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Suzuki’s new Swift hatch and sedan in SA

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Chrysler Voyager (1997-present)

2007-05-04 14:34

Colin Mileman

The Chrysler Voyager arrived in SA in 1997 offering unparalleled space and comfort.

Prior to the arrival of the Chrysler Voyager in 1984, people around the world relied on bloated station wagons for their family transport needs.

But with the Voyager came an entirely new concept boasting unparalleled space and innovative packaging - a highly successful formula that set the trend for people-movers from then on.

Such was the success of the design that Renault followed quickly thereafter with the Espace, and just about every manufacturer has developed a vehicle on the same theme - and a variety of sizes - in subsequent years.

The Voyager only arrived in SA in April 1997, but it very quickly became a popular sight on local roads, offering a far more compelling choice than limited range of multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs) available at the time, including quirky options such as the Toyota Previa and Mitsubishi Space Gear.

Three models were introduced initially, comprising the entry-level short-wheelbase Voyager 2.0 SE at R174 750, the long-wheelbase Grand Voyager 3.3 SE (R199 500) and the top-spec LWB LE with a price tag of R226 950.

Although the long-wheelbase models in particular were perceived as relatively expensive, the extended dimensions of the Grand Voyager (5 070 mm versus 4 733 mm on the SWB derivative) offered unrivalled interior space and versatility.

With a best-seller reputation around the world, it was no surprise when the Voyager dominated MPV sales in SA from the outset, with the unique seven-seat layout (comprising individual front and middle seats and a rear bench in a 2+2+3 design) complemented further by fantastic versatility courtesy of the numerous loading options. The rear seats can be folded or removed completely, transforming the Voyager from a comfy people mover to a cavernous load-lugger - hence the multi-purpose tag.

It must be said though, that with the rear bench in place, there has always been precious little space at the rear for luggage, resulting in many people having to resort to a trailer to accommodate the baggage. And this problem is only exacerbated in the compact SWB models.

The line-up was increased in early 1999 with the launch of a turbodiesel derivative in the form of the Grand Voyager 2.5 TD SE, equipped with a five-speed manual gearbox and carrying a sticker price of R249 149.

By mid-2001, the Voyager had clocked up almost 9-million sales around the world, and the Austrian-built range received a comprehensive make-over with more elegant styling, improved handling, increased safety and a raft of technical refinements that cured many of the earlier models' reliability woes (see technical panel).

Despite facing an increasing challenge from direct rivals as well as the burgeoning small and compact MPVs on the market, the Voyager continued as the leading full-sized version in SA, with a further facelift giving it renewed impetus in the second half of 2004.

The styling was tweaked slightly with a larger 'corporate' Chrysler grille and sculpted headlights, improved levels of refinement and an updated safety package featuring full-length side airbags that provide protection across all three rows of seats. An overhead rail system was also added to the options list, which provided additional storage compartments and allowed the fitment of a variety of multi-media elements.

More significantly, the diesel-powered model now featured the mightier 2.8 CRD unit with 110 kW and 360 Nm, now mated to a more suitable automatic gearbox and available in SE or LX trim. The SWB 3,3-litre V6 Voyager SE was also reintroduced.

In 2005 the Grand Voyager models received the smart 'Stow 'n Go' seating and storage system that allows the entire rear seating system to be folded into the floor in under 30 sec.

Chrysler has continually evolved the Voyager to both set trends and keep up with the times, and although it's not a shining example of refined performance, driving involvement or build quality, its outstanding virtues in terms of space, comfort, luxury and practicality set the benchmark by which all other full-scale MPVs are measured.

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