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By Jim Flammang
February 26, 2003
Vehicle Overview Taken together, Dodges regular-length Caravan and extended-length Grand Caravan continue to rank as the most popular minivans on the market. Power-adjustable pedals join the options list for the 2003 model year.
The Caravan comes only in short-body form with front-wheel drive. For 2003, the value-priced eC edition has been dropped, leaving just the SE and Sport trim levels. The SE carries a four-cylinder engine, and the Sport model is powered by a V-6. A Sport Touring Group is available for the Sport and includes body-colored side moldings, a touring suspension, fog lamps and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Available only in regular length, the Caravan rides a 113.3-inch wheelbase and measures 189.3 inches long overall. Steel wheels with 15-inch tires have Crossfire wheel covers on Sport models and Kinetic-style covers on the SE.
Dual sliding side doors are standard. A powered passenger-side sliding door is available as an option only on the Sport model. The power slider has a manual override feature so it can be opened and closed by hand while the power phase is in operation. Obstacle detection operates when the door is opening and closing.
All Caravans seat seven occupants on front bucket seats and standard benches for the second and third rows. Unlike the Honda Odyssey and Mazda MPV, the Caravan lacks a third-row seat that folds into the floor; instead, it may be equipped with an optional 50/50-split third-row bench. Quad Command second-row bucket seats are also optional. Cargo capacity amounts to 146.7 cubic feet when the second- and third-row seats are removed.
A CD player and an in-dash six-CD changer are available for the Sport model. Adjustable pedals with a 2.75-inch range will become available during the 2003 model year.
Under the Hood
A 150-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine goes into the SE minivan, which drives a four-speed-automatic transmission. A 180-hp, 3.3-liter V-6 and four-speed-automatic gearbox are standard in the Sport and optional in the SE.
Front airbags have multistage inflators, and side-impact airbags are optional. Seat belt pretensioners for the front seats and child-safety seat tethers for the second and third rows are standard. Antilock brakes are standard in the Sport and optional in the SE.
Dodge continues to produce the minivans to beat, despite a growing number of capable rivals. Lively acceleration from a standstill with the V-6 engine is not quite matched by the Caravans passing and merging prowess. Still, performance is more than adequate and should satisfy most drivers. Typical minivan buyers will probably decide that the four-cylinder model lacks sufficient strength. Compared to the V-6, the four-cylinder is also somewhat coarse and gruff.
All DaimlerChrysler minivans handle with a relatively light touch, which is a bonus rather than a drawback in this case. They feel secure on the highway and are easy to drive; there are no unpleasant surprises to mar the experience. Maneuvering adeptly in urban driving, the Caravan is confident and capable in difficult spots or bad weather. The seats are agreeably cushioned, and the driver faces a down-to-business dashboard in an appealing interior.