Chrysler owns 50 percent of the minivan market for one simple reason: Thenation's third largest automaker builds the world's best minivans.

No other minivans on the market can match the ride quality, room, styling,performance and price of Chrysler's Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyagerminivans. That is why Chrysler's products are called the ''gold standard'' ofminivans.

Since Chrysler invented the minivan in 1984, the company has sold more than2 million. General Motors, Ford and the imports have tried but cannotduplicate the carlike ride of the Chrysler products.

For 1991 Chrysler replaced the first-generation minivans with redesignedversions that put even more distance between the Caravan/Voyager and the restof the minivan market.


The test vehicle came equipped with Chrysler's 3.3-liter, 150-horsepower,fuel-injected V-6 and Chrysler's four-speed automatic transmission - the onlydrivetrain offered in the Grand Caravan SE.

In less expensive models, Chrysler offers a four-cylinder engine or asmaller V-6 and a three-speed automatic transmission. No manual gearbox isavailable in any model Chrysler minivan.

Smooth, quiet and powerful, the V-6 is easily a better performer than theengines in the GM APVs, Ford Aerostar and the Toyota Previa. Gas mileage intown turned out to be a pleasant surprise: 21 miles per gallon with the airconditioner on.

The only gripe I have with the Grand Caravan is with its transmission. It'snot a particularly smooth-shifting unit and it had an odd characteristic: Whenshifting to drive from reverse, if the vehicle were not stopped completely,the transmission shuddered a bit. Downshifts seemed tentative at best. The SEtest model had only 3,000 miles on it and may have needed an adjustment.


The best part of the Grand Caravan is its ride. It is very much like thatof a big, comfortable family sedan. It corners well upto about 50 mph. At 50mph the tires squeal a bit but control easily is maintained.

Chrysler engineers obviously spent much time tweaking the braking systemand getting it just right. The pedal has a near perfect feel to it. Eventhough the test vehicle didn't have the optional anti-lock system, I still hada hard time getting the wheels to lock up.


Most of the vehicle's redesign work was focused on the interior. Chryslerdidn't want to re-invent its minivan by bringing out a brand-new model.Instead, it chose to refine. On the outside, the Caravan's shape is familiar.The bumpers contour smoothly into the shape of the body. The grille has a bitmore of a slope to it, and the headlights are flush with the bodywork..

You have to open any of the vehicle's four doors to realize why the Caravanis so good. Chrysler has the slickest sliding side door in the market. The twofront doors are like those of a sedan - you do not have to climb over thef ront wheels or step up into the driver's seat - just slide straight in.

The Caravan's strong points include its visibility, foot-, leg-and headroomfor front and rear passengers and the dash configuration and switch layout.Later this year, a driver's side air bag will be standard on the Caravan andVoyager.

Seats sport numerous adjustments and are comfortable for long periods oftime.

One minor gremlin: Somehow, I pulled the key out of the ignition before thecolumn mounted shifter engaged park, thereby jamming the lock so badly Icouldn't reinsert the ignition key. It was towed away and fixed within anhour.

Chrysler engineers must take another look at the Caravan's four-speedautomatic transmission. It is not up to industry standards. One of theautomotive magazines tested the Caravan and Voyager recently and had troublewith the transmissions in both vehicles. Chrysler is looking into thecomplaints and says it knows of no manufacturing or design flaws.