1996 Dodge Grand Caravan LE
1996 Dodge Grand Caravan LE

There was plenty of “attention to detail” in the work of engineers and
designers who reinvented minivans from Dodge, Plymouth and Chrysler for the
1996 model year. Take the standard passenger side airbag. When these vans arrived in 1995 as 1996 models, there was no seam on the dashboard at the place where the airbag was hidden. Sure, it was a little thing. But it’s often the small things that set one vehicle apart from the next.

What was remarkable about the first stem-to-stern remake of these vans
introduced in 1984 was the thoroughness of the engineering and design work
done to the Plymouth Voyager and Grand Voyager, Dodge Caravan and Grand
Caravan and the Chrysler Town & Country. Much has been made of the optional left-side sliding door introduced for ’96 (to the consternation of rivals), but to focus only on that feature would be to miss so much else compared to the vans they replaced: better visibility, smart interior design with more space overall, quiet, car-like ride and feel, outstanding stopping performance and slick (for a minivan) manoeuvrability.

And make no mistake, all this represented a very big job. The ’96 remake
covered long- and short-wheelbase vans (119.3 inches or 3,030 millimetres/113.3 in. or 2,880) and included four different engines, as well as vans with a variety of seating arrangements and features. Chrysler’s ’96 minivans, code-named “NS,” looked stylish enough, but it was the design — the packaging, really — of Chrysler’s then-new vans that proved to be nothing short of world-class.

Overall, compared to the vans they replaced the then-new Chryslers – both
long and short-wheelbase – grew a bit on the outside, yet inside
cargo capacity went up 27 per cent in the short-wheelbase vans and 25 per
cent with the long-wheelbase. Storage behind the rear seats was up 33 per
cent on the long model and 40 per cent on the short one. Remove the two
decks of rear seats in the long-wheelbase vans and there was 20 per cent
more storage space back there than you’d find in Ford’s Windstar of the day.

The seats themselves were flexible in many ways, but most impressive was
how easily they were removed. In a snap, the average person could reach in,
grab two handles, push down, unlock the seats, remove them and roll them
away on roller-skate-like wheels.

1996 Dodge Grand Caravan ES seats
1996 Dodge Grand Caravan ES seats

Many other features were as smartly done: sliding side doors that rolled
easily in a track hidden underneath the bottom edge of the rear side
windows; the “hold-open” latch feature that kept the sliding doors locked
open until they were released; optional separate temperature controls for
driver and passenger; up to 12 cupholders; adjustable shoulder belts and
headrests for outboard passengers; an available 12-volt DC power outlet in
rear cargo area; an electric grid at the base of the windshield that
prevents snow and ice build-up; and so on.

Outward visibility, meanwhile, was outstanding thanks to a 30 per cent
increase in glass area. There was also sharper steering, great braking and
generally above average manoeuvrability at both low and high speeds. As for
the instruments, they were made big and easy to read.

Engine choices? The starter van in the lineup was the Voyager/Caravan
powered by a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine (the same 2.4 that had done
service in several other Chrysler models). The standard transmission with
this model was a three-speed automatic. Rated at 150 horsepower, this
four-banger is 50 per cent more powerful than the 2.5-litre four-cylinder
that was the base engine in the 1995 vans.

Other engine choices included a 3.0-litre V6, 3.3-litre V6 and 3.8-litre
V6. All three V6s were refined somewhat, but essentially were carryover
engines. In almost all cases, with a V6 engine of any sort, the standard
transmission was a four-speed automatic.

Chrysler put a lot of thought into re-making these vans for ’96, from the
lower step-in height to the speed-sensitive rear wiper to the under-hood
service points marked in yellow. Quality also improved noticeably, although
it was not perfect. And there are plenty of them out there, so if you’re
shopping for a used minivan, you’ll likely find an affordable price for a
family hauler that was truly well done.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

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