Dodge’s extended-length Grand Caravan and its shorter Caravan companion continue to rank as the most popular minivans on the market. Starting in 2003, Grand Caravans could be equipped with a new power sunroof, a factory-installed DVD-based entertainment system and power-adjustable pedals.
For the 2004 model year, a tire-pressure warning lamp is standard on all minivans with aluminum wheels, and audio systems have been revised. Dodge’s optional DVD-based rear-seat entertainment system now includes an in-dash six-CD/DVD changer.
Nearly identical in size to the Chrysler Town & Country, the 2004 Grand Caravan comes in SE, SXT and SXT all-wheel-drive trim levels, along with a value-priced eX version. Front-wheel drive is standard. An Anniversary Edition joins the group during the 2004 model year. A Cargo Van model is also available. DaimlerChrysler will redesign its minivans and add fold-away second- and third-row seats for 2005.
Measuring 200.5 inches long overall, the Grand Caravan comes only on a 119.3-inch wheelbase. Standard tires measure 15 inches in diameter, but 16-inchers are equipped on higher trim levels.
Dual sliding side doors are installed, and power operation for both is standard on all models except the SE and Cargo Van. The power sliding doors have a manual override feature and can be opened and closed by hand while the power phase is active. An optional rear power liftgate for eX and SXT models may be operated by remote control or an interior switch.
All models seat seven occupants on front and second-row bucket seats and a third-row bench. The eX and SXT models may be fitted with Seton Sutton leather upholstery rather than cloth. Cargo capacity measures 167.9 cubic feet when the second- and third-row seats are removed.
Unlike some competitors, DaimlerChrysler’s minivans do not have a third-row seat that folds into the floor. The 50/50-split third-row bench seat in the eX and SXT divides into two sections that can be removed separately, reclined or folded flat. An optional center console with a power outlet can be mounted between either the front- or second-row seats in the eX and SXT.
A 180-horsepower, 3.3-liter V-6 engine goes into the SE model. All others get a 215-hp, 3.8-liter V-6. Both engines team with a four-speed-automatic transmission.
Antilock brakes and seat belt pretensioners for the front seats are standard. The front airbags have multistage inflators, and side-impact airbags are optional.
From exceptional seat comfort to its appealing ride and satisfying engine response, Dodge’s larger minivan does nearly everything correctly. Acceleration from a standstill with either engine is better than the Grand Caravan’s passing and merging prowess, which can be tepid unless it’s pushed hard; but overall performance is more than adequate. Buyers who travel in mountainous states or desire extra confidence on the highway may want to consider the 3.8-liter engine.
Like other DaimlerChrysler minivans, the Grand Caravan handles with a relatively light touch, which yields excellent steering feel. Secure on the highway, it copes admirably with curves. The Grand Caravan is especially easy to drive. Long-term construction quality may still fall short of import brands, but no shopper should buy an extended-length minivan without test-driving the quiet-running Grand Caravan.