Chevrolet Uplander Review

William C Montgomery
by William C Montgomery
chevrolet uplander review

An airport car rental attendant recently handed me the keys to my temporary chariot and declared “Your car is down the row to your right. It’s an ‘06 Uplander.” A what? “It’s kind of an SUV,” she kind of explained. The butt-end of a something large and ugly poked out of stall 97. The bow tie on the trim above the license plate revealed the vehicle’s manufacturer: Chevrolet. Apprehensively, I slid behind the wheel of the awkward-looking beast. I looked around. I turned to my colleague. “No wonder GM is in such bad shape.”

The Uplander’s exterior could have been penned twenty-five years ago. The awkward yet infinitely bland exterior displays all the styling finesse and surface excitement of a 1981 Chevy Malibu– with none of the stalwart sedan’s balanced proportions. You can see how GM’s designers tried to transform their plane Jane minivan into a “Crossover Sport Van”: a longer than needed snout, big-ass B-pillars, slightly larger wheels and faux skid plates. It’s an entirely unconvincing effort that somehow manages to capture the worst of both the SUV and minivan genres.

Once inside, a flip-down DVD screen attached to ceiling rails provides the only indication that “Bette Davis Eyes” isn’t about to debut on the radio. Again, it’s an interior from another era– before Chrysler, Honda and Toyota showed American soccer Moms that you could schlep the team in something very much approaching style. Hell, you can’t even get comfortable in the thing. The Uplander’s driver’s seat wouldn’t retreat far enough to accommodate my frame, and my preferred steering wheel position fell somewhere between two notches. Hello? I’m 5’11”.

Otherwise, the comfort sucks. The Uplander’s architecture, inherited from the 1997 Chevrolet Venture (whose running gear lives in perpetuity) is still too narrow to accommodate its [theoretical] complement of seven adults. And the Uplander’s plastics seem designed by rental car companies for rental car companies; their ability to withstand endless applications of industrial strength ammonia being their only saving grace.

Needless to say, the Uplander is as dreadful to drive as it is to inhabit. The loose steering requires constant tending at anything other than a dead stop. The suspension crashes more often than a demolition derby driver. The long wheelbase and epic turning circle make parking lot maneuvering a seemingly endless chore. It leans excessively in corners. But wait! There’s less!

The CSV’s 3.9-liter V6 pushrod powerplant boasts (in the ironic sense of the word) a cast iron block with cast aluminum heads, hooked-up to Ye Olde Four Speed. With constant aural reminders that it would much rather be switched off, the ancient, rough-revving mill delivers a class-leading 240hp @ 6000rpm. But it's not enough to motivate the ponderous beast into a jog. In short, the Uplander’s performance doesn’t even deserve the noun.

To GM’s credit, the Uplander completed its assigned task: transporting my colleague and me safely from airport to office, office to hotel and back. The vehicle’s lights, windshield wipers and turn signals worked. There was plenty of cargo room. The engine made the thing move forward and the brakes brought it to a stop. I observed no sharp objects that might threaten to cut or maim passengers. But all of this was done with Soviet-repressed bureaucratic adequacy.

If you doubt that the Uplander is a half-assed has-been that never was and never shoulda been, click on this link from the Uplander’s menu and select Braking, Engine and Transmission. Three years after the model’s debut and the information is still “Not yet published.” In terms of design, refinement and packaging, competitive minivans (yes, minivans) from Honda, Toyota and Chrysler are literally decades ahead of the Uplander. And proud of it.

How could a thing such as an Uplander come to be? Hundreds of GM employees spent years on its development and implementation: designers, engineers, marketers and senior management. Ultimately, all of them stamped their approval on the Uplander and proclaimed to the world THIS IS OUR BEST IDEA. If fact, the company as a whole considered the concept so inspired they felt compelled to badge engineer this execrable automotive aardvark as the Saturn Relay, Buick Terraza and Pontiac Montana.

The General has hit some home runs with a couple of products lately (e.g. the Corvette and the Pontiac Solstice / Saturn Sky). Cadillac is heading in the right direction. But these are niche vehicles, not machines for the masses. To recover from its well-documented woes, GM needs volume sales of mainstream products. Otherwise, they’re heading straight for bankruptcy. But if bankruptcy is the only way to stop GM from inflicting crap vehicles like the Uplander on unsuspecting rental car drivers and (God forbid) buyers, then I can’t help but wish the world’s largest automaker a speedy Chapter 11.

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  • Sassy Sassy on Jul 23, 2009

    I like my uplander.

  • Crofoot Crofoot on Aug 21, 2009

    Here, here, Sassy. I just bought a 2007 for a couple bucks and am thrilled to get a reliable workhorse like the uplander. These effete car snobs and their "OMG! It's so ugly! Outre! How could anyone possibly buy one?" Basically it gets you where you wanna go, hauls your peeps and stuff, and doesn't cost much.

  • MaintenanceCosts They can't keep selling through the current hodgepodge mess of desperate or disreputable dealers. Somehow the sales model has to change. Whether they become the Don Quixote that tilts at the franchise-law windmill to sell direct, or they cut a deal to get into another OEM's dealer network, something has to change.They've always been able to engineer competitive cars when they want to, but they haven't had a reasonable way to sell them since the Chrysler tie-up ended.
  • Sgeffe There’s a guy on YouTube who owns several Oldsmobile Diesel-equipped vehicles, including an A-Body with the 4.3 V6. Might be the Chevy.IIRC, Adam Wade on the “Rare Classic Cars” channel stated that this engine was also available in 1985 only in the redesigned C-Bodies (98 Regency, Electra, DeVille/Fleetwood).
  • Tassos It's a GREAT value, but what, if any, profit will GM make from this vehicle? When it prices it at only $30k, while the much smaller and much CRAPPIER FIAT 500E goes for OVER $40k????
  • Tassos The consumers (not the "market") DO trust EVs, but those that are superior and well-priced,THey buy millions of TESLAS and very few copies of all the other dozens and dozens of LEGACY BEVs.Makes sense to me. None of these experienced makers have YET succeeded to design and build a better Tesla, that is ALSO PRICED COMPETITIVELY.
  • Tassos NOBODY really HAS to buy a new or even used car in this insane 2022 market, and those who do are damned fools.THIS IS the way to discourage dealer markup. FIX your damn car and DO NOT GO BEGGING THEM TO GIVE YOU A NEW ONE, in this BIGGEST SELLER's MARKET EVER.DO NOT BE AN ECON ILLITERATE. WAIT A YEAR OR TWO, THEN BUY.
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