(first posted 8/6/2015) The mid-2000s was a pivotal time for the minivan. For starters, this would be the point when minivans would begin drastically losing significant ground, as SUVs and now crossovers were becoming the preferred family vehicle. These years would also see Honda and Toyota finally release truly full-size minivans that could match and even outdo the longtime industry leader, Chrysler, in minivan versatility, features, and refinement.
While Chrysler would attempt to keep its vans competitive with meaningful updates, added features, and ultimately full redesigns, GM and Ford more or less raised the white flag in surrender with their final minivans released during this time.
Both automakers’ answer to the Odyssey and Sienna was to take their current aging minivans and merely give them new noses, redesigned interiors, new names, and little else. These minivans, which weren’t even top of their class when they were originally introduced in the late-90s, were predictably pitiful in comparison to the modern vans from Honda, Toyota, and even the slightly outclassed Chrysler Town & Country/Dodge Caravan and Nissan’s funky new Quest.
Whereas Ford took the more conservative route, selling its utterly forgettable refreshed Windstar as the Ford Freestar and Mercury Monterey, GM’s approach was more creative and intelligent, at least in theory. In execution, well… not so much.
It was already clear that crossovers were becoming the “hip” choice of vehicle for families. GM’s response to this was to make its U-body minivans more crossover-like in appearance, and even going so far as to refer to them as “Crossover Sport Vans” in marketing material. Not that this fooled anyone.
In terms of styling, GM ditched its minivans’ traditionally low hood for a more upright, SUV-like snout. While this may have sounded clever on paper, in living flesh it came across as rather clumsy-looking and prosthetic. It did, however, help improve the vehicle’s front-impact crash test worthiness, an important consideration for families. Regarding its appearance, the Saturn Relay, with its higher-placed grille and black lower cladding, best pulled off the integration of this new nose.
Moving around the sides, lower body moldings were updated for a smoother, better-integrated look over the old Venture/Montana/Silhouette. Adding to its crossover pretensions, B- and C-pillars were made body color (in long-wheelbase versions). Previously, B-pillars were black and C-pillars were externally covered by side window glass. Around back, more squared-off rear bumpers completed the exterior transformation.
At the very least, body panel gaps appeared to be reduced greatly over the 1997-05 U-bodies, for a cleaner and higher quality look. Furthermore, these updates did give the vehicle an overall taller and narrower appearance, whether or not that did anything for anyone. Needless to say, these exterior modifications didn’t do much convincing for the case that these vans were even remotely “crossover” or “sport”-like, and of course, sliding doors were retained. More crucially, what these cosmetic changes could not accomplish, was to disguise the fact that these minivans were merely refreshed versions of the same vehicle that GM had been producing since 1996.
Yet, as odd as this whole “crossover sport van” charade was, there was one thing possibly even more bizarre about the 2005 U-body minivans: one of them was a Buick. To some, the Buick Terraza may have been a predictable move, as with the Rendezvous and Rainier, Buick had already begun to diversify its lineup to include more “youthful” and family-oriented vehicles instead of just its traditional sedans. Additionally, the Terraza wasn’t even Buick’s first minivan. The brand had been selling the GL8 in China since 2000.
However, most people outside of China had never heard of the GL8, and to them, a minivan was truly the last type of vehicle they’d expect to see wearing the Buick tri-shield. Selling the Terraza as a Buick, especially when identical minivans could be found in the showrooms of three other GM brands, was a flagrant sign for help, and a possible signal that GM did not have a long-term plan for the Buick brand at this point in time.
When it came to the unique styling of Buick’s rebadged minivan, the Terraza was made the least-SUV looking of the bunch, eschewing gray lower body cladding and skid plates for a monochromatic body-color look. Up front, its large waterfall grille and high-placed headlights effectively combined for a modern take on Buick’s “dollar grin”.
Brightwork was prominent, with the grille, door handles, roof racks, badging, wheels, and lower body-side trim all consisting of chrome or some other type of shiny metal-like material. Body-side trim, however, looked all too un-integrated and last-minute, as if dealers had applied these pieces with a hot glue gun as Terrazas were being unloaded off the truck.
Once inside, things were much more familiar, despite Buick’s positioning as the “flagship minivan” (a role which it assumed from the 2004 Oldsmobile Silhouette). The interior did receive somewhat of a redesign, with new controls and panels over an otherwise identical layout. Quality of materials was noticeably improved over previous years, but with plenty of hard surfaces, the Terraza’s interior was nowhere near as refined as other minivans at its price point.
Predictably, interiors were virtually identical between the GM foursome, though the premium Terraza marched to a slightly more upscale tune, with a few niceties such as chrome door handles, watch-like analogue gauges, and piping on its leather seats. Faux woodgrain with the appearance of burled elm was richer looking than woodgrain found on its siblings. With satin aluminum outlinings, this more generously applied “wood” did effectively give off a more premium vibe than the others.
The Terraza did bring several interesting features to the table, such as an overhead rail system for the rear seat entertainment system, rear audio controls, and further storage compartments. Hard-shelled plastic storage compartments were also located on bucket seatbacks and the ever-important cupholder count totaled twelve. Moreover, if it made the Terraza any more attractive to buyers, the Terraza frequently placed high on lists of America’s Least Stolen New Vehicles. In a 2008 IIHS study, the Terraza was the 4th least stolen vehicle in America for the years 2005-2007.
