2006 Uplander New Car Test Drive
Chevrolet claims the Uplander's innovative styling combines the best attributes of vans with the bold look of a sport-utility vehicle. This is accomplished, according to Chevrolet, with a long hood and a large, chromed-ringed grille sporting a big Chevy bow tie. In profile, wide roof pillars, 17-inch wheels and tires wider than the typical minivan's are supposed to reinforce the SUV look. Gray molding covers the rocker panels and connects the lower bumper plastic front and rear, designed to look like a skid-plate.
We're not sure about any of this SUV stuff, because to us the Uplander looks like a minivan with a prominent, slightly awkward snout. It won't fool many people. In virtually every respect the Uplander is a minivan, with the many advantages minivans offer, including a low step-in and load lift heights compared to the typical SUV.
One thing that impresses during an Uplander walkaround is the overall quality of its assembly and finish. The seams on our test vehicle matched precisely and consistently, and the paint had a thick, deep luster with very little orange-peel effect. It was among the best we've seen from Chevrolet and as good as any other minivan currently offered, including those known for their build quality.
Few absolutely must have power sliding side doors, but they're something we like and are handy in a number of situations. GM actually invented power doors years ago, so it's a bit perplexing that those on the Uplander seem a little slow to open, close and lock (as are Nissan's). Perhaps GM's engineers designed the operating mechanism with safety foremost in their thinking. More likely, they were responding to cautionary intervention from corporate liability attorneys. We were also struck by the lack of any power liftgate assist, despite Uplander's overall high level of standard equipment.
The Uplander is one of four minivans offered by GM's various brands. It shares its engine, transmission, chassis and general dimensions with the Buick Terraza, Pontiac Montana and Saturn Relay. There are slight styling differences, to be sure, and each division has its own rational as to why its minivan looks like it does and why it will appeal to a certain type of buyer. Whatever the thinking behind each might be, price differences between the four are negligible when comparably equipped. At the bottom is the Uplander, with suggested retail prices $135 lower than those for the Saturn Relay, which sits next up the pecking order in GM's minivan hierarchy. Above them are the Montana with the Terraza at the top of the line. The choice between brands could come down to satisfaction with a particular dealership, lot location, which dealer is willing to cut the best deal, or, most likely, which styling you like the best.
The 2006 Uplander's strengths are most obvious inside. Its interior is a major improvement over Chevrolet's old Venture model, or any of GM's previous minivans. It also stacks up well against its current competition.
Interior finish and materials are surprisingly good, considering some of GM's efforts just a few years ago. Plastics are generally rich in touch and appearance, and while other media have bashed the fake wood trim, we find it as good as that in cars that cost considerably more. Uplander's instrument panel doesn't try to get cute. It's clean, straightforward design is efficient and easy to get comfortable with.
The instrument binnacle prominently features a large tach and speedometer. The dials are sharp and legible, and trimmed with a thin chrome ring that adds a classy touch. Window, mirror and lock switches are located in the driver's armrest, right where we like them. Lights are on the dash, next to the steering column; wipers on a stalk to the right. There are redundant audio controls on the steering wheel hub.
The center stack is particularly well done. Audio controls sit above the climate controls, also as we like them, and the knobs are not only big, but pleasant to touch. There's a pair of pull-out cupholders and a swing-out storage bin at the bottom. There's also a folding utility table between the front seats with more cupholders and indents to keep phones or glasses handy without allowing them to slide off.
While the Uplander's cabin is good, it's hardly perfect. The glovebox door feels a bit flimsy; the same applies, more so, to the bins behind the front seats. These are well designed, with secure storage for headsets and discs, but they feel cheap. The front fan moves a ton of air, but it's quite loud at full bore. Perhaps most annoying is the view through the rear-view mirror. It's noticeably restricted by the rear-seat headrests, with a relatively narrow scope.
Our Uplander LT had second-row captain's chairs, which are amply spacious and comfortable for good-sized adults. The third-row bench will be no problem for kids through age 15 or 16, even on long drives, but access to the third row is not the best. The pathway between the individual second-row seats is narrow, hampered further by the folding utility table. For access from the outboard side, a one-button mechanism folds the seatbacks forward and slides the entire seat toward the front. That said, it doesn't make climbing in back much easier than walking between the second-row seats.
The interior roof rail system mounts storage bins, DVD screens and lighting under the headliner in modular fashion. It also holds the optional, removable PhatNoize hard drive, which is one of the coolest things going in minivans.
PhatNoize adds a second video screen to the single-DVD entertainment system and a wallet-sized 40-gig hard drive that slips into the overhead rail system. That's enough storage space for 10,000 audio files in virtually any format, or 40 feature films in the MPEG format. PhatNoize has a voice-browsing feature that allows the driver to cycle through menu offerings with buttons on the steering wheel hub. A USB port allows photographs to be loaded directly from a digital camera. Moreover, the PhatNoize hard drive is easily removed and attached to a PC, to be loaded with whatever an Uplander owner chooses. The system is improved for 2006 with pre-loaded promotional content, including TV shows from Nickelodeon, music from eMusic, audio books from Audible and video games from Capcom.
The available onboard inflator generates enough pressure to inflate just about anything. It's integrated in the left-side trim behind the third seat. On the right, there's a standard 110-volt plug that allows Uplander to operate small appliances without a separate power inverter.
The Cargo Convenience center has its advantages. It can keep certain items out of site,.