Our yearly trip to visit family in Iowa is one of the rare occasions when my family of four is all together in a single vehicle. Over the years we have most often made the trip in our mid-sized family sedan. This year, however, it was made more pleasant through the use of an Explorer LTD/SE Conversion van.
Explorer builds the LTD/SE on a Chevy 1500 van. On the outside, enhancements are straightforward: paint job, fenderskirts, and runningboards are good-looking. Though it may aid aerodynamics and look good, the skirting hides the running boards which are so narrow as to be of little use as a foothold for getting in and out of the van. Inside each doorframe, however, is an overhead handhold which lends aid getting up and into the van. Once inside, it's easy to notice the details which make the difference between a relaxing long weekend away from home and a potential Chevy Chase movie plot.
Seating for seven is upholstered in leather throughout. The two front seats have heat controls, six-way power adjustments and lumbar support. The second row of seats lack the heaters and power but swivel and recline. The back bench folds down into a bed when sleeping space is at a premium, or if a teenager wants a night's respite from her younger cousins.
The flex vision LCD TV screen helps pass the time pleasantly, though with the screen folded down it partially obscures the driver's use of the rearview mirror. My youngest daughter thoroughly enjoyed her control of the rear stereo and she had her choice of seats for doing so because headphone jacks are accessible from four different seats.
Nestled between the two front seats is an ice chest big enough for a six pack of soda. On top of the chest are two cupholders with switches to keep a beverage warm or cool.
Under the hood, the engine is scarcely visible past the filler access to all the engine fluids. It's easy to add oil or washer fluid but I'd be interested in watching a mechanic do any real work. The unseen 5.7-liter engine and four-speed automatic transmission with overdrive has plenty of pull for open highway speeds and is surprisingly quick in city traffic. The 159-in. wheelbase and 265/70R15 tires provide a relatively comfortable ride, though my oldest daughter said she was bouncing around plenty whenever we hit a stretch of less-than-smooth highway. The gas tank held 31 gallons and we averaged 15 mpg.
A basic Chevrolet 1500 van starts at a suggested retail price of $26,863. Explorer's work adds to that depending on dealer circumstances and other market factors. For more information contact the Explorer Van Co., Warsaw, Ind., (219) 267-7666.