Although it is the same height and width as the Grand Caravan, the Caravan is 290 mm (16.4 in.) shorter. Driver and front passenger are unaffected by the difference, but rear passengers will have to make do with 64 mm (2.5 in.) less leg room in the second row seats and 147 mm (5.8 in.) less leg room for third seat passengers. What this means is that the Caravan is a nice roomy vehicle for driver and passenger, but if you regularly carry teenagers or adults, it would be better to consider a Grand Caravan or put up with a bit of complaining. The Dodge Caravan SE starts at a reasonable $25,430.
At one time, a car buyer with a big family had little choice but to buy a full size sedan with wide bench seats. Even then, that might not be enough. To get seven passenger seating, one would have to opt for a station wagon with the flip up, rear facing seat. Those among us who are old enough to remember will recall the smiling faces (and the occasional wagging tongue) peering out the back windows of passing station wagons.
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That all changed in late 1983 when Chrysler introduced the mini van and turned the seventh passenger around to face the right direction, the front.
In the 18 years since its introduction, Chrysler mini vans have faced many challenges, both from competitors eager for a piece of the market Chrysler created, and from Chrysler itself over a variety of quality problems. Even though DaimlerChysler’s share of the North American minivan market has dropped from approximately 50% to 37% in the last five years, Dodge and Chrysler mini vans continue to outpace the competition. In Canada, the Dodge Caravan/Grand Caravan is the number one selling vehicle.
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One reason Chrysler mini vans have remained so popular is variety. For 2002 the Dodge Caravan/Grand Caravan is available in six versions, ranging from the regular wheelbase Caravan SE with an MSRP of $25,430 to the Grand Caravan ES All-Wheel-Drive, starting at $43,140. From basic cloth front buckets and rear bench seats to leather bound captains chairs, there is a Dodge Caravan or Grand Caravan for every income level.
Normally, manufacturers give press people a fully loaded vehicle for test drives – the better to impress us and you. But most people don’t buy top-of-the-line vehicles. And journalists smitten by succulent leather, tri-zone climate control, power sliding doors and power-operated rear lift gates don’t help buyers with practical needs and even more practical budgets.
It is the regular wheel-base Caravan, with a limited number of options, that is the big seller. What keeps the Dodge mini van on top is seven passenger transportation at a price average families might be able to afford.
So naturally we jumped at the opportunity to take a lightly optioned Dodge Caravan SE for two weeks of around town testing.
Our Bright Silver Metallic Caravan SE with taupe coloured interior had a base price of $26,485 including $955 for transportation and a $100 air conditioning excise tax charge. Standard equipment on this 2001 model included high back cloth-faced bucket seats up front and two bench seats – one seating two and one seating three passengers – behind. Also standard was air conditioning, floor mats front and rear, tinted windows, front and rear power outlets, engine block heater, rear window defroster, variable intermittent windshield wipers and rear lift gate intermittent wiper/washer.
For 2002 Sentry Key theft deterrent system (an engine immobilizer) is standard on Caravan SE, while optional power adjustable pedals are now available
The test Caravan included option package “D” which, for $800 added cruise control, height-adjustable steering column, power, heated foldaway side mirrors, power windows and door locks, additional interior lighting and a roof rack. This Caravan also had an AM/FM stereo with in-dash single CD player and six speakers, a $255 option. A cassette player and four speakers are standard.
Total list price including options, transportation and excise tax brought the MSRP to $27,540. Provincial sales tax and GST would boost the final tab to $31,670 – by no means an insignificant amount – but an expense that could be made more palatable by the 0% financing or $1500 cash back that DaimlerChrysler is currently offering. With some hard nosed bargaining, expect to pay an on the road price of $29,200 to $29,700 for a similarly equipped van, unless you opt for the financing package.
You will pay more if you want side air bags ($650), anti-lock brakes ($570), power-adjustable pedals ($275) or, for towing, heavy duty engine cooling ($265), all of which are available options.
Although it is the same height and width as the Grand Caravan, the Caravan is 290 mm (16.4 in.) shorter. Driver and front passenger are unaffected by the difference – leg room, head room, hip and shoulder room are exactly the same for both the Caravan and it’s extended wheelbase sibling. But rear passengers will have to make do with 64 mm (2.5 in.) less leg room in the second row seats and 147 mm (5.8 in.) less leg room for third seat passengers.