The base Terraza CX came with seats in a leather/cloth combination, while the Terraza CXL gained standard leather, though not of particularly high-grade, as common in GMs (excluding Cadillac) of this period. All Terrazas came with seven-passenger seating, courtesy of front and second row buckets, and a 50/50 split third row bench.
By the time the Terraza was released, competitors were offering several innovations in rear seating, most notably seats that folded completely flat into the floor. A sign of its age, Terraza buyers were forced to make due with heavy second row buckets which could only be removed for extra space and a non-removable third row bench which folded, but only on top of the floor, making for less usable cargo space. Even Ford’s Freestar and Monterey came with a flat-folding third row.
The Terraza was also lacking of other comfort and convenience features available on most competitors, such as tri-zone climate control, roll-down second row windows, and GPS navigation. This wasn’t quite as big of a problem on the Buick’s three less-expensive siblings, but for a minivan at the Terraza’s price point, this was very unattractive.
Over the course of its short production span, the Terraza was available with two V6 engines. Initially, just a pushrod 3.5L V6 was offered, generating 200 horsepower and 220 pound-foot of torque. Mated to an elderly 4-speed automatic, the 3.5L-powered Terraza was expectedly slow and under-powered, even by minivan standards. Fuel economy was rated at a disappointing 18 city/24 highway in front-wheel drive configuration, 17/23 with all-wheel drive.
Originally found in the significantly lighter Chevy Malibu, this engine was not an ideal match for the 4,500-plus pound Terraza. Nearly all competitors, including Chrysler, Ford, Honda, Nissan, and Toyota were offering significantly more powerful engines in their minivans, with Honda offering cylinder deactivation technology. Several vans such as the Odyssey, Sienna, and Sedona also had already moved on to 5-speed automatics for better performance and increased fuel economy.
For 2006, a much-welcomed 3.9L V6 joined the lineup, increasing horsepower and torque both to 240. Unlike the 3.5L, which was available in both front- and all-wheel drive versions, the 3.9L could only be had with front-wheel drive. The 3.5L and, subsequently, all-wheel drive would be dropped for the Terraza’s swansong in 2007. It should be noted that the Terraza also gained an independent multilink rear suspension in all models, something that was only offered on its siblings in all-wheel drive layout.
Predictably, buyers were not fooled into thinking the Terraza and siblings were all-new or remotely close to a “crossover sport” vehicle. Furthermore, in the case of the Terraza, it’s assumable that it didn’t bring many young, well-heeled suburbanites into Buick showrooms. In its relatively brief lifespan, Terraza sales in the U.S. and Canada totaled just 43,877. If it’s any consolation, it’s plausible that GM never intended to keep these vans around for long, seeing them as placeholder models until the Lambda crossovers were ready.
More importantly, the Terraza’s replacement, the Enclave crossover, was an all-new vehicle that was immensely better and more competitive in every way. Above all, the Enclave has been very successful in increasing sales, lowering Buick’s average buyer age, and improving Buick’s overall brand image. If rather pitiful vehicles like the Terraza had to briefly come before it in order to set the stage, it appears it was worth it in the long run.
Curbside Classic: 1990 Oldsmobile Silhouette
The Ford Flex was what these “Crossover-Sport vans” SHOULD have been like, but apparently the money (or the imagination?) just wasn’t there.
I always thought the Rendezvous was a worse vehicle as a Buick minivan than the Terraza, but strangely consumers thought differently.
Probably the styling that made all 4 of these minivans look like obvious clones did them no favors, but the powertrains were THE real turn-off.
If any product demonstrated that GM was in serious trouble with too many divisions and too little imagination….it was these minivans.
I looked at a Flex. Very nice car, but just over half the interior space of a minivan with worse gas mileage and no better ground clearance at a significantly higher price. Sales would seem to indicate it has been a failure, and rightfully so in my opinion.
The Flex has sold well in California, a market where the domestics have had trouble garnering sales, and it also sells to well-heeled customers. It may not have been a rousing success, but I wouldn’t call it a failure, particularly since it shares a basic platform with other Ford products.
Right, go to Marin County, CA, one of the richest places in the country and where basically nobody drives domestic makes. And you’ll see a few (but not a lot) of Ford Flexes driving around.
I can’t say this justifies the Flex financially, but it’s interesting that it has attracted the interest of “moneyed people” in the way that most domestic models haven’t. Perhaps a remaining bit of the old tradition where Dad drives a interesting Mercedes and Mom drives a loaded Country Squire.
Fairfield-Stamford-New Canaan area of Connecticut you’ll see quite a few. It’s the new Q-ship in the tony suburbs.
Disappointed there won’t be a Flex II.
The Flex with the Ecoboost, AWD and Platinum package is actually quite competitive when shopped against comparable luxury brand offerings.
They’re not at all bad vehicles for what they are.
Look at the Flex’s resale value and get back to me on it being a failure.
I have looked. Have you? It’s not bad, but it’s no Odyssey or Sienna, I’ll tell you that.
These were definitely peculiar years for GM. On one hand, they were throwing money at niche products like the Solstice/Sky, SSR and the Hummer brand, but their bread-and-butter was stagnating. The Buick lineup was particularly jarring: no new Delta or Epsilon platform vehicles, just a reskinned Trailblazer, TWO reskinned U-Bodies, an updated W-Body and a reskinned K-Body.
I think you’re right that these were just a placeholder, sold for just a handful of model years like the Rainier. Interesting that the homerun Enclave actually replaced three separate vehicles and has printed money for Buick, although I hope there is a replacement coming soon.
