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.
The heart of a minivan is its interior, and the Grand Caravan has one of the best in the business. With the removable second-and third-row seats, there's a cavern of free space for moving a bedroom to the college dorm. We were impressed with the Dodge's multiseat configurability, including the removable center console (with 12-volt power) that can be placed between either the front or rear seats, and the front mesh basket for holding small items. "The mesh basket between the front seats is invaluable," penned Nicks, "as is the detachable center console that houses a cell-phone holder and power supply."
Most of our van's life was spent weekend or vacation road-tripping to Northern California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and parts between. Of course, that was when we could pry the keys from the hands of shooters Kiewicz and Newhardt, who proclaimed it "the perfect support vehicle for photo shoots."
Toward the end of the Caravan's tenure, the driver's window developed a mind of its own, with some editors having difficulty getting the glass down or up. In all cases, waiting 10 minutes and retrying the switch got it working. Like most trips to the doctor, each time we took the van in for service, the window worked flawlessly. Go figure.
Our Caravan proved a good performer in its nearly 15,000 miles in service, delivering cargo and passengers in total comfort, weather be damned. This new-for-'01 generation of mini proved a worthy, well-contented update of the previous model, our Car of the Year winner in '96. We also perceived an improvement in materials usage and build quality, problems that plagued previous Dodge/Chrysler/ Plymouth minivans. Although strong players like the Honda Odyssey, Mazda's MPV, and the value-minded Kia Sedona have toughened the competition in the minivan marketplace, it's not difficult to understand why Dodge still sells a gazillion of these things.
What's New, Changed, Different
Having been completely redesigned for '01, the '02 model gets little change, except for the addition of a new value model, the eL, which is equipped similar to a Sport, but includes a trip computer and sells for a grand less. Top-line models may now be had with power adjustable pedals or a DVD entertainment system, replete with wireless headphones, for the rear passengers.
From the Logbook
"Certainly smooth and quiet, but I think the engineers took the whole isolation thing a bit too seriously. The steering is a bit numb and the ride springy."--Kevin Smith
"Darn good for what it is. Smooth ride and pretty quiet at speed. If it had heated seats and a VCR, I could camp/sleep/live in here."--Mark Williams
"It's the Cadillac of minivans (and I mean that in a good way). From its plush, quiet ride to its power sliders and rear vent windows, it has everything you could want and more." --Chris Walton
"A well done cabin--especially in the console and center-stack areas--but falls short in that it doesn't have the "magic" foldaway seat that Mazda and Honda do so well.--Matt Stone
|2001 Dodge Grand Caravan ES|
|Drivetrain layout||Front engine, fwd|
|Engine type||V-6, OHV, 2 valves/cyl, iron block, alum head|
|Hp @ rpm||215 @ 5200|
|Torque @ rpm||210 @ 4000|
|Suspension, front; rear||MacPherson struts, lower control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; tubular beam axle w/track bar, leaf springs, shocks, anti-roll bar|
|Brakes, front; rear||11.1-in vented disc;11.4-in solid disc, ABS|
|Wheels||17x6.5, cast alum|
|Tires||215/60R17 Michelin MX4 M+S|
|Curb weight, lb||4238|
|Cargo capacity, cu ft||146.9|
|Fuel capacity, gal||20|
|0-60 mph, sec||9.7|
|1/4 mile, sec/mph||17.2/79.9|
|Braking, 60-0 mph, ft||130|
|600-ft slalom, mph||60.5|
|Avg test MPG||16.6|
|Problem areas||Brake rotors, driver's window|
|Price as tested||$33,920|
|Current value, whls/retail*||$19,450/$27,560|
|Airbags||dual front, front side|
|EPA mpg, city/hwy||18/24|
|Range, city/hwy, miles||360/480|
|Basic warranty||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|Powertrain warranty||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|Roadside assistance||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|Recalls||Lower control arm pivot bolt may fracture|
|*According to Kelley Blue Book|