What this means is that the Caravan is a nice roomy vehicle for driver and passenger, but if you regularly carry teenagers or adults, it would be better to consider a Grand Caravan or put up with a bit of complaining.
Of course, cargo carrying capacity is also affected. The Caravan has 144 litres (5.1 cu. ft.) less space behind the rear seat than the Grand Caravan. The 428 litres of space (15.1 cu. ft.) will do fine for carrying home groceries – there are hooks on the seat backs to hang the bags – but if you plan to do any camping, you will need that roof rack.
For additional cargo space, both the second and third row seats are removable. The process is quite simple, but the seats are awkward and not really a one person job.
Good front seat room combined with a high seating position makes the Caravan a comfortable vehicle to drive. I liked the upright seating position, which provided good visibility in all directions. Controls in the centre stack were easy to reach and operate, while power door lock and window controls on the arm rest were angled toward the driver for ease of use.
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The front bucket seats are firm, but not uncomfortable, unlike the rear bench seats which felt rather thinly padded.
The Caravan is powered by a 3.3 litre V-6 engine coupled with a four-speed automatic transmission. This engine produces 180 horsepower at 5000 rpm and 210 lb.-ft. of torque at 4000 rpm. The 3.3 litre V6 is also the base engine in the Grand Caravan Sport and while it is somewhat overwhelmed by the additional weight of the Grand Caravan, it is a good match for the lighter Caravan ES. The engine provided good acceleration on freeway ramps and away from stop lights and smooth, quiet operation on the highway and around town.
The Caravan is also less cumbersome to drive than the extended wheelbase vans. Compared to the Chrysler Town & Country we tested earlier this year (MSRP, $50,140), the Caravan has a much firmer, yet still comfortable ride, while quick turns induced much less body roll than with the larger Chrysler. Not only did the Caravan handle more like a car, but steering was firmer and more responsive, providing good feedback to the driver. While the power steering on the Town & Country felt over boosted, on the Caravan, it was just right.
From a driver’s perspective, the Dodge Caravan SE is a pleasant vehicle to drive. But mini vans are intended for carrying lots of passengers. When shopping for a mini van, it is a good idea to bring the whole family for the test drive.
Standard safety features on the Dodge Caravan include driver and passenger multi-stage inflating air bags, height adjustable shoulder belts at front and intermediate outboard positions,
front seat belt pretensioners and constant-force retractors, and LATCH-ready child seat anchoring system. Unfortunately ABS and side airbags are available only as options that add $1220 to the cost of a Caravan SE.
While Chrysler mini vans experienced quality and reliability problems in the early nineties, things have improved, according to Consumer Reports’ 2001 auto review. While reliability for the Caravan and Grand Caravan for the 1998 – 2000 model years is “average”, improvements were recorded in all components measured. The Caravan and Grand Caravan were redesigned for the 2001 model year, so predictions of reliability will have to wait until more evidence is available. However, a five year/100,000 km powertrain warranty, with 24 hour roadside assistance, should provide some comfort.
|2001 Dodge Caravan SE|
|Price as tested||$27,540|
|Type||7 passenger, regular wheel-base mini van|
|Layout||transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive|
|Engine||3.3 litre V6|
|Horsepower||180 @ 5000 rpm|
|Torque||210 lb.-ft. @ 4000 rpm|
|Tires||215/70R15 black sidewall all-season Goodyear Integrity|
|Curb weight||1755 kg (3869 lbs.)|
|Wheelbase||2878 mm (113.3 in.)|
|Length||4808 mm (189.3 in.)|
|Width||1997 mm (78.6 in.)|
|Height (less roof rack)||1749 mm (68.9 in.)|
|Cargo volume||Behind rear seat: 0.43 cu. m (15.3 cu. ft.)|
|Behind intermediate seat: 1.29 cu. m (45.6 cu. ft.)|
|Seats removed: 4.15 cu. m (146.7 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 13.3 L/100km (21 mpg)|
|9.0 L/100km (31 mpg)|
|Warranty||3 years/60,000 km|
|Powertrain warranty||5 years/100,000 km|
|Roadside assistance||5 years/100,000 km|