GM tried with two different divisions to rival the Chrysler Town & Country but could never best it in sales. But if you’ve seen how high you can get a Sienna or Odyssey’s sticker price up to, you’d know snob factor and a “premium” badge are not really that important in the minivan arena.
Minivan sales were declining so it’s mystifying that GM would actually ADD another rebadged minivan. These weren’t completely horrible but they were far, far from top of the class and they really looked like a cheap and dirty fix (although I must say, the Relay is quite handsome). GM had much more success with the Lambda than they did with the CSVs, but Honda, Toyota and Nissan have minivans AND mid/full-size crossovers. With GM, you’ve got a big gap between Equinox/Terrain and Traverse/Acadia.
GM managed to sort out Buick’s woes soon enough and their lineup is excellent, so I’m sure they’ll sort out the crossover situation. Don’t hold your breath for a new GM minivan, though: look at Nissan struggling with the Quest. The segment leaders are entrenched.
A big GM deadly sin was including Buick to make minivans and SUVs, instead of their traditional upscale family sedans.
Like you said, Brendan, GM really was grasping at straws and had no focused direction for the future of the Buick brand.
Also based on the second gen U-body, the Opel Sintra from the second half of the nineties. The model was dropped in 1999, I particularly remember that it did very bad in the crash-tests.
“The EuroNCAP frontal impact crash test performed on a 1998 model revealed significant deficiencies – the cabin structure proved unstable and the steering wheel (along with the airbag) broke off (unlike the IIHS test of its North American twin, the Pontiac Trans Sport where the steering wheel only moved upward), which might have caused fatal neck injury to the driver, and that the damage to the dummy’s feet were extremely high”.
It was the first and last U-body minivan available in Europe.
Yes, the Sintra, available with 3.0 54° DOHC V6, diesel engines and even a manual transmission! IIRC, built with the other U-vans in Doraville, GA.
Opel Sintra interior, manual transmission. The 4-cylinders were 2.2 liter, both the gasoline and the diesel engine.
I always look at the name of this car quickly and think it says Opel “Sinatra”, like Frank Sinatra 🙂
Since I’m here on CC I call it the Opel-Deadly Sin-Tra.
A key factor in these vans was that they were specifically designed to be sold in the European market (as the Opel Sintra). That’s why they were narrower than all of the other minivan competition in the US, and that alone hindered sales. And when the Sintra got a black eye in the EuroNCAP test, that ended the idea of selling it in Europe.
But then GM was stuck with this narrower van in the US, and yes, the front end re-design was partly necessary to improve its crash test result. But they clearly decided to accentuate that nose and make it look SUV-like.
The whole debacle of these vans, in both their first and second generation was a GM DS.
Opel offers this minivan now, the (7-seater) Zafira Tourer. The most powerful has a 200 hp 1.6 liter turbo engine.
Interior. All-black is of course available too.
Is this about the same size as a Mazda 5?
I checked Opel’s website: it’s 4,657 mm long. That’s 183.3 inch.
I lived in Atlanta at the time and worked in Doraville (not the GM plant, though). I remember the first time I saw a Sintra on the roads near the plant, I was surprised. I was hoping that Opel was going to return to the US. Alas, I found out a bit later that all the U-vans were built in Doraville.
In these cars defense, the offset crash tests were a new item in the mid-late 1990’s and very few cars did well in them. Even the Toyota Previa we saw earlier in the week didn’t do so well in the IIHS tests.
Regardless, the real deadly sin here was the fact that old GM didn’t quickly revise these vans to meet the upcoming standards. It surprises me that the new GM will revise a car (Malibu) to counter criticism, sometimes with better results than others. I feel safety items should be a no-compromise situation, however. I guess it wasn’t that important to them at the time.
The 1997-2004 F-150 was also a death trap as was a few other GM and Chrysler vehicles.
Badge-engineered turds that directly led to GM’s bankruptcy.
“Badge-engineered turds that directly led to GM’s bankruptcy”
I was going to comment something similar, but yes, you hit the nail on the head.
And speaking for myself, I have a good memory when it is time to purchase again….
These minivans were not successful but must have been durable. They seem with their GM siblings to be the defacto taxis locally as the crown vics all too slowly pass from the fleets. I had always suspected that the transaxles, being designed for much lighter cars wouldn’t be up for fleet use in old age but I must have been wrong. This is not a good thing. That the taxi authorities charge heavily for taxi shields but then let the cab co,’s buy used 6 figure millage cars and run them into the ground while their customers pay the full regulated fare in a travesty.
This van, always in the shadow, it sure had a long life. Early on in Europe and much longer in China with further restyles that USA never saw.
My favorite of these was the early Chevy Venture. It looked good in bright red and the early 3.4 was a good compromise for power and economy for family use.
They see taxi duty because they are cheap, not good.
I don’t believe that these GM minivans had the drivetrain troubles (particularly with their transmission) that often plagued the Ford and Chrysler competition. Even the Honda Odyssey was notorious for having failure-prone transmissions from 1999 through 2003.
They only had the problems related to the Dexicool eating the seals like all GMs since they started using that acid in their vehicles.
The Odyssey’s tranny troubles were what drove us to the Sienna. No regrets after 11 yrs. & 120kmi+.
Come on, now – it’s a Buick, after all!
I’ve ridden in the Chevy version of these, and didn’t find them all that bad. Still, the court of public opinion judged otherwise.
Still, many bought them anyway.
Were they that bad? In retrospect, most still think so. Having never owned any minivan, I just don’t know for sure, but that’s the impression I get.
