THEY STOOD there in splendid silver jumpsuits -- three women, all of them young and glamorous. They smiled and oohhed and aahhed, and they sang a jingle that went something like: "Chevy! Chevy! Astro! Astro!"
I don't know if the trio had a name. Someone called them "Astroettes." But that didn't seem to fit them, and they didn't seem to fit the product they were advertising at the auto show at the D.C. Convention Center.
There is nothing sexy about the Chevy Astro midivan, one of General Motors Corp.'s two entries into the hot new market for "garageable vans." No way you can say that a vehicle that looks like a bulldog without wrinkles is sexy.
The Astro has other qualities, though, endearing charms that tempt you to overlook certain faults. There is something irrepressibly friendly about this van, something that makes you smile when its 4.3-liter, V-6 engine kicks over and starts you down the road.
Outstanding complaint: The Astro and its cousin, the GMC Safari, both of them assembled at GM's Baltimore plant, first entered the market as cargo vans. In fact, unlike many of its competitors in the small-van segment, GM wants to sell about 50 percent of its midivans to commercial buyers, companies that need small vans to move products in urban traffic.
Workers in cargo vans often are more interested in ease of exit and entry than they are in sitting comfortably. Perhaps that's why GM gave short shrift to foot comfort in the Astro's front passenger seat. The narrow tunnel under the vents on the passenger side is too small for two feet of normal size.
Maybe there's nothing that can be done about this other matter, but it would be nice if GM could come up with rear door windows that have no center "post." The "post" is created when the two rear doors are closed. It presents a bit of a rear vision problem. Otherwise, visibility in the Astro is excellent.
Outstanding praise: What GM forgot to do for the front passenger, it did for those seated elsewhere in the Astro. It's hard to believe there's this much interior space in a van that is 25 inches shorter than its full-sized relative. But the General did an excellent job of providing room. During our test runs, nobody stumbled over bodies getting to seats. And, thank goodness, there were no territorial fights among the three children who came along for the ride.
The sliding door on the passenger side also is a nice piece of work. Easy as all get out to operate. And it closes snugly, too.
Acceleration, ride and handling: Excellent in all three categories, although handling might be given a "superior" rating. Now I know what the commercial buyers like about the cargo version of this rear-wheel-drive van. It moves through urban traffic almost as easily as a mid-size sedan.
Sound system: Whatever else might be wrong or right with a GM product, one thing is certain: The Delco sound system is always good.
Mileage: About 20 miles per gallon, combined city-highway, running with five passengers (it seats seven) and with air conditioner blowing at top power most of the time. Use unleaded fuels only.
Price as tested: $11,071, includes options such as air conditioning and the 4.3-liter, V-6 engine. Standard engine for this model is 2.5- liter, 4-cylinder.