What's New for 2001
America's best selling minivan has been revised for 2001 and boasts new sheetmetal, boosted horsepower, a refined suspension, upgraded brakes, improved safety features, and plenty of additional gadgets. Third row seats are now easier to remove and install, but still don't fold flat.
Chrysler single-handedly inspired the phrases "mommymobile," "soccer mom" and other insipid sound bites back in 1983 when it invented the minivan. Dodge Caravan has been the best-selling minivan for all of those years, but needs to further distance itself from the many upstarts that have been nipping at its heels (and certainly surpassed it in some respects), such as the Mazda MPV and the Toyota Sienna. Now with its fourth generation Caravan, it seeks to transform the minivan once again, with a sleeker exterior, more powerful engines and an interior chock-full of buttons and gadgets. Caravan comes in two trim levels: SE and Sport. The SE is a stripped-down version with manual windows and locks, but it still comes with air conditioning, dual power outlets, 15-inch wheels and an overworked 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine making 150 horsepower and 167 foot-pounds of torque. While not a thrill ride, the SE is a decent 7-passenger transport that'll come in under 20 grand. It also allows for a bit more feature content, with the choice of optional cruise control, power windows, four-wheel ABS, and the larger 3.3-liter V6, among other extra-cost features.
Step up to the Sport and get the more power 3.3-liter V6 as standard equipment. This engine produces up to 180 horsepower and 210 foot-pounds of torque. Also standard on Sport models are front disc/rear drum brakes with four-wheel ABS. A four-speed automatic with overdrive, power windows and locks, a tilt steering wheel and a removable second-row seat are part of the Sport model package as well. Options include 16-inch wheels, a power-sliding door, an in-dash 4-disc CD changer, dual-zone air conditioning and remote keyless entry.
Although Dodge is still parsimonious about a stowable third seat that makes the Mazda MPV so pleasing (the well in the back when the seat is raised creates excessive road noise, they opine), they made installing and removing the seats easier by using rollers and lightening the load. The third-row bench now weighs just 55 pounds. The reconfigurable rear bench seat splits 50/50, allowing users to remove either one or both sides. Each seat reclines, tilts, tumbles forward, folds in half, or is removable. However, we still take umbrage at the fact that they don't provide a folding third-row seat that quickly disappears into the cargo floor.
Although DaimlerChrysler minivans have previously been criticized for not measuring up in terms of safety ratings, Caravan's optional side airbags should boost these scores. Those, along with improved brake components, dual-stage front airbags and energy absorbing interior materials should go a long way toward insuring the safety of Caravan's occupants.
The sleek shape of yore has been rendered obsolete as well, replaced by stylish creased sheetmetal for an upmarket look. Dodge's signature "cross hair" grille helps distinguish the Caravan from its Chrysler brethren.
Though Chrysler hasn't redefined the minivan with this 2001 redesign, we recognize the company's latest effort to maintain leadership in the minivan segment.