SUMMERTIME, and the driving ain't easy -- particularly if you're running around the country in a family sedan.
I don't care who makes the sedan, or how much you've paid for it. Throw in several kids and a few hundred pounds of luggage, and you've got trouble.
The territorial fights that can break out in the rear seat of a car on a long trip almost make the evening news' litany of violent excesses a welcome diversion.
Here's a peace offering: buy, borrow or rent a van. Better still, for those of you who want space without losing sedan road feel, get your hands on one of Chrysler Motors' 1987-model "stretch" minivans -- the Plymouth Grand Voyager or the almost identical Dodge Grand Caravan.
The "Grand" models are 14.6 inches longer than the original Chrysler minis introduced in 1983 as 1984 models. The extra length was obtained by stretching the wheelbase seven inches and by tacking on another 7.6 inches of body behind the rear wheels.
The stretch job gives Grand-mini passengers better leg and elbow room than Chrysler's smaller minis do. Quarrelsome types have more space to work out differences -- or to establish inviolable borders if peace talks fail.
Also, Chrysler and its Japanese partner, Mitsubishi, have come up with a new engine to match the Grand-minis' bigger size -- a three-liter, electronically fuel-injected V-6.
That optional powerplant won't turn your people-hauler into a racer. But the new V-6 is a darn sight better than the wimpy, whiny, 2.6-liter, four-cylinder Mitsubishi motor it replaces; and it has substantially more oomph than the noble but undernourished 2.2-liter, four-cylinder engine used as standard equipment in the Chrysler minivan series.
Complaints: Minor but irritating tackiness in the test model, a Grand Voyager. C'mon, Chrysler. Why go through all the trouble of putting together a good machine like this only to forget such basics as speaker covers fitted properly atop the dash and matched-up interior plastic seams?
Ah, and why spend all that time on a fancy wood-grain center console if you're going to do a less-than-excellent job of positioning the speedometer and other gauges?
Praise: An overall excellent long-distance runner, easily one of the best minivans on the market. I'd rank the front-wheel-drive Grand-mini second to Ford's rear-wheel-drive Aerostar, which has a prettier body, better visibility and better road feel.
The Grand-mini gets my vote over GM's Chevrolet Astro, which has ridiculously cramped front leg room.
The Japanese and Germans? In the minivan category, they don't even come close to Chrysler and Ford.
Sound system: AM/FM stereo radio and cassette, Chrysler midline version in the test Grand Voyager. Decent.
Some particulars: With its bigger optional engine, the Grand-mini can pull up to 2,750 pounds, 1,750 more than the Chrysler minis equipped with the 2.2-liter, four-cylinder engines. Cargo space in the Grand-mini model is a healthy 150 cubic feet with the back seats removed.
Ride, acceleration, handling: All excellent. But keep in mind that this is a van, however small. You can really swing the rear end out on this one if you try to corner too hard. Pack your family and leave your race-track instincts at home.
Mileage: About 22 to the gallon (optional 20-gallon tank, 440-mile range), combined city-highway, running with five occupants and air conditioner operating most of the time.
Price: $17,872 as tested, including $4,826 in options such as power windows and the 3-liter V-6; and $465 in destination charges. Dealer's invoice price on the tested model is $15,742.18. Base-model price is $12,561. Dealer's invoice price on the base model is $11,153.68. Bargaining will be difficult on this one: Chrysler is selling 'em almost as fast as it can make 'em.
Warren Brown covers the auto industry for The Washington Post.