A little Cleanup…

There’s a whole year left but I feel the need to make sure all of my old reviews or posted to this blog as I think I will let my websites go to some other poor sap.

So today, a twofer!

First up:

2002 Chevy Venture WB Edition

The Mommy-Mobile gets a jolt of DVD pleasure

By James E. Bryson

As a 31-year-old, single American male, it is difficult for me to fathom the responsibility and other pressures that would make me give up my car and get a minivan. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with needing all that extra space and comfort for people and things that minivans are famous for having. Space is what these vehicles are all about. There’s space up front, space in the rear and generous amounts of space in between. Our test van was the 2002 Chevy Venture EXT AWD Warner Brothers Edition and what a van it was.

With an as-tested price of $34,125.00, the WBE version of the Venture comes with so much stuff, it’s difficult to believe that it all fit in the van so nicely. For starters, the standard equipment on this van is overwhelming. It comes with a 3.4-liter, 185 horsepower V6, four-speed automatic transmission, stainless steel exhaust, Chevy’s Versa Trak all-wheel-drive system, frontal and side-impact airbags for driver and front passenger, rear window wiper, OnStar, dual sliding doors, eight passenger seating and CD player/stereo unit.

The Warner Brothers package starts with a fold down LCD screen and a front-console-mounted DVD player, for entertaining the kiddies on trips around or out of town. Then there’s the seating arraignment, four captain’s chair and a bench for the rearmost seats, all of which are comfortable and should provide adequate support for long trips.

Also on the WBE list of features are leather/cloth seating surfaces, aluminum wheels, roof-mounted luggage rack, front and rear air conditioning, rear seat audio controls and four sets of wireless headphones for rear passengers, remote keyless entry, passenger-side power sliding door and a Homelink universal garage door opener.

The only option of note on our tester was a driver-side power sliding door for $350.00. With both power sliders on both sides, we enjoyed a more convenient experience and never worried if we had shut either door completely: We had a lot of fun playing with those doors and even found them to be helpful in performing everyday chores. In one instance, they proved helpful in getting into the vehicle after picking up a pizza. It was really nice not to have to worry about opening the regular door and putting the pizza down. In one fell swoop, we were able to get in the van and get going much easier than if we had a regular car or even an SUV.

The longer wheelbase of the EXT model helped smooth out the bumps and the plush interior helped ease the commuting dreariness. The van handled a lot like the upright vehicle it is. We were a little surprised that it handled as well as it did. Around corners the Venture seemed to hesitate for a minute and then it found the line we were looking for and followed it around until we straightened out again. Not stellar in any way, but very good for such a long and tall vehicle.

Out on the highway is where this van really shined. The long wheelbase came in handy by making sure the bumps were adequately smoothed out and the tall seating position meant we had a great view of the road ahead, even if an SUV was in front of us. The engine had plenty of go-power to get us moving out on the highway and we really didn’t see the need for more power until we had a van full of people. But, even then, the Venture kept on truckin’ and didn’t feel anemic.

We were extremely pleased with all the useful goodies the Venture comes with. none the least of which was the DVD player for rear passengers. On that front, there is a tray in the far rear compartment, just behind the third row of seats, that becomes a grocery holder and separator of loose objects. It’s a nice feature to have and well thought out. There are more of these little “convenience” features throughout the van. They are what make minivans so popular and practical.

While we had the van we decided to take a drive around town with four adults and one nine-month-old on hand. All five of us were comfortable and there was still plenty of room for luggage or store-bought goods, which is what we ended up with. Five minutes into the trip the baby decided that we were boring him and fell asleep. The rest of us were able to talk in a normal tone and we were all toasty warm after a half-hour or so. The climate controls worked well in the van and with rear seat controllers, we were all able to find a comfy temperature.

The integral child seat came in very handy for this trip and the baby seemed comfortable enough after some fussing while we got him situated in the seat. We also liked the DVD player. We watched the beginning of Free Willy on our around-town trip and could see its benefit for parents with a couple of small children. Another nice feature of the DVD player is the inputs on the front of the console for a game system. This is the perfect vehicle to take on long trips; while the adult’s drive and converse, the kids can be entertained by either a movie or video game.

This van, with the DVD player and more features than a new house, would make any parent happy to have one. We were a little disappointed with the price, but after contemplating all the features you get with the Warner Brothers Edition, we decided it was worth the premium. If we were two older white guys rating cars like the movie show, we’d give this van “two enthusiastic thumbs up”.