Looking at this van, and the thinking behind it, it’s little surprise GM descended into bankruptcy.
CVS and Walgreens were amongst the major beneficiaries of this GM product. The introduction of such unsalable merchandise led many dealers to evaluate and act upon the prospect of repurposing their prime retail property. In many ways the Terraza made the decision to exit the auto business much easier.
My nearest Chrysler-Plymouth dealer to my childhood home, Foley Chrysler-Plymouth in North Quincy, MA is indeed now a Walgreen’s 🙂
Hey, here’s an idea…Walgreen’s should sell a version of the SmartCar… Name it the “WallyG…3 or 4 of them would fit in Aisle 12 on the shelf next to the suppositories.
Hey, Sears sold their version of the Henry J and named it the “Allstate”.
Everything OLD is NEW again!
My local Buick dealer (Pontiac from 1929 to the end) was closed, torn down and is now a CVS. Prime retail real estate with a boatload of toxic soil.
This van always reminds me that of all the divisions, Buick seemed to take the death of Oldsmobile most harshly.
Maybe a bit of “but for the grace of God (and the Chinese) go I.”
Plus the fact that buyers will happily buy a fancy Toyota, Honda or Ford at a luxury-car price…but not a Chevy.
“Plus the fact that buyers will happily buy a fancy Toyota, Honda or Ford at a luxury-car price…but not a Chevy.”
Which is EXACTLY why Oldsmobile and Pontiac had ZERO reason to exist after 1980 and Saturn should have never, ever been conceived.
Buick/GMC? Still a GIANT “we’ll see”…
Thanks for writing about this totally uncalled for model. It is hard to think of a more expensive new vehicle to inventory and (give away) sell. During the mid 2000’s the GM area managers would suggest (force) us to take Terraza and Montana SV6 allocation in order to receive acceptable quantities of Yukon Denali’s, Lacrosse (yes they sold), Solstice etc. By 2007 I determined that it was best to sell these vans for approx $2000 below net invoice ($2000 LOSS) as soon as they arrived on the lot. When closing the dealership in 2008 we sold off the remaining new 2005 and 2006 Terraza/SV6s for an average loss of approx $8000 per vehicle, not including approx $4500 per vehicle in wholesale finance charges. Poster child for GM excess production capacity.
Wow, a new 05 in 08. My folks had to replace a number of Drum Brake components on the Voyager they bought new which had been on the lot for a year.
I think these re-schnozzed vans would qualify as GM Deadly Sins over at TTAC. They smell of either desperation (“We need a crossover in the lineup, quick!”) or disdain for the customer (“Slap on a big, upright nose and give them outdoorsy-sounding names like Uplander, Montana, and Terraza and the suckers will never know the difference!”).
As for the Relay… Stylistically it seems to embrace it’s minivan-ness more fully (despite the long nose). It comes off as more honest somehow.
Umm; we do Deadly Sins here now; they just started at TTAC. And this is one of them, in my book of deadly sins.
Is the deadly sin slapping a Buick grille on it without enough differentiation?
I mean including China, this van had a long life, sold many copies, was not notably troublesome, excepting some of the Opel engines. I think it is a safe guess that over it’s life it was profitable for GM. By the time these faded in USA, GM had the large successful CUVs to offer big families, which lets face it, there are fewer of now.
At least the paint on the featured vehicle looks really good.
The Uplander was sold in Chile. I see them from time to time. I was surprised to learn their exports were rather limited to a few countries.
I don`t believe I ever saw one,but since I`not a minivan fan,I probably never even noticed.Like a Toyota Camry, it just seems to dissapear into the background.
That’s called the Appliance Effect… When something is so mundane and boring, it lends itself as being unnoticeable and part of the background. 🙂
CC is a sad parade of GM deadly sins. For the life of me, I can’t understand how a company that performs so poorly remains a going concern.
That side trim mentioned in the article had a tendency to fall off. There was even Tsb for it. The Relay is the bane of the members over on Saturn Fans. Full of horror stories. Sliding doors opening at will or refusing to close. Suspension & steering problems.
Have never seen so many of any one car on the side of the road with the flashers going. And only 2-3 years after they were introduced.
IIRC these were also based on the original dust buster mini clones. Very long in the tooth when they arrived as CSVs.
Definitely a Deadly Sin.
All GM cared about at that time was the trucks and SUVs and the vanity projects of Bob Lutz.
We see more early 2000-2009 Honda Odyssey minivans on the side of the road than these combined. At least GM improved the 60 degree Chevy V6 in both 3.5 and 3.9 form to be long lasting and reliable and the 4T65 while older fashioned was more durable than the 5 speed unit in the Honda. Both suffered from power door issues and electrical gremlins. My friend still has his 2005 Terazza with the 3500 and it is now going on 169K miles with little other than the occasional power door reset procedure, a rotted out rear cooling line which was easily fixed by a 1′ piece of cooling line and normal maintenance items.
We have sold many 2007 and 2008 Chevy Uplander editions with the 3900 and they seem to be reliable for the most part. The exterior trim coming loose is easily remedied by removing the old adhesive with goof off and applying new 3m tape. Not a big deal!
Interesting and generally well done, but I take issue with an early statement. Honda and Toyota indeed passed Chrysler in refinement, which wasn’t difficult to do, but they never passed them in features and versatility, except for offering 8 passenger seating which Chrysler no longer does. But in people/storage/infortainment and offering a dizzying number of option combinations, Chrysler is still tops there. You still can’t get fold flat center seats in Honda or Toyota, something you later take GM to task for.
