A road trip to Traverse City, Mich., turned out very enjoyable, thanks to the good folks at Southern Comfort Conversions, Trussville, Ala.
We cruised the highways in a Chevy Express Conversion Van decked out in good old-fashioned southern comfort.
The van was roomy enough for three adults and two almost-teenage girls, as well as all our gear. Driver and passenger-side swing-out doors made it very easy to enter and exit the vehicle. The only catch to a smooth exit was the passenger-assist handle above each door that my head managed to connect with several times.
Customers can choose from six conversion models: Ultimate LX, Ultimate LE, and Ultimate Hightop, and Ultimate LX, Ultimate LE, and Ultimate Lowtop. We enjoyed the luxuries of the Ultimate LX Hightop.
The van is family friendly with onboard entertainment like movies and video games for the kids and adults. Our vehicle was equipped with a 22-in. flat-screen TV with theater sound, DIN-style DVD player, front and rear radios, and four wireless headphones for rear passengers. A switch on the headphones lets passengers listen to either the radio and CD player or TV. When we all decided to watch a movie sans the headphones, it was just like being in a theater, except it was moving at 70 mph.
The interior was decked out quite nicely with four extremely comfortable captain chairs and a sofa that converted into a bed. Although the bed was comfortable enough for relaxing while we were driving, I wouldnt recommend an all nighter on it. My friends husband tried it and found it wasnt the most restful sleep hes ever had, although he said kids would probably fair much better. Everyone had plenty of room to stretch out comfortably for the 8-hr trip. My friend, Sue, commented it would have been nice to have a little more legroom for the front passenger.
Other base features for our berry-red metallic model included leather seating with suede inserts, carpet, custom door panels, a Triglas raised roof, central air and heat, overhead lighting, simulated wood trim, logo floor mats with aluminum step plates, window shades, and a clothes rod with hooks. On the outside, it sports ground effects and 18-in. chrome wheels. Another feature worth mentioning was the wireless backup object-detection system that was helpful for maneuvering a van this size. The interior also has about seven compartments for storing CDs, DVDs, jackets, blankets, and other small items to keep clutter to a minimum.
Dual-zone climate control proved to be a plus. With the hot sun beating down on us in front, it was necessary to run the air conditioning. Yet those in the rear compartment complained it was too cold, especially since they had the shades down while watching a movie. After a few minor adjustments, everyone was happy.
Under the hood, a Vortec 5300 5.3-liter V8 engine powered the van quite nicely. For its size and weight, we had no trouble merging onto the highway or passing slower traffic. The engine provides segment-leading acceleration by churning out 295 hp at 5,200 rpm and 335 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. The van sports a 31-gallon tank and we were impressed with the mileage we got (rated 17 to 22-mpg highway).
The van received the governments five-star crash-safety rating, thanks to active and passive safety features such as dual-stage front air bags, four-wheel antilock brakes, all-wheel drive, and a 155-in. wheelbase.
Retail price of the base van is $25,315. Add on $4,920 in options and $775 in destination charges and the total is $31,010. Next, add on $19,280 for the Southern Comfort upgrade and your out-the-door price is $50,290. Frequent travelers would get more vehicle for their dollar if they chose conversion vans like this rather than SUVs.