And then:

2002 Dodge Neon ES

A Peasant Car in Sophisticated Clothing

by James E. Bryson

You used to see the Neon and it would say “Hi” to you. At least, that’s what the advertising people wanted you to think. The truth is, it did say “Hi” and much more to a lot of people. It was a good car for a small price and had plenty of room to carry people and cargo with a bit of style as well. In the ’90s, it was the closest thing an American manufacturer had to the innocent, non-compromising aura of the original VW Beetle.

The Neon was introduced way back in 1995 and was redesigned into the car we see today four years later, in 1999. The new Dodge-only Neon (since Chrysler axed the Plymouth brand last year) has grown up quite a bit since its initial run and took on new responsibilities with it redesign and is garnering a new clientele, which should please the bigwigs at DaimlerChrysler.

Chrysler engineers and designers, with the stigma of a truly important redesign on their shoulders, had to please everyone from kids on the street to the dealers that would sell the Neon. Those same people hoped upon hope that the original Neon formula wouldn’t be messed with too much: A cute car with personality and oomph to get you where you want to go and let everyone know you’ve arrived once you got there.
What they gave us was a more sophisticated more refined car with a little less personality and a little more savoir faire. Our little Neon grew up and we couldn’t be more proud.

But seriously, the 2002 Dodge Neon is a capable, dependable, nicely styled small car with a bit of pizzazz and one that’s a whole lot of fun to drive.

Speaking of which, we enjoyed driving the Neon around town. It was fairly quick off the line and made it easy for us to zig and zag through traffic. We were a bit disappointed with the rough shifts of the four-speed automatic but we liked the fact that putting the gear selector in “3” which made the car feel more sporty than we thought possible, with quick shifts to keep the engine in its powerband.

We liked the high-tech sound to the not-too-buzzy engine. We were actually impressed at the refinement of the powerplant in the test car. Our earlier experiences with Chrysler four-cylinders were nothing to write home about. They would buzz like a bumble bee at higher rpms were just coarse little things.

Inside, the Neon benefits from Chrysler’s multi-million-dollar light studio built three years ago within the Chrysler design center in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Every bit of plastic and cloth looked good in each lighting situation we experienced. And the switches felt reasonably weighted and not cheap like some other cars of small price.

Our car came with a most interesting feature: The front windows were power operated while the rear windows were of the old roll-down type. If this is a cost-cutting measure, I’d like to find the people that were in that focus group and put them all in an institution. It is difficult for me to fathom why, of all things, would an automaker do something so strange.

Idle is a little rough at stoplights, or whenever the A/C is off. The 132 horses of our tester’s engine had little difficulty keeping pace with traffic with the A/C on full blast.

The four-speed automatic made some rough shifts between first and second and also shifted about 1000 rpms shy of the redline. This was a bit disconcerting but didn’t seem to hurt performance all that much; we just expected more of a push to redline than what the Neon gave.

This little car does well in tight, fast corners, due to the independent suspension at all four wheels. We noticed that there was enough power to pull us out of the corners at a good clip but not enough to really get the tires squawking. Long, sweeping corners, on the other hand, were taken with aplomb, but the lack of forward energy really cut into the fun, fast feeling. Punching the accelerator didn’t do too much to help out in that department. The 2.0-liter Magnum and five-speed manual would have been more up to the task, but they also would have added a few grand to the bottom line.

Our Neon came with the front disc/rear drum brake setup found on most non-performance oriented sedans and did a great job of keeping us out of real trouble. We didn’t test them to fade but they showed little signs of wear after traversing our test loop.

The Neon we drove came decently equipped and had just two options: Side airbags ($390) and an automatic transmission ($825). The total price for our car, including destination ($490), was $16,325.

Otherwise, the Neon ES now comes standard with air conditioning, 15-inch wheels and tires, CD player, remote keyless entry and power windows, locks and mirrors.

For the price and feature content, not including the demerits for the manual rear windows, the Neon is a good car for the money. It is a great car for youngsters in high school and college to get back and forth from work and school and will do for a small family on a budget. We’re still not sold on its long-term quality, even with the long warranty, but the people of Belvidere, Ill., can be proud of this little car they build.

So there you have it…a two-for-one!

Happy April!!!

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Published by

James E. Bryson

Cars make the world go 'round!

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