Not radically different, but more family-oriented features
The redesigned 2001 Chrysler minivans – the short wheelbase Dodge Caravan, long wheelbase Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country – aren’t dramatically different from their predecessors which were last redesigned in 1996 – the new styling is a little more angular with a prominent wedge-shaped profile, but their overall dimensions are about the same. What they do offer are refinements and improvements designed to make life easier for their principal users: parents with young children.
Among these improvements are a new power-operated rear hatchback, split 50/50 removeable rear seats, three-zone automatic climate control (driver/front passenger/rear passengers), pop-up rear cargo organizer, and a removeable power centre console. Another new feature that families will love is an optional 6.4 inch LCD display with a rear seat video system and wireless headphones.
And for more peace of mind, all 2001 Chrysler vehicles now come with a five year/100,000 km powertrain warranty as well as the complete 3 year/60,000 km warranty. The five year powertrain warranty also includes five years of roadside assistance.
Bigger base engine
The base Caravan model has been discontinued for 2001 and so has the base 150 horsepower 3.0 litre V6 engine. 2001 Caravan SE, Caravan Sport, and Grand Caravan Sport models have a standard 3.3 litre V6 engine with 180 horsepower, up from 158 horsepower last year. Grand Caravan ES, ES AWD, and Sport AWD models have a standard 3.8 litre V6 with 215 horsepower, a 20 percent increase from last year, making it one of the most powerful engines in its class.
Brakes have been upgraded for 2001, too. The front brake rotors are now 20% larger for improved performance and durability, and the steering has been improved to provide better on-centre feel and steering precision.
Lastly, new larger headlamps provide an 80% improvement in lighting performance.
Improved interior design
The redesigned interior features a larger, protruding central control panel that’s easier to reach than before. All the knobs and switches are bigger, well-marked and are illuminated in a rather impressive night-time display. For unknown reasons, the AM/FM/cassette player at the top of the centre stack is separated from the CD changer at the bottom of the stack by a new, industry-first three-zone (driver/passenger/rear passengers) automatic climate control system – which works very well by the way.
The front bucket seats with folding armrests are very comfortable. The driver sits up high and has excellent outward visibility. Both front seats in my Grand Caravan ES test van had seat heaters with two temperature settings – however, I found even the lowest setting to be too hot after a few minutes. I liked the position of the illuminated power windows buttons on the door because they face the driver and are well-positioned for reach. But the column shift lever, when in the ‘Drive’ position, obscures the volume button of the radio.
The second row bucket seats in my test van had fold-flat backrests with a hard plastic back which acts as a table and includes built-in cupholders. The second row buckets can also be tilted forwards for access to the third-row seat, or they can be removed from the van altogether.
Third-row seats are now 50/50 split seats that are individually removeable. This means they are easier to lift out of the van, and have roller wheels so they can be wheeled into the garage. However, the Grand Caravan does not offer a ‘tumble-under’ third row seat like the Honda Odyssey or Mazda MPV.
There’s plenty of storage space in the Grand Caravan, including a big lockable, centre storage bin between the front seats which can be moved to a position between the second row seats. The centre console storage bin has a cellphone bracket and power outlet for charging, a pen holder, tissue holder, map holder, and slots for cassettes and CD’s. There are also rear cupholders and rear storage bins for third row passengers.
A unique rear cargo organizer on the cargo floor has pop-up dividers that accommodate up to six full-size grocery bags. In addition, the cargo organizer can be raised to a level where it is flush with the folded seatbacks of the third row seats thus creating a flat loading floor with 4X8 capability. In addition, other items like golf clubs, can be stored underneath the cargo organizer.
New power hatchback good idea
I found the new power-operated rear hatchback to be very useful when shopping. As you approach the van with a shopping cart full of groceries, you simply press a button on the remote keyfob, and the rear hatchback opens before you get to the van. Two sharp ‘beeps’ precede the hatchback opening to warn bystanders that it’s opening, but even if the door strikes someone as its opening or closing, it automatically retracts – I tried it! If it’s raining or snowing, you can stand under the open hatchback for protection and then load your groceries. When you’re finished, you dispose of your shopping cart while the door is automatically closing. I think this feature may be even more popular than the power sliding side doors.
The power rear side doors are very practical for parents who pick up their kids at school. As they approach the van, you just press a button and the door opens automatically. When they’re safely strapped in their seats, you hit the button again and the door automatically closes. The doors automatically ‘cinch’ shut, so they don’t have to be slammed. A lockout mechanism prevents younger kids from opening the power doors when they shouldn’t.
As smaller children often have trouble manually opening and closing the side door, particularly when the van is parked on a hill, the power side door is a real advantage. If the kids are big enough to put on their own seatbelts, the driver doesn’t even have to get out of the van to open and close the side doors.
