, friend-to-the-girls, wife-to-the husband), needs an MPV; there’s no doubt about that. On closer inspection though, she’s driving along with a whistful look in her eye. Her mind is thinking about how many packed lunches she’ll need for the school trip on Friday, but her imagination wishes she could drive off into the sunset herself, occasionally, leaving the world of MPVs behind her.
Unfortunately, Chrysler’s Grand Voyager brings bring her back to earth. It has no pretensions of escapist saloon-emulating characteristics, and in a strange way this is probably where it excels over the competition. It knows what it is, and for Nicola, this MPV will always be ‘the bus – affordable, practical and comfortable, with the added bonus of dual DVD screens to make the school-run ‘fun’. For me though, well, I’m a Julian-kind of man. “Keys to the Saab, dear? Yes, dear. In my trouser-pocket, dear, but don’t let the kids scuff the seat, eh?”