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By Jim Flammang
April 15, 2002
Vehicle Overview Like its shorter Caravan companion, the longer-wheelbase Dodge Grand Caravan receives an optional DVD-based rear-seat video entertainment system for 2002. The combined sales of the Caravan and Grand Caravan continue to be the most popular minivans in the United States. However, sales dipped by 15 percent during 2001 to just over 242,000 units, according to Automotive News. Dodge minivans captured a 20 percent share of the market in 2001, while more than 36 percent of minivan buyers purchased either a Chrysler or Dodge product that year.
The new DVD system is integrated into the dashboard and includes a remote transmitter, two sets of wireless headphones, and inputs for a video camera and video game players. The system may be installed after vehicle purchase. A VHS entertainment system also remains available for buyers who prefer videotape.
Adjustable pedals with a 2.75-inch range are a new option. A new pressure-based tire monitor that provides both audible and visual warnings of low pressure is included in an Electronic Convenience Group.
The Grand Caravan is the top-selling minivan offered by DaimlerChrysler and is nearly identical in size to the companys Town & Country. The Caravan and Chrysler Voyager are shorter in length and wheelbase than the measurements of the Grand Caravan. Introduced in 1984 as the first garageable front-wheel-drive minivans, all DaimlerChrysler minivans were redesigned for 2001 and added such features as the industrys first power-operated rear liftgate.
The Grand Caravan comes in SE, Sport and ES trim levels, along with value-priced eX and eL versions. The Sport and ES editions with the 3.8-liter engine may be equipped with all-wheel drive. Front-wheel drive is standard on all models, and AWD is available on the Sport and ES. The ES model has a fresh front-end look for 2002.
A new 230-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine was expected during 2001 but failed to materialize. What did appear in March 2001 was the new eX model, which is intended to capture buyers in the heart of the minivan market. Priced between the Sport and the upscale ES, the eX is equipped with a 215-hp engine, power rear liftgate, removable power center console, three-zone temperature control and 50/50-split rear seats. The eL model, which comes with a 3.3-liter engine and Quad Command front- and second-row bucket seats, joined the lineup in October 2001 and is billed by Dodge as a high-value, entry-level model meant to rival the Honda Odyssey LX.
Exterior The Grand Caravan has an overall length of 200.5 inches and comes only on the longer, 119.3-inch wheelbase. Each model stands 68.9 inches tall. Dual-sliding side doors are installed on all trim levels, and power operation for both sliders are standard on the ES. A power sliding door for the passenger side is standard on the eX and available on the Sport model. Tires are 15 inches in diameter on the front-drive SE, eL and Sport, while 16-inchers are equipped on other models. The two-wheel-drive ES may be fitted with 17-inch tires.
The power sliding doors have a manual override feature and can be opened and closed by hand while the power phase is in operation. Their obstacle-detection system works in both directions, and motors are mounted right in the door. An optional power liftgate may be controlled by either a remote control or interior switches. Sensors will halt its downward movement if an obstacle is encountered.
Interior All models seat seven occupants, but the ES has Quad Command second-row bucket seats and may be fitted with leather upholstery rather than cloth. Additional equipment in the ES includes woodgrain trim, an eight-way power drivers seat and an overhead console with a trip computer. A new tilt mechanism improves backseat entry and exit. Cargo capacity measures 167.9 cubic feet when the second- and third-row seats removed.
Unlike the Honda Odyssey and Mazda MPV, DaimlerChryslers minivans do not have a third-row seat that folds into the floor. A 50/50-split, third-row bench divides into two sections that can be removed separately, reclined or folded flat.
A center console equipped with a power outlet can be mounted between either the front- or second-row seats, while an optional cargo organizer can be positioned at the floor or at midlevel in the rear. An in-dash four-CD player and an infrared-sensing three-zone automatic temperature control are optional.
Under the Hood A 180-hp, 3.3-liter V-6 engine goes into the SE, eL and front-drive Sport models. The AWD eX, ES and Sport minivans get a 215-hp, 3.8-liter V-6. All models use a four-speed-automatic transmission. The ES minivan is available with DaimlerChryslers AutoStick transmission, which operates with a toggle control in the column-shift lever. Its the only minivan that permits manual gear changes.
Safety Antilock brakes and seat belt pretensioners for the front seats are standard. Front airbags have dual-stage inflators, and side-impact airbags are optional. Front-disc/rear-drum brakes are installed on the SE and 2WD Sport editions, but other models have all-disc brakes.
Driving Impressions Finding fault with the Grand Caravan isnt an easy task. From its exceptional seat comfort to its appealing ride and satisfying engine response, Dodges larger minivan seems to do just about everything correctly.
Lively acceleration from a standstill with the 3.3-liter V-6 engine is not quite matched by the Grand Caravans passing and merging prowess, but performance is more than adequate. Buyers who travel in mountainous states or like an extra helping of confidence on the highway may want to consider the 3.8-liter engine, but plenty of owners will be content with the 3.3-liter engine.
Like other DaimlerChrysler minivans, the Grand Caravan handles with a relatively light touch, which yields an excellent steering feel. It is secure on the highway and copes admirably with curves, and the Grand Caravan is an especially easy vehicle to drive. This minivan maneuvers efficiently in urban driving and is confident and capable through difficult spots or bad weather. The driver faces a down-to-business dashboard in an appealing interior.
The Grand Caravan also runs quietly. Quality issues of the past appear to have been resolved. Current minivans seem well constructed and nicely refined. One annoyance is the parking-brake release lever, which is a long reach for the driver. The odd-shaped column gearshift lever operates easily.
Despite the abundance of worthy and capable competitors nowadays, no shopper should make an extended-length minivan purchase without test-driving the Grand Caravan.