The 3.9 was also generally a well regarded powertrain. And the gas mileage was actually better than what the current Kia Sedona offers and certainly competitive at the time, so I don’t think that was a factor at all.
But yeah, overall it just didn’t offer enough and the styling was simply awful.
Even the name is a poor choice. It never fails to make me think of terrazzo flooring. As to the actual meaning, doesn’t it mean terrace or patio? Not the best model name either.
If I recall, “Terraza” was the name of a lounge at Caesar’s Palace in Vegas when I stayed there about a decade ago. I did a quick google search, and it appears it’s not there anymore.
Maybe a deadly sin to us Americans, but a hugely popular and prestigious car in China, the world’s largest vehicle market. Perhaps GM’s not as stupid as we like to think. I’ve ridden in many of these, chauffeur driven, in China and always made it to my destination alive. And in more comfort than a VW or Hyundai taxi. Even here in California, I see more of the Buick and Saturn versions than non-fleet Chevy Uplanders, though the first Ventures sold OK here.
I might have snapped that GL8 grill on my 2001 Venture if I had one laying around.
I suspect there was one group that asked the question that the Buick Terraza answered- Buick dealers who asked GM for a minivan.
Car dealerships hate to lose a sale, so they want a full lineup, even if they figured they wouldn’t sell more than a couple a year. They probably had people cross-shopping, say, the Rendezvous and the Town and Country, and wanted to be able to say, “Hey, we’ve got a minivan too, look”
The problem with new Siennas and Oddysessy is they are overpriced and people like my folks do not have $30,000 for a vehicle which is why they got a 2005 Sedona. Also, everything rusts in New York plus even the Sienna and Oddysey have issues so why overpay for something that will be dead in 10-15 years. Would rather they bought a used Sienna or Oddysessy though since I do not like that Sedona.
It is perfectly fitting that this Terraza is riding on naked Steelies I got a chuckle out of that. Not much I can think to say about these Minivans since they are just more mediocre GM fodder, but all that sheet metal around the rear most side windows is odd looking. I hear that a certain drivetrain combo in these is reasonably durable in that crude, but hard to kill GM way. Could be fun to buy a U-body then slap on parts from every other U-body.
Just so you know shiney is the same as sparkling while shinny refers to shins.
Actually there’s no “e” in shiny. Just to correct your correction. 🙂
Wait a minute, after re-reading the article, I noticed this little item:
“These years would also see Honda and Toyota finally release truly full-size minivans…”
I beg your pardon, but what exactly IS a FULL-SIZE MINIVAN? Thanks for giving me a great lunch time laugh out of this!
A “full-size minivan” is what you’d call today’s Honda Odyssey, for example.
Compared to a Chevy Express, it’s a minivan.
But weighing 4800 lbs with current full-size car dimensions…I get what he’s saying TOTALLY. It’s bizarro world, folx….
I know it sounds like an oxymoron, but what I meant is that early Siennas and Odysseys were considerably smaller in dimensions compared to the undisputed benchmark of minivans, the Chryslers. The 2004 Sienna and 2005 Odyssey were finally right about in line with the current Chryslers in terms of exterior dimensions.
Toyota and Honda originally entered the market with non-traditional minivans – the original Odessey was just a 4 door wagon with a high roof, and the first 2 Toyota minivans were the Van and the Previa, both of which had mid-engine designs instead of Chrysler-style front engines. By full-size, the author probably means large, traditional layout minivans.
We have an adjective problem: If the Sienna/Odyssey/Caravan are minivans, then what are the Transit Connect & NV200?
A mini-minivan? Microvan maybe?
I prefer “midi-van”. In comparison to full-size vans and true minivans.
I concur; now, get industry to follow suit. They had no problem coining “mid-size” in the ’60s.
Funny how Ford got “base hits” with the TC & new Transit, but struck out on “midivans.” My conclusion: their van people only read the fleet market well.
‘Midivan’ sounds like a really good term for the Sienna, Odyssey, Quest, and soon to be replaced Grand Caravan. In fact, with the discontinuation and replacement of the Ford Econoline by the longer, narrower Transit, the only remaining true, full-size van is the hoary old, ancient Chevy Cargo Express. FWIW, if anyone wants to know exactly how bad ergonomics were back in the good ole days, just take a ride in a Cargo Express.
I think that the new Kia Sedona moved up in size, too, meaning that there isn’t actually a correctly-sized, current minivan left in the configuration of the 1983 Chrysler original. If not for the continued existence of the Cargo Express, I would expect that the Sienna and Odyssey would, indeed, be considered a modern minivan, even though they’re substantially larger than the original concept.
“Midi-van” is a good fit.
With booming sales of mini/midi vans come booming sales of viagra.
The little blue things should be standard equipment in the owners manual of these vehicles to assist the poor husbands married to wifes telling them to buy these.
Fortunately station wagons have made a a comeback here with a growing market share.
Berlingos are not dominating the streets like they used to.
I had quite a chuckle when these came out. It’s a good thing I’ve always been an enthusiast and known about GM’s past glories, because if I wasn’t I would have thought this ridiculous grafted on nose was the work of a desperate third world automaker.
I never noticed all the details like shortened side windows and body color pillars these had to pull off the look until you pointed them out, I always thought it was just the taillight lenses that were updated from the firewall back. Needless to say I don’t think that effort helped.
