Since the first Voyager came off the line in Detroit

in 1983, the company has been the market-leader worldwide in this people-mover

segment, selling almost nine million examples in that time. So a new Voyager is

big news to families everywhere.

In South Africa, the old Voyager became the leader in the large MPV segment, and

the newcomer, featuring a whole raft of improvements, looks set to continue the

dominance. The range is now made up of two Voyagers in SE trim, a 2,4-litre petrol-engined

five-speed, an automatic powered by the same engine, and four Grand Voyagers,

a 3,3-litre V6-engined SE auto, a 2,5-litre diesel SE with five-speed manual transmission,

a 3,3-litre V6 LX auto, and the range-topping 3,3-litre V6-engined Limited auto.

Although the vehicle is all-new, it's unmistakably a Voyager, with its

steeply raked nose and almost seamless sideglass. There's now a larger,

distinctively U-shaped grille that melds into a raised centre-bonnet section,

large, glassed-in quad headlights, and wheelarch surrounds that are beefier than

on previous generation models. Wheels are 16-inchers (steel rims with full covers

on the SE test vehicle) shod with 215/65 rubber, and there are practical grey

plastic protective strips on the vehicle's flanks. All Voyagers come with

a handy roof-rack, complete with crossrails. Chrysler says the new body structure

is stiffer, and crash safety improved.

Under their sloping bonnets, the entry-level Voyager SE models have had a significant

upgrade, getting Chrysler's 2,4-litre 16-valve four instead of the previous two-litre.

Peak power is up from 98 kW at 5 850 r/min to 108 kW at a slightly lower 5 200,

while torque goes up from the previous rather peaky 174 N.m at 4 850 to 226 N.m

at 4 000. The uprated engine has made it possible to offer the Voyager SE in four-speed

auto guise as well as in five-speed manual form.

Suspension is similar to the outgoing Voyager's, with MacPherson struts in front and a tubular beam-axle arrangement at the rear. But the components have been fine-tuned to achieve improvements

in ride and handling. And, where previous-generation models were stopped by a disc/drum combination, all new SA-market models have four-wheel discs (ventilated in front) with ABS and electronic variable brake proportioning.

Although the short-wheelbase Voyager SE is the entry-level model in the Voyager/Grand

Voyager range, it is offered with an impressive list of standard equipment. Included

in the spec list are front airbags for driver and passenger, as well as front

side-bags, height-adjustable, pre-tensioned front seatbelts, side-impact anti-intrusion

reinforcements, a full-size spare tyre, high-level brake light, speed-sensitive

wipers, load-levelling height-control shock absorbers, a headlight-levelling system, power windows (with one-touch facility

for the driver), keyless entry with power door-locks and alarm/immobiliser, electrically adjustable exterior mirrors, two accessory power sockets and air-conditioning

with particle filters and dual-zone temperature control.

The roomy interior is airy and finished in quality materials, with cloth-covered

individual chairs in the front and middle rows and a bench seat at the back, deep-pile

carpets, and light-coloured good quality plastic for facia and door-cappings.

Seats are removable and adjustable in established MPV fashion, and ingress to

the rear is provided by a pair of large, sliding doors. Sadly, as on the previous

generation Voyager, the glass on these doors is fixed. A large upward-hinging

tailgate, supported by gas struts, accesses the primary luggage compartment.

With all seats in place, the Voyager can accommodate almost 200 dm3 of luggage,

with additional small items under the rear seat. But with the second and third

rows removed, cargo space is gigantic, totalling 2 380 dm3 (measured by the ISO

block method). As is the norm with this type of vehicle, cupholders and hidey-holes

for oddments abound.

Up front, driver and passenger are accommodated in armchair comfort. Facia architecture

is conventional, with climate controls and sound system (including single-disc

front-loading CD player) in the central "hang-down" section, a stalk

for indicators, wipers and hi-lo beam on the left of the steering column, the

white-faced instruments (including a tachometer) in a pod viewed through the padded

wheel, and the light switch on the facia to the right of the driver. A departure

from convention on the automatic test car was the location of the column-shift,

which was to the right of the steering column. We found it easy enough to operate

in normal driving, despite its unfamiliar position. Interestingly, there's no

cruise control, a feature offered only on the top-of-the-range Grand Voyager Limited.

Fire up the d-o-h-c four and it idles unobtrusively, as one might expect of a

unit designed to suit American tastes. Pull out into the traffic, and you are

impressed by the unfussed character of the engine and the smooth shifting of the

autobox. Kickdown is unobtrusive in moderate-throttle situations as well. Plant

your right foot hard on the gas, however, and the composure disappears, the engine becoming raucous at high revs,

the changes a touch jerkier. But, considering the weight and bulk of the vehicle, overtaking times are good.

That's also the way to achieve the 13,76-second zero to 100 acceleration

times recorded in our test. In such situations the right-hand column-shift is

best left in the Drive position, as manual override is awkward and a lot slower.

Keep your foot down, and the LS auto reaches a top speed of 176 km/h in third

gear, but terminal speed slows to under 170 if you lift off a fraction to coax

the 'box into top. Apply pressure to the pedal, and you're back to

third again...

Pulling up 1 800 kilos of MPV is a pretty demanding task, but we remember that

the previously-offered ABS-modulated disc/drum combination was up to the job.

The new model, with its four-wheel discs, also with ABS and electronically controlled

brake proportioning, easily matched the earlier figures, averaging 3,0 seconds

in our 10-stop 100-to-zero emergency braking test, and pedal feel was subjectively

better.

In our constant-speed fuel tests, the Voyager SE recorded a consumption figure

of 8,64 litres/100 km at 100 km/h, which equates to a CAR fuel index (a figure

most drivers should better in normal day-to-day use) of 12,10. That suggests that

a range of 620 km should be achieved fairly easily on the 75-litre fuel tank.

In highway and city driving on well-paved roads, the Voyager SE is relaxing to

drive, and ride comfort is exemplary. Push the vehicle to its limit on winding

roads and it understeers at the limit, an attitude easily corrected by easing

back on the throttle. Over uneven surfaces, however, the rear beam-axle's

limitations are shown up: ride comfort deteriorates and handling becomes less

predictable.