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By Jim Flammang
March 3, 2004
Vehicle Overview Taken together, Dodge’s regular-length Caravan and extended-length Grand Caravan continue to rank as the most popular minivans on the market. Power-adjustable pedals joined the options list in 2003. For the 2004 model year, all minivans with aluminum wheels gain a tire-pressure monitor warning lamp, and audio packages have been revised.
The front-wheel-drive Caravan comes only in regular-length form but in two trim levels: SE and SXT. The SE carries a four-cylinder engine, while the SXT is powered by a V-6. A CD player is standard in the SE model, and the SXT gets a cassette/CD unit. Dodge also offers a Cargo Van with V-6 power. Dodge is expected to redesign its minivans during 2004; the updated versions will be available as 2005 models.
Exterior The Caravan rides a 113.3-inch wheelbase and measures 189.3 inches long overall. Steel wheels with 15-inch tires and wheel covers appear on SE models, and the SXT gets 16-inch aluminum wheels.
Dual sliding side doors are standard. A powered passenger-side sliding door is available as an option only on the SXT 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.
Interior All Caravans seat seven occupants on front bucket seats and a third-row bench. A second-row bench appears in the SE, while the SXT holds second-row buckets. Unlike the Honda Odyssey and Mazda MPV, the Caravan lacks a third-row seat that folds into the floor, though integrated child-safety seats are optional. Fold-flat seats will be added in the 2005 minivans.
Cargo capacity amounts to 146.7 cubic feet when the “Easy Out” second- and third-row roller seats are removed. Adjustable pedals are optional on both models.
Under the Hood A 150-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine goes into the SE minivan, and the SXT and Cargo Van use a 180-hp, 3.3-liter V-6. Both engines drive a four-speed-automatic transmission.
Safety 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 only for the Cargo Van and optional only for the SXT minivan.
Driving Impressions Dodge continues to produce top-ranking minivans, despite a growing number of capable rivals. The V-6 engine’s acceleration from a standing stop is energetic and bests the motor’s passing and merging capabilities. 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 unrefined.
All Chrysler and Dodge minivans handle with a relatively light touch, which is a bonus rather than a drawback. They feel secure on the highway and are easy to drive, with no unpleasant surprises to mar the experience. The Caravan maneuvers adeptly in urban driving, and it 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.