Throughout the 1980s, Chrysler had been a pioneer of the North American mini-van movement. During that time, Voyagers were derived from the boxy Dodge Caravan but 1996 brought a Gen. 3 version that was handsome, spacious and well-equipped.
Within months of the new model’s release, right-hand drive versions built in Austria were en route to Australia and delivering viable competition for Japanese and Korean passenger vans.
The 1997 range began with a short-wheelbase, $45,000 SE and ran through to the Grand Voyager LE at $53,800. Most significant in defining basic and ‘Grand’ versions was a 152mm increase in wheelbase for improved passenger leg-room.
The Voyager range was powered by a durable and torque-laden 3.3-litre V6, with four-speed automatic transmission mandatory. At 116kW the first Voyager V6 had only slightly more power than a four-cylinder Honda Odyssey but delivered 25 percent more torque.
The basic SE was equipped with dual air-bags, ABS, power front windows and air-conditioning. Stepping up to the longer Grand Voyager delivered additional space but little else to justify a $5000 price jump. For better equipment, buyers had to cough up for an LE version with leather trim, alloy wheels, power front seats, remote locking and roof-racks.
The RG Voyager introduced during 2001 brought a more powerful version of the 3.3-litre engine, a new grille and larger headlights. Side-front air-bags were standard across the range, with a CD stacker and interior upgrade for the SE.
Ride quality even with a load aboard is good and compensates for handling that can see the van lurch and lean in tight bends. Up-spec models with larger, lower-profile tyres should deal better with Australian conditions than early versions.
Brakes are a Voyager weak point. All versions came standard with ABS but drum rear brakes on SEs and pre-2001 Grand Voyagers can overheat during long descents or when the vehicle is heavily laden. Air-bags were standard from the outset but that didn’t save early Voyagers from poor scores in crash tests around the world.
Fuel consumption is claimed to average 13L/100km but when carrying a full passenger load or towing can send it into the 20-22L/100km bracket. When slurping at that rate, the 75-litre tank is only just adequate for the distances Australians like to cover between fuel stops.
. Transmission slow to respond when slotting from a forward gear to reverse
. Oil leaks from the timing cover, cylinder heads and bottom edge of the transmission/engine joint
. Coolant leaks from the heads and oil contamination
. Worn, noisy front suspension bushes and ball joints
. Check sliding doors and tailgate to ensure they don’t bind or jam
. Remote-opening doors can suffer electrical problems.
HOW IT RATES
Running Costs: 6/10
On The Road: 6/10
GUIDE SCORE: 31/50
YEARS BUILT: 1997-2004
ENGINE: 3.3-litre, single overhead valve V6 with fuel injection
TRANSMISSION: four-speed automatic
POWER & TORQUE: 128kW @ 5100rpm, 278Nm @ 4000rpm (2001-04)
SUSPENSION & BRAKES: independent front, beam axle rear, disc front/drum rear
PERFORMANCE & FUEL CONSUMPTION: 0-100km/h 12.8 seconds 13.3L/100km
PRICE GUIDE: (2001-04 SE)