Minivans tapped into a huge outpouring of automotive sales in the mid-1980s for several reasons. Their excellent interior volume was in many ways an improvement over the station wagons that had historically dominated the family car segment. Vans were also inexpensive and durable, able to take a lot of the abuse thrown at them from kids, cargo and hundreds of thousands of miles on the road. One thing that vans were definitely not know for was a sporty driving experience. While a front-wheel drive platform was great for providing a low load floor and excellent rear trunk space due to less suspension intrusion, it definitely did not make for engaging times behind the wheel.
This was part of what initially held Pontiac back from throwing their hat into the minivan ring. Although the first minivans hit the streets in 1984, it was 6 years before Pontiac would offer a minivan of their own, a re-branded version of the Chevrolet Lumina named the Trans Sport. With futuristic styling that included an extremely large, plunging windshield and anteater nose, the Trans Sport was a middling success for the company in North America.
Many critics felt that the Trans Sport diluted Pontiac's 'driving excitement' image, as the automobile was about as dynamically interesting as a tractor-trailer. Towards the end of the decade, the automaker took steps to try and improve the minivan's handling and appearance, drastically shortening the front end and introducing all-wheel drive. The van's name would also change, and the vehicle was re-dubbed the Montana. It was by making concessions not only to market forces in terms of more conservative styling, but also listening to the demands of drivers for better throttle and steering response that Pontiac was able to improve their van and take a bigger piece of the people mover pie.
This article examines the best used minivan available with a Pontiac badge, the Montana. This van, while not exactly a barnburner, is certainly a step above the automaker's initial foray into family transportation waters. The Montana is one of the few minivan's available with a sport package that actually goes beyond a spoiler and special body trim, with a stiffer and more responsive suspension offering a consolation prize to those drivers who really want to be piloting a sports sedan. The vehicle has few peers on the secondhand market when it comes to keeping drivers awake along twisting country roads.
1999 - 2005 Pontiac Montana
As far as minivans go, the 1999 - 2005 Pontiac Montana is a fairly handsome vehicle. The Pontiac corporate grille adapts well to the vehicle's snub front end, and the lower body cladding is restrained and adds a somewhat aggressive look to the automobile. In most respects, the Montana is very similar in appearance to other vans from General Motors, although a special 'Thunder' package was available to help dress things up with a spoiler and nicer rims.
Pop the hood and buyers will find Pontiac's ubiquitous 3.4-liter V-6 pulling duty in the Montana as well. Rated at 185 horsepower and attached to a 4-speed automatic transmission no matter what trim level of the van is ordered, the engine provides decent acceleration and reasonable fuel economy: 24 miles per gallon on the highway and 18 miles per gallon around down for short-wheelbase, front-wheel drive models. All-wheel drive became available in 2002, and it really helps to keep the van planted in the poor driving conditions caused by snow, ice and rain.
Sifting through the different editions of the Montana in terms of size and interior equipment can be a confusing task. Initially, the Montana was only offered in two simple flavors, short and long wheelbase, but as time went on value and sport editions were sold alongside a number of different comfort packages known by specific alphanumeric designations. Essentially, it boils down to the Montana being able to seat up to 8 passengers through a combination of different bench and bucket seating options. Stripped down Montanas cater to budget-conscious families, but those with a bit more money to burn can choose to upgrade their vehicles to have DVD entertainment for the kids, a range of power equipment and even leather seats and self-leveling suspension on the highest end vehicles.
The 1999 - 2005 Pontiac Montana is a rare vehicle in its class, a used minivan that offers independent suspension, all-wheel drive and decent passenger comfort that has swayed many drivers away from a smaller crossover or compact SUV.