But from the first time I laid eyes on an Uplander and had to try to come up with some redeeming feature with which to write a radio ad…
The first thing I thought of was…automotive abortion.
No, I DIDN’T include that descriptor in my copy, but I couldn’t help but think…this is Rosemary’s Baby on four wheels.
Maybe we could advertise it like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-e-YIIKzXNY
Until reading this, Brendan, I saw these U-bodies as GM’s most cynical vehicle since the Cadillac Cimarron.
But now I get how someone down at the Tubes could make a legitimate case to marry a minivan to a crossover without hint of cynicism. Perhaps with a more cleverly-disguised body it may have been a success, or at least less of a Deadly Sin.
And you’re right, the Saturn Relay was the best-looking of the bunch.
I, too, have long believed the U’s were place holders until the Lambdas were rolled out. Looking back, I wonder if GM should’ve simply continued making the U-minivans and refining those until the Lambdas were ready.
Whatever the case, I appreciate your writing about these. Certainly one of the last gasps of Old GM, and even though their replacements were developed in those last days of Old GM, their success has New GM written all over it, both by contrast and association. Now that the Lambdas are getting long in the tooth, I expect another grand slam when their replacements are revealed. Nothing less will do.
GM had to do something with their minivans. The “dustbuster” look was getting very dated. There was too little done to actually make them competitive where it counted though. As Madanthony said, Buick got a variant because every dealer wanted to offer a full line. Also, there was no more Olds Silhouette, so GM probably thought there was room for another near-luxury minivan in their line-up. Adding a Saturn version of the same minivan was pretty lame too, as GM was showing its lack of commitment to Saturn and just throwing obvious rebadges at the brand.
Buick did have a CUV before the Enclave, the Rendezvous, which debuted for MY2002. It was also derived from the same platform as the minivans, and was closely related to the Aztek. Somehow they managed to make it look much better than the Aztek, although the oval themes used on the front and rear remind me of the 3rd gen Taurus. They also had an SUV, the Rainier, starting in MY2004.
These look great vehicles – the ‘luxury van’ is making a comeback in Europe with the likes of the Mercedes Vito being given side windows and ‘mini-van’ amenities both at the factory and aftermarket. Good for small entrepreneurs with large families. Add fancy wheels, chrome bull-bars, high quality paint and tints and you have an acceptably cool look in this emerging class. Popular in the EU for long trips.
Vans, as in panel vans, with rear seats have been around for a very long time. Perfect mixture between a panel van (commercial vehicle) and a people mover. Those people can be co-workers or family members.
Below a VW Transporter double cab van.
Surprised to not see a ladder tied to the roof of this CC.
These U bodies were built at the Doraville GA [Atlanta] plant, now closed. Did GM have an iron clad contract to keep plant open? It was like when they had 5 brands of ‘Trailblazers’ to try to keep workers busy. The recession and bankruptcy ended that.
In their last model year, 2008, there were a lot of new Uplander Post Office delivery vans running around. Some PO’s in Chicago had whole lots filled with them, the most seen in one place. Now, they are long gone.
Sometimes, I’ll see a Chevy Venture beater-van, a bit dinged up, with the “WB” package. With the ‘Bugs Bunny’ logo still there.
When I first saw the revised U bodies for 2005 and heard about them being renamed, I thought this was just a cynical way to pimp these revised minivans in the SUV era. From a marketing standpoint, this makes sense. The growth of sales in SUVs was phenomenal and what better way to cash in on the trend? Look at concurrent and future Chrysler products at the time. ChryCo dropped the Neon for the SUV-ish Caliber, they reworked the SWB minivan into the Journey and “butched-up” the appearance of the Pacifica to give it a more truck like visage. I originally dismissed these as just a bad update of the U-van, no matter, I wasn’t in the market for one anyway.
It wasn’t until they were way out of production that I found out about their greatly improved offset crash scores, and the addition of the 3.9 V6. I’ve always like the feel of the U-van, the steering, the brakes and the overall handling, second only to Mopar minivans. In the intervening years, the styling has grown on me, maybe as a side result of almost all cars being “ruggedized” these days.
When we were looking for a new (to me) car, I had looked at of these, but my wife saw right through the SUV accoutrements, so no way were we getting one. They were quite the deal, much less expensive than most other vans (other than the dreadful Freestar/Monterey) but with all of the same features. We ended up with our third Aztek.
Every car has their issues, I don’t think that these are any worse (or better) than any others. My daughter’s Monterey has spongy brakes and flaky power side doors, my brother’s (now gone) Odyssey was one of the ones afflicted with the glass transmission, numerous friends and acquaintances’ Mopar minivans had terrible times with front suspension components (thank you MIchigan roads)… the list goes on.
I think if the Aztek were to be damaged beyond repair and I still didn’t want to buy a new car, I think I would look for a gently used Uplander or SV6. With the improved crash ratings and the drivetrain advancements, I think it would be plenty serviceable for my needs.
I saw that this article got recycled and I scrolled down to see my comments. Unfortunately for me the last paragraph came true, about a year ago, I killed a deer with my Aztek.
I went on the hunt for a minivan then. I was hoping to find a Mopar minivan that wasn’t totally used up, but I would have to pay a lot more than I had budgeted. I looked at everything but Hondas, at the age level I was considering, they would have been right in the era of the glass transmission. Any of the Fords from that time outright scare me, due to rust and mechanical problems. The Toyotas still hold their value rather well and I frankly don’t care for them.
