WIXOM, Mich. -- On display at the Powertrain Performance Center of General Motors at Wixom, Mich., the boxy new people-mover for Chevrolet seems at first sight like a sleek SUV.
It carries the prominent prow of a big SUV with headlamp clusters pinned high on front corners flanking a chrome-ringed grille, a slab-sided body scored by four broad roof pillars and a stubby tail fitted with the usual top-hinged liftgate.
But closer scrutiny of the wagon reveals components not found on any SUV -- such as the square second doors on sides of the cabin that glide to and fro like flank sliders of a minivan.
And the stretched passenger compartment, arranged with three rows of seats to accommodate up to seven riders, has the flat floor of a minivan extending from the forward bulkhead to the aft cargo compartment.
What's going on here?
It seems that designers at GM grafted some styling elements of a sport-utility to the extended body of a minivan and in that process devised a new covert-minivan descriptive -- crossover sport van, or CSV instead of SUV.
Platform for this new vehicle is a re-do of GM's GMT-200 minivan chassis with the wheelbase drawn nine inches longer.
The result becomes a vehicle that resembles a low-stance SUV yet functions in the cabin like a cushy minivan with seats for Mom and Dad up front and two rear tiers for a carpool-load of kids.
A bow-tie badge marks Chevrolet's version of GM's new CSV under the name of Uplander.
Chevrolet offers Uplander in three editions -- a base price-leading model, the upgraded LS and a premium LT.
Each orients to a front-wheel-drive (FWD) system, although the LT has all-wheel-drive (AWD) traction as an option.
The AWD equipment -- GM's on-demand Versatrak -- is not structured for serious four-wheeling forays on rugged trails, but for use on pavement to help maintain traction in slippery conditions such as rain or snow.
It operates automatically too, normally in FWD mode.
However, if on-board wheel sensors detect rotational differences between the front and rear wheels -- which indicates the onset of tire spinning or slipping -- the smart system can divert the engine's power to turn either or both rear wheels momentarily to compensate for declining traction on the front tires.
This action keeps Uplander moving forward steadily and safely during those low-traction incidents.
The powerplant for all editions of Uplander is GM's 3500-series 3.5-liter V6.
It delivers 200 hp at 5200 rpm and peak torque of 220 lb-ft at 4400 rpm.
The engine connects with the Hydra-Matic 4T65-E from GM, a quiet-shifting automatic transaxle with electronic controls and four forward gears.
Pack on the optional towing package and Uplander can tug a load weighing up to 3500 pounds.
And Uplander earns respectable fuel consumption numbers -- 18 mpg for city driving and up to 24 mpg on the road with FWD mode, or 17/23 mpg (city/highway) on the AWD version.
We strap into the driver's bucket for road tests in both versions.
Our route in Wixom points west on Pontiac Trail and traces the Huron River Parkway through curves skirting Kent Lake before hopping on divided I-96 East for a speed run.
This experience reveals that Chevy's new van acts lively with sufficient pedal power and easy-driving manners.
The ride quality feels good too -- it's nice and comfortable due to that long wheelbase.
Front suspension is independent, employing MacPherson struts and coil springs with L-shaped lower control arms and aluminum knuckles.
The rear suspension differs between FWD and AWD versions. For the former it's an open-section twist axle with integrated stability bar, and the latter gets an independent double wishbone design on an aluminum cradle with cast aluminum short-and-long arms (SLA).
Responsive steering operates through a rack and pinion system with power assistance, and for stopping the van there's a disc brake on every wheel tied to a four-wheel anti-lock brake system (ABS).
The FWD Uplander also lists optional vehicle stability control through GM's StabiliTrak system.
Exterior styling focuses on the protruding face crowned by a large grille split in two sections by a horizontal bar tinted like the body paint.
Molding in a gray shade shields rocker panels and wraps around to front and rear fascias.
And on top, the optional roof rack installs tubular-style side rails in satin finish.
Sliding side doors on Uplander operate manually on base and LS trim, but the LT adds push-button power controls to open and close each portal.
The cabin has sufficient space for the three rows of seats and a rear bay for cargo.
Two big buckets stand on the first row and a bench goes on the back row. The middle row is a split bench except for LT trim with two captain's chairs in place.
Second-tier seats fold on the seatback and tip forward, or they unlock for removal.
Seatback on the rear bench, divided into equal halves, folds down in separate sections to form a flat cargo floor, or the entire bench unit may be removed.
Several optional storage devices are available for Uplander, such as the multi-section cargo organizer in the floor at the tail with lids that line up level with the folded-down back bench.
The ceiling houses a console above front seats and overhead rails that hold snap-in modules for storage and accessories -- including controls for rear area audio and climate systems or a standard backseat DVD video entertainment kit with flip-down screen.
Uplander's base model stocks gear like air conditioning, power locks and windows plus a stereo audio with AM/FM/CD/MP3 and six speakers. The LS adds cruise control and rear air conditioning, while LT puts power controls to the driver's seat.
Chevy's price chart for Uplander begins at $23,635.