The short-wheelbase version of the highly popular Dodge Grand Caravan has been redesigned just like its longer mate. Calculated together, the Caravan and Grand Caravan still captured a 24 percent share of the minivan market at the end of the 1996 2000-model generation. The Caravans, and the closely related Plymouth Voyager, were initially introduced in 1984 as the first garage-able front-drive minivans. With the current redesign, the Plymouth badge is gone, so the equivalent to the Dodge Caravan is called the Chrysler Voyager. Chrysler also offers a luxurious Town & Country model.
Available in SE or Sport trim, the Caravan comes only in short-body form with front-wheel drive. The dimensions are similar to the previous generation, but bodies are about 3 inches longer and 2 inches wider. In addition to fresh, evolutionary styling, which includes larger headlights and new wraparound taillights, the Caravan promises more power from the V-6 engine in the Sport edition. The SE keeps the four-cylinder engine from the prior generation. A new optional power sliding door has a manual override so it can be opened and closed by hand while the power phase is in operation. It also features obstacle detection in both the open and close modes.
In mid-2001, DaimlerChrysler will add a new EX model. Priced between the Sport and ES, the EX minivan will come with a new power liftgate, power center console and 50/50-split rear seats.
Available only in regular length, the Caravan has a 113.9-inch wheelbase and measures 189.1 inches long overall. Dual sliding side doors are standard, and a power passenger-side sliding door is optional only on the Sport.
Unlike the Honda Odyssey and Mazda MPV, the Caravan lacks a third-row seat that folds away. Among the options, however, is a 50/50-split third-row bench. New Quad-Command second-row buckets also are optional, equipped with a child-safety seat if desired. A new tilt mechanism makes it easier to get in and out of the backseat. In addition to the V-6 engine, choosing the Sport over the SE brings such extras as an electric rear defroster, front and rear floormats, and analog instruments that include a tachometer. Options include dual-zone temperature control, an odor/particulate air filter, a CD player and an in-dash four-CD changer for the Sport.
Under the Hood
A 150-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine goes into the Caravan ES, driving a three-speed-automatic transmission. A 3.3-liter V-6 with 180 hp up from 158 hp teams with a four-speed-automatic transmission.
Front airbags now have dual-stage inflators, and side-impact airbags are a new option. Seat belt pretensioners for the front seats are installed. Antilock brakes are standard in the Sport and optional in the Voyager SE, and child-safety seat tethers are installed in the second and third rows.
Chrysler has been the leader in minivans since 1984, when the Caravan and Voyager debuted not only in sales, but also in the family-focused nature of its products. The 2001 redesign might not amount to as much of a forward leap as the 1996 restyling did, and competition has stiffened considerably since then. Even so, Dodge is still the minivan to beat the one that continues to set the standard, despite having its heels nipped at by appealing rivals.
Lively acceleration from a standstill with the 3.3-liter V-6 engine is not quite matched by the Caravans passing and merging prowess, but its more than adequate and should satisfy most drivers. Typical buyers probably wont find the four-cylinder model to be sufficient in strength. Its also somewhat coarse and gruff, compared to the V-6.
All of DaimlerChryslers minivans handle with a relatively light touch, but not in a worrisome manner at all. On the contrary, they feel secure on the highway and are very easy to drive, with no unpleasant surprises to mar the experience. A Caravan maneuvers adeptly in urban driving and is confident and capable in difficult spots or bad weather. The driver faces a down-to-business dashboard in an appealing interior. Seats are more comfortable and more agreeably cushioned than those in the Ford Windstar