I ended up getting a 2004 Oldsmobile Silhouette GL. This was Grandma’s minivan, very clean, 140K miles all the accessories worked (and still work today). I really wanted a 2005 U-body or later, but they still command a decent price here in GM country (Michigan). Other than the usual elderly car issues, a minor oil leak, tires, brakes and shocks, it runs every day and gets 19.5 MPG consistently in my city driving.
I use it more as a pick up truck than a van, although when we have a big group go out, I usually get the call to drive. Being rather familiar with most of the generations of domestic minivans, there are lot of things to like in daily living with this van.
However, had this not been Grandma’s minivan and apparently well taken care of, I may have a different opinion of it. But, so far so good and it’s really tough to beat a minivan for my purposes.
Another re-run, another update. About 18 months ago, my 2004 Olds Silhouette’s transmission gave up and I didn’t want to try and fix or replace it in a 17-year old, 210K+ miles and very rusty minivan. I did briefly entertain the idea of one of these revised minivans but in 2021 decent ones were in very short supply and not a lot less expensive than a newer Chrysler-based minivan. So, I ended up with a 2010 Chrysler Town & Country, 150K miles, 3.8L pushrod V6 with a 62TE six speed automatic. It’s a world of difference between the two vehicles as would be expected from one that was designed in the mid to late 1980’s compared to one designed ten years later.
I had five-plus years with the Silhouette, and generally the van performed well. It did everything I ever asked it to, whether ferrying passengers somewhere or standing up to the loads of either furniture, building supplies or soccer gear/teams, which was the reason why I bought the van in the first instance. Outside of rust repairs, I really didn’t put much money into the van other than replacing the rear air shock absorbers, which had failed shortly after I purchased the van.
I’m surprised that in the more recent comments that there’s no shade thrown at Kia for the new SUV-like Carnival. This is the exact same tactic that GM used in the mid-2000’s and so far this appears to be just as effective as what GM did back then too. When I see comparisons of minivans in either print or video, the same three vans show up regularly, Pacifica, Odyssey and Sienna. Carnival? Never hear about that. I think H/K will have the same amount of success as the rebooted U-bodies did.
My sister-in-law has a Saturn version… hideous looking and worse driving. Sometimes I think people are blind. I get not caring and having a car for the utility aspect, but wow… open your eyes.
These are a mystery. First, GM never figured out how to make a class-competitive minivan. Or more likely, they never decided that this market was important enough to pursue with anything other than a badly compromised vehicle. Second, after Chrysler struck gold with the high dollar T&C, GM never found a way to sell high-income customers a minivan. Buick should have offered a minivan a decade before they did, but no.
I think you are being overly harsh on Chrysler, at least as of 2005. The Chrysler 4th gen minivan (01-07) was quite competitive with Honda and was a very compelling vehicle (though a touch less so than the Gen 3). Not sure that can still be said for them, unfortunately. I am spending the weekend with a 14 Grand Caravan. Let’s just say that this Sedona owner is not suffering from buyer’s remorse.
Any complaints with the Sedona?
What year of Sedona? I kind of hate my parents’s 05 Sedona and much preferred to drive my 95 Voyager. Even my 03 Caravan is nicer than that Sedona.
Worth noting that the same year the GM extended-nose van became available, Honda had recently redesigned the Odyssey with a nose that was three inches *shorter* but still managed better frontal collision protection. The extra 3″ went into the passenger compartment. Vans are all about good space utilization, and those long noses (and many other things) made the revamped GM vans a massive fail.
Just finished going through all of the GM “deadly sins”. Very informative, very sad. Amazing how much DeLorean predicted in his book came true over the next 30 years or so. I remember being struck by the fact that he even predicted bankruptcy, which would have seemed nigh impossible to anyone not intimately familiar with the toxic dysfunction deep within GM management. As far as these vans go, even as a kid in the 90’s it was obvious to me that GM vans were subpar facsimiles of real vans.
Truly miserable product. Rented one on a Florida vacation years ago – a week with this was an eye-opening experience on how mediocre GM products had become. This was uncomfortable and surprisingly noisy inside for a so-called neo-premium brand.
I had the Chevy version for a work car for a couple months, came to me from another location with somewhere around 60,000 miles on it. It was a bare bones stripper. At first I didn’t mind it, it served its purpose, but it started to implode within weeks. Only good thing was the 3.9 L engine, that gave it some get up and go. The front interior door handle and locking mechanism broke (the fix was to take off the molding around the handle), the key fob quit working, it had squeaks and rattles galore and the front wheels made a weird clicking sound. I finally got them to take it in when the front end started dipping and weaving while going down the road.
Shot suspension and all the other problems would cost more than it was worth so it was gone. Fortunately I eventually got a brand new Dodge Caravan to replace it. It was supposed to be a stripper too, but I think they just got a deal on a strangely optioned one as it has leather wrapped steering wheel/shift knob and back up sensors but with hubcaps and cloth interior and manually adjusted seats. Either way, compared to the Chevy, the Dodge is a luxury car.
I think Buick got this minivan because Olds had one, and they were gone, so GM’s management at some level must have thought GM needed a minivan in the Buick/Olds price range (not that the Buick price range was much different than anything other than Chevy if that).
If an Olds minivan was a good idea, then Buick needed one when Olds ended, because Olds customers hobbled straight over to the local Buick emporium.
One day someone will document the idiotic range of these minivan CUV things we get, Toyota Voxy, ISIS, Wish etc just to name a few Honda has a similar vast range as well if the Japanese had unleashed their whole gamut of these things GM would have just given up and you’d have been spared these.
