In November 1983, Dodge took one heck of a risk by introducing the original Caravan minivan, proffering the notion that this oversized breadbox on wheels would revolutionize the way families traveled. Nearly 20 years later, with over 8 million sold, it's clear the gamble was a smart one. Today, the Caravan is the world's best-selling minivan, with a 21-percent market share--more than any other brand.
The fourth iteration of the Caravan came to market last year. Filled with a host of new features, functionality, and powertrains, it was clearly worth a One-Year look.
Living large, we opted for a Shale Green Metallic Grand Caravan ES at a base price of $29,110. To that, we added leather seats ($1250) and the Customer Preferred Package 29S: traction control, four-speed automatic with AutoStick, removable center console, Infinity sound system with steering-wheel-mounted controls, rear and driver-side self-dimming mirrors, touring suspension, 17-in. chrome wheels, automatic headlamps, and a full-size spare ($1985). Additional hardware included the optional 3.8L V-6 ($335), industry-first power liftgate ($295), heavy-duty engine-cooling package ($155), and a four-disc CD changer ($150). With $640 for destination tacked on, our as-tested price came to $33,920.
Within days of taking delivery, initial skepticism (later replaced by accolades), regarding the power rear hatch and dual sliding doors, started flowing throughout the office. As Executive Editor Matt Stone wrote in the GC's logbook: "When the whole 'power door' thing started, I thought of it as a gimmick, but these worked so well that I began replacing 'gimmick' with 'convenience.'" Our editors also noted that the power doors are real conversation starters. "At fuel fills and roadside stops, remotely opening the dual side doors and rear hatch quickly gains the curiosity of fellow motorists," noted Special Projects Editor Mike Nicks. Of course, we did have to oblige the children who asked us to "do it again."
Chances are, if you were to use the term "sporty" to describe a minivan, you'd probably be the laughing stock at Friday poker nights. But as we found with our Grand Caravan, this is one van that delivers at least some measure of driving fun when negotiating canyon roads. Case in point: Editorial Assistant Brian Vance used it as a chase vehicle for last year's "Affordable Luxury Sedans" story (Nov. '01) and had no trouble keeping up with the pack. Some of the credit goes to the Touring suspension (which includes upgraded springs and shocks), and the rest goes to the shift-column-mounted AutoStick that enabled us to up-or downshift at whim--a great feature when engine braking is required on a long downhill grade.
Other votes of confidence came for the 3.8L/215-hp OHV V-6 that gets this roomy people mover quickly up to speed. "There's always power to spare," wrote Senior Producer John Matthius. "This Dodge never feels like an underpowered rectangle." One aspect of the Grand Caravan that did come under scrutiny was the front brakes that started pulsing with 5979 miles on the clock. A trip to the dealer proved both front rotors were warped, and they were replaced under warranty. While the van was in the stall, we had the 7500-mile service performed (including an oil-filter change, plus a tire rotation). Total cost: zip, zero, zilch.