Say what you will about the less-than-flashy image of minivans. If you want to carry cargo and people with real ease in an everyday vehicle, a minivan is tough to beat.
Especially if it's Oldsmobile's upscale Silhouette Premiere Edition that comes with an onboard entertainment system.
Virtually everything is standard in this seven-passenger van, including leather seats, air conditioning, power windows, mirrors and door locks, particle and odor filter, roof luggage carrier, second-row captain's chairs, power right-side door and an air inflation kit for getting those summer beach balls ready.
All that plus a high-quality entertainment center offering video viewing on a color monitor that pulls down from the ceiling.
The system also accommodates video games and lets rear-seat riders choose independently whether to listen to the radio, cassettes or CDs.
I had plenty of time -- and reasons -- to try out every aspect of the Silhouette Premiere. First, it arrived as I needed to take visitors to the airport.
Luggage fitted easily into the 24.2-cubic-foot rear cargo area behind the third-row bench seat -- no hoisting heavy bags into a sport utility vehicle cargo hold that's high off the ground.
Nor did we have to scramble upward to get in. Everyone just sort of walked into this conservatively styled van and settled in, enjoying a very relaxed, car-like ride.
The standard power sliding right-side door opened curbside at the touch of a button, rather than by muscle. Note that the Premiere comes with two sliding side doors, but only the right-hand one is power-operated.
The visitors sent on their way, I took a 13-hour, nonstop drive from California to Arizona and found the Premiere to be an able, long-run traveler.
The front-wheel-drive vehicle comes standard with automatic load-leveling and touring suspension. Tires and wheels are only 15-inchers, and antilock brakes are standard.
The large windshield and low cowl provided good visibility, while front and rear air conditioning helped keep all parts of the Silhouette comfortable in the unseasonably warm weather.
The van's many nooks, cup holders and storage areas all were used at one time or another, it seemed. I just wish there was a bit more lumbar in the driver's seat and that the head restraints locked into place. Side air bags are standard on the two front seats.
Silhouette models don't offer power adjustable accelerator and brake pedals, unlike the Ford Windstar. But the Premiere's power front seats allowed for six-way adjustments and I had no problem getting comfortable behind the wheel.
Of course, I had a co-driver so I could watch Steve McQueen in the movie Bullitt on the entertainment center.
I made excellent time, thanks to the gallant 3.4-liter, pushrod V6 engine. It's in all models of this minivan -- the base Silhouette GL, mid-range GLS and Premiere. And it's paired to a four-speed automatic in each model, too.
Maximum horsepower is 185 at 5,200 rpm and torque is 210 foot-pounds at 4,000 rpm. There's a decent feeling of ''scoot'' when you're accelerating in the city, and Silhouette models coast easily in less aggressive driving.
I did tire, though, of the engine's noisy and obvious downshifts and struggles on hills as I tried to maintain highway speed.
This is an old power plant -- a version was in General Motors Corp.'s earlier minivans, too -- and there are smoother, quieter and smarter engine/transmission combinations in some of today's newer competing minivans.
The Silhouette's estimated fuel economy of 19 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway is OK.
But note that Honda's higher-horsepower Odyssey, which has 205 horses at 5,200 rpm and weighs 285 pounds more than the Silhouette, delivers nearly the same fuel mileage.
The Odyssey also offers a navigation system this year -- something not offered in Silhouette models.
There was a bit of vibration in this sport-tuned ride, but harsh road bumps were well managed. Steering felt a bit numb at times, but this is a minivan, not a sports car, so it seemed well in character.
I noticed wind noise around the big outside mirrors -- not unusual in minivans. Otherwise, the interior was relatively quiet. But there was enough wind buffeting to require alertness when passing semitrailers.
The buffeting was reduced some, but not eliminated, on my return trip when the Silhouette was packed to the gills with boxes of files and household items.
One of the few options on the Silhouette Premiere is a trailer towing package, with which the van can tow up to 3,500 pounds, equal to that of the Odyssey and Chrysler Grand Voyager.
There's only one wheelbase on all Silhouettes -- the extended wheelbase of 120 inches, which is 1 to 2 inches longer than the Odyssey and Grand Voyager.
Silhouettes offer nearly an inch more front-seat headroom than the Grand Voyager, but have 1.3 inches less than the Odyssey.
Second-row headroom is 0.7 inch less than in the competitors, but third-row headroom is equal to or better.
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