When it comes to identifying cars, there’s two very distinct versions of the “what the fuck is that?” feeling. One is the exciting, head-jerking feeling of shock at seeing something delightfully incomprehensible, like catching a glimpse of a Gordon-Keeble in suburban Norman, Oklahoma. The other is sour, empty feeling you get when you see a car so boring, so bland, such a void of interest or character that you realize you have no idea what the hell it is. Guess which category the Chevy Uplander fits into.
In fact, it’s even a bit worse: not only do most people see a Chevy Uplander and have no idea what it is, the grim truth is that even to hardcore car geeks—possibly even hardcore minivan geeks—they’re fine with that. Ignorance is just fine if the fruit of knowledge is the soft, mealy pap that is the Chevy Uplander.
Chevy built the Uplander minivan between 2005-2009, and I bet if you were to ask any Chevrolet employee of that era about it they might say “Oh yeah? If that’s what it says, then I guess we did.”
The Uplander actually had three badge-engineered siblings, all about as forgettable as the Uplander, the Saturn Relay, Buick Terraza, and Pontiac Montana SV6. Saturn Relay? I’m not sure if I’ve ever even seen one of those, but, then again, how the hell would I even know?
The Relay was the first non-plastic-body-panel’d Saturn, and the first Saturn re-badge, so I guess even the Relay has the distinction of being the marker as the beginning of the end of Saturn.
The Uplander doesn’t even have that.
Even in the tepid pool that is minivans, the Uplander was remarkably bland-looking. It wasn’t even a particularly good minivan design, with a hood longer than it needed to be and everything else looking like GM sent the design team on a tour of coin laundromats or possibly self-storage facilities to get inspired.
Like a true Meh car, it was quite aggressively adequate in specs: a 3.5-liter V6 making 200 horsepower, or a 3.9 V6 that made 240 hp. The 3.9-liter later became the only engine, which forced the dropping of the AWD option (it was normally FWD) since the AWD system couldn’t deal with those extra 40 horses.
Since nobody ever gave a shit about this car, the loss of the AWD system was met with, maybe, a quiet nod of tired understanding.
I’m surprised more car crashes aren’t found to be caused by people driving into Chevy Uplanders because they just don’t even see them. They’re so bland and empty it’s amazing your brain doesn’t just process them out entirely.
But some people actually did manage to buy these. The Wikipedia article doesn’t bother listing sales past 2005, because that’s when the person editing the article quit giving a shit, but other sources show that over a half-million of these things were sold over its life! Holy crap.
Even if we figure that a good chunk of those were fleet sales, there were still thousands of people who saw this and decided to pay real money in exchange for taking one home, to use every day. Somehow, they managed to manifest an emotion that resembled desire for a Chevy Uplander. That’s staggering.
The marketing of the Uplander almost seemed to suggest the ad agency understood the scale of the blandness they were dealing with; listen to the primary auditory theme of this commercial to see what I mean:
Crickets. That’s the sound of crickets. That’s about right.