For 2001, the power dual sliding side doors have an improved obstacle-detector which retracts the doors when opening or closing. In addition, the new power sliding doors can be opened and closed manually without having to struggle against the motor drive. And speaking of motors, the new power doors have the door motor inside the door rather than inside the minivan body.
There are a number of important safety improvements to the new Chrysler minivan. A new, stronger body structure absorbs more energy in a crash, and there are dual-stage front airbags which deploy at different speeds depending on the severity of the crash, optional side(head/chest) airbags for front passengers, redesigned steering column, energy-absorbing inside door pillars, rear seat child anchors and front seatbelt pretensioners.
Easy to drive
With the optional 215 horsepower 3.8 litre OHV V6 engine, the Grand Caravan has more than enough power to accelerate briskly from a stoplight, merge onto the freeway, or maintain a constant highway speed on long, uphill grades. The Grand Caravan is a big vehicle – it’s over 200 inches long and it weighs a hefty 1881 kg (4146 lb.) plus passengers and cargo – so you really need the bigger 3.8 litre engine when you have a full load on board. Despite its size, however, it’s easy to drive around town because of the good outward visibility, easy steering, and responsive engine. However, when you have to find a parking space on the street you realize just how long it is…
On the highway, the 3.8 litre V6 motors quietly along at only 2000 rpm at a steady 100 km/h. 2001 fuel consumption figures were not available, but last year’s Grand Caravan equipped with the 3.8 litre V6 was quite thirsty: the very best fuel consumption figures you can expect is 13.9 litres per 100 km (20 mpg) in the city and 9.2 litres per 100 km (31 mpg) on the highway.
The Grand Caravan is a very comfortable long-distance highway cruiser. The ride, thanks to its long wheelbase and supple suspension, is much like a limousine, and its handling is surprisingly stable and well-controlled for a big, front-wheel-drive vehicle. The cabin is quieter than in the previous model, in part due to increased sound insulation and revised engine and transmission components.
My test van had the optional 4-speed automatic AutoStick transmission with a column shift lever. After putting the transmission in 1st gear, the driver uses a small toggle switch on the column shifter to manually shift up and down gears by pushing up or down with the right thumb. I found this rather awkward when compared with the floor shift lever on other AutoStick-equipped Chrysler vehicles and I don’t think drivers will find the column shifter a satisfactory alternative to a manual transmission. However, the AutoStick transmission does make it easier to hold the transmission in a lower gear when tackling a steep hill, or when coasting down a hill.
Traction control and all-wheel-drive are also available on Grand Caravan models, but I wouldn’t recommend them unless you live in an area with a lot of snow. The standard front-wheel-drive Caravan and Grand Caravan already offer excellent traction in poor weather conditions.
Models and prices
Six versions of the Chrysler minivans are offered for 2001: Caravan SE ($26,395), Caravan Sport ($28,700), Grand Caravan Sport ($29,505), Grand Caravan ES ($37,600), Grand Caravan Sport AWD ($39,555), and Grand Caravan ES AWD ($41,430).
My test van, a top-of-the-line Grand Caravan ES came to $42,670 with all options, plus $940 freight. Options on my test van included leather seats ($1,215), side airbags ($540), heated front seats ($340), power liftgate ($495), alarm ($270), 4-disc in-dash CD changer ($110), and Preferred package which included 17 inch tires and alloy wheels, touring suspension, steering wheel audio controls, Infinity sound system, traction control, removeable centre console, and AutoStick transmission ($1,925).
$42,670 is a lot of money to pay for a ‘family van’. If last year’s sales trends continue, the short wheelbase Caravan SE will be the most popular Chrysler minivan in Canada. Most of the options mentioned above, such as leather and 17 inch wheels aren’t really necessary – but I would seriously consider getting the power hatchback!
The 2001 Grand Caravan is built in Windsor, Ontario and the Caravan is built in St. Louis, Missouri.
|2001 Grand Caravan ES|
|Price as tested||$42,670|
|Type||4-door, 7 passenger mini-van|
|Layout||transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive|
|Engine||3.8 litre V6|
|Horsepower||215 horsepower @ 5000 rpm|
|Torque||245 ft.-lb. @ 4000 rpm|
|Transmission||4-speed automatic ‘AutoStick’|
|Curb weight||1881 kg (4146 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||3030 mm (119.3 in.)|
|Length||5093 mm (200.5 in.)|
|Width||1946 mm (76.6 in.)|
|Height||1748 mm (68.8 in.)|
|Cargo capacity||behind rear seat – 508 litres (20.0 cu. ft.)|
|behind second seat – 1377 litres (54.2 cu. ft.)|
|behind front seats – 4754 litres (167.9 cu. ft.)|
|Warranty||3 yrs/60,000 km|
|Powertrain warranty||5 yrs/100,000 km|