The dashboard reminds me of that talking steering wheel in that tire commercial (not sure if anyone knows what I’m talking about it might just be a local thing)
I wonder how much of an impact the lack of a fold-into-the-floor third row seat had on sales of these. The only other manufacturer who has stubbornly clung to not having it is Nissan with the Quest. I guess it sells well enough to keep it in production.
Still, the fact that GM decided it wasn’t worth the effort to engineer this very popular feature is puzzling and could be a big reason GM’s last minivan gets a DS. The rather lame fold-flat seats, while creating a flat load floor, also brought the floor up much higher than the competition. All I can figure is that GM management must have thought that the fact that it was possible to get a flat floor (even a high one) without having to remove any of the seats would override the other configuration. They thought wrong.
Did they even sell any of this quartet in Canada? Don’t think I’ve ever seen one.
I can honestly say that I never even seen one, yet even knew they existed. Minivans just don`t do it for me.Never did, never will.
While plastic (or plasticky) wood trim annoys me, the color contrasted provided by the Terraza’s “burled elm” trim is actually kind of nice. Which poses a question: Why not simply have sections of contrasting color? If tastefully approached with reasonable plastic quality (i.e., not the awful bargain-bin crap of which GM was so fond in the ’90s), it would be a decent way of breaking up the monotony of monochrome interior trim without the obnoxious pretense of fake wood, or fake carbon fiber, or fake aluminum. (Fake plasticky “brushed aluminum” trim isn’t any better than cheesy pseudo-wood.)
I had the misguided joy of looking at one of these for purchase new, “Quite Tuning” and all. Window sticker was well over 32K. Dealer started throwing first time buyer discounts, dealer overstock discount and every other bit of BS in a sad effort to move it off his lot in an effort sell it to me. In the end he backed out of his 24K offer when the boss had to approve. Sat on his lot for another 6 months. So glad this misplaced orphan didn’t make it to my driveway. Weird sounding name too.
Buick GL8 is very popular in China, it is stanadard item for cooperation and car service company, Chinese version of Lincoln Towncar, although Honda Odyssey (Japanese version) is catching up. They are assembled in China. I rode on both at the recent trip, Buick has very nice interior with nice soft touch plastic and leather wrap around panel. Odyssey is good but not as upscale as Buick. GM and its partner,SAIC, make good profit from this van, being its chassis is same for decades. Big iriony there is Chinese precieves Buick is safer than Honda, but i recall this van chassis had very bad crash rating in US.
The Buick iteration of this minivan seems to be enjoying a new lease on life in China. There, Buick is regarded as middle class personal luxury and the minivans are used as airport limousines in Shanghai, where I was driven to my hotel in one this past summer. Seems like a nice move, given that GM has already recouped development cost ages ago.
I just noticed that some of these have 5 lugs and others 6. Why?
There are definitely some inaccurate details here. I drive an ’05 Saturn Relay, and the rear seats are just as “easily” removable as the middle row; as well as the trunk floor storage cabinet, which wasn’t even mentioned. Sure, they all simultaneously make up about half of the van’s weight, and are a total pain in the ass to lug around, but there’s just as much versatility as any other van in their class…. as long as you plan your cargo needs ahead of time.
Plus, even as the base model Relay, it still incorporates the overhead rail DVD entertainment & storage system, the seatback storage compartments (which are for holding the wireless headsets and remote), and it has the five speed auto transmission coupled to the 3.5L V6. The leather isn’t real, it’s Hyundai-grade vinyl pleather. The cupholders weren’t even worth mentioning… it doesn’t matter which model you buy, if it’s not the base model Uplander that doesn’t even come with armrests, they ALL have 12 cup holders.
Plus, a seldom-mentioned fact: The Saturn Relay (though without a doubt the best looking) is actually the rarest model of the bunch, with a total of 26,129 being built during their entire three year period.
The luggage rack is another interesting feature – It’s tall, looks good, and is completely useless. There are no adjustable rails whatsoever. Older U-bodies came with ones that you could actually use without cargo ever touching the roof… or scratching the hell out of it, as the case may be with these ones.
The terraza did have an optional navigation but it is rare nowadays
Our local Post Office has a handful of Chevy Ventures. Of course, compared to the LLV’s they are downright new and modern. On that note, after having our mail mostly delivered by a ProMaster and even a Metris for several months, we’re back to getting it from an LLV. And the last time I rode my bike past the PO, there was a line of three white Pontiac G6 sedans with federal license plates but otherwise unmarked, parked on the curb. The USPS sure likes their Curbside Classics.
Had I seen one of these things called Buick, from more than ten feet away, I’d have thought a Chevy Venture was in my sightline. Had I noticed the grille, I might have given it a passing glance. That this article even attracted triple digit commentaries is a surprise. Quite a forgettable minivan. I am uncertain if I ever took notice of any of these.
Here’s a Chinese GL8 I snapped in China in 2013 .
No memory of this model at all.
I thought replacing the LeSabre and Park Avenue with the bland Lucerne was a bigger sin.
I did not even know these things existed, in Europe GM (Opel/Vauxhall back then) offered the smaller Zafira or the bigger Vivaro. I’m pretty certain none of the US vans were officially imported.
I could have killed for one a couple of days ago when I needed to quickly transport 21 square feet of wood cuttings for my oven though… Stuffing that lot into a Mazda 3 trying not to ruin the interior was no fun, a biggish (by our standards), unkempt old van would have been just the thing for such task.