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Chevrolet Uplander

Martha Hindes

Chevrolet Uplander
Chevrolet Uplander

If you have to look twice to make sure Chevy's Uplander isn't really a sport utility vehicle, then GM's designers have done their job. Take a second look, however, and you notice the subtleties that set it apart from an off-road intender. The low deck, perfect for loading without having to hoist packages to an uncomfortable height. Side door handles situated just a few inches apart by the "B" pillar post that divides front and second row passengers in most vehicles -- the signature of sliding doors.

Yes, the Uplander -- and its relatives the Buick Terraza, Pontiac SV6 and Saturn Relay -- are vans, and not the sport utility kind. But look again. What minivan ever had a sportier roofline with a two-thirds luggage rack, or hosted a satellite radio nub for reception, or spun through its paces on five-spoke, 17-inch sport wheels with a noticeable sense of power and performance. Maybe GM in developing its "crossover sports van" knows something we all suspected: There's a way to mesh the best features of a minivan with an SUV without losing its main intent.

The Uplander, that debuted a year ago, was a nice, fun-to-drive package to begin with. Now, for 2006, there's some fine-tuning to keep it fresh. Bordeaux Red and Amber Bronze Metallic join the exterior color palette. And side-impact airbags are options to protect doorside riders in the first and second rows. The biggest change is an upcoming powerplant upgrade for '06 with an all-new 3900, 3.9-liter V-6 added to drivetrains, gaining 34 more horsepower (to 235) and 23 additional lb. ft. of torque (to 239) over the standard 3500, 3.5-liter V-6. They are mated to the latest suspension technology for safety and handling.

The inside remains a treat, with room for seven or a passel of gear with the foldable seats down, and a funky "PhatNoise" entertainment system with 40-gig removable hard drive to house personal favorites or play pre-loaded Nickelodeon TV, eMusic, audio books or video games (Listen to the hush of the ear-phone adapted rear crowd, as someone up front hears a different sound-system tune).

In front or all-wheel-drive, at a mid- to high-20s price point and high teens to mid-20s fuel economy, we think this sporty van continues to put the "blink" in double take.