In the long history of Chrysler Corp’s Dodge Division, one of its better stories is the introduction of the 1984 Dodge Caravan.
An even better story may be the introduction of the 1996 Dodge Caravan.
The first redesign in 12 years, the new models come in base, SE, LE, Sport and Grand Caravan form, and the new minis offer just about something for everyone.
The popular long-wheelbase Grand Caravan appeared in the spring of 1987, and has tended to be the best-selling model of the minis.
“The long-wheelbase (Grand Caravan) is the best seller without a doubt,” said Palmer Dodge West sales representative Brad Marvel. “People buy it because they have more room between the seats, and it’s easier to load cargo or get it out.”
As an evolution of the breed, plus a decided advancement in the way the vehicle looks, the styling embraces Chrysler’s cabin-forward theme. Body lines emphasize a low cowl, an aerodynamic front end and contoured glass.
Consumers virtually can build their own Caravan via a choice of short and long wheelbases, three engines — with specific engines available on specific models — and two automatic transmissions.
It’s possible to tailor a van in almost any configuration from that selection.
The product mix probably isn’t going to please everybody because all engine and transmission choices aren’t available across the board.
As an example, there’s a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine available, as well as a 3.0-liter, 3.3-liter and 3.8-liter V6s. These mate to three-speed and four-speed automatic transmissions, but not all the way down the line.
As an example, a 3.0-liter V6 with a three-speed is optional in a base Caravan, but not in an SE. And no four-speed transmission is available in base form.
Likewise, the 3.8-liter V6 with a four-speed is only offered as an option in the Grand Caravan SE and LE.
There are some limits, but not really confining ones, as to how much consumers can juggle engine and powertrain combinations.
Depending up your needs for space, there’s a 113.3-inch-wheelbase Caravan, or one with another six inches of wheelbase. Obviously, the longer-wheelbase Grand model, with its 199.6 inches of overall length, has more capacity than the 186.3-inch-long base mini.
Grand Caravan cargo volume is 172.3 cubic feet, vs. 146.2 for the standard Caravan.
The beauty of these new minivans is that they drive and ride like a car.
If you’re trying out a van for the first time, don’t worry. Just step in, sit down, drop the automatic into drive and go.
It might take a few minutes to become accustomed to a more commanding view of the road, but it will make you feel right at home in short order.
In addition to making driving easy, Chrysler has designed its Caravan for functionality and convenience. A new optional driver’s-side sliding door is available, and being able to enter from either side greatly enhances flexibility.
Another highly touted convenience feature is added cargo space when the rear seats are removed. New, optional easy-out roller seats make removal simple.
In developing a car-like quality, the Grand Voyager has a fairly standard instrument layout that consists of a speedometer, tachometer, odometer, trip odometer and fuel and temperature gauges.
Much of the interior design revolves around providing more storage space. On models without the optional driver’s-side sliding door, a storage area has been added to the left trim panel by the second seat.
Aiding ride and control, leaf rear springs are used with a solid rear axle instead of coil springs. Engineering tests determined that the leaf system provided a better handling balance between light and heavy loads. The front suspension is an independent MacPherson strut system.
1996 Grand Caravan SE Base price: $17,778 Type: Front engine, front-drive, seven-passenger, minivan Engine: 3.3-liters, V-6, 12 valves, fuel-injected, 158-horsepower, 203 foot-pounds of torque Transmission: Four-speed automatic Mileage: 18 mpg city/23 mpg highway Wheelbase: 119.3 inches Length: 199.6 inches Width: 75.6 inches. Height: 68.5 Curb weight: 3,766 pounds Maximum trailer weight: 2,000 pounds Options: Air conditioning, premium stereo, rear defroster, electric wiper de-icer, full carpet, decor package, power locks, solar glass, child’s seat, engine block heater, premium fabric, smoker’s package, HD suspension, alarm system, rear vent windows.