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Enjoyable to drive and ride in, the Caravan offers no-frills minivan transport for the family on a tight budget.
Surprisingly agile handling, quiet ride (with V6), low price.
Some cheap interior bits, limited features and options, questionable reliability.
Available Caravan Models
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Dodge brings out the Caravan eC, a value leader that lists for just $17,000. Power adjustable pedals debut as well.
Not as long as the Grand Caravan, the shorter-wheelbase (113.3 inches versus the Grand's 119.3 inches) Caravan is geared toward families that need a seven-passenger vehicle but can't afford the larger and pricier minivans. The Caravan starts at around $17,000 and comes in three trim levels: eC, SE and well-equipped Sport.
A 150-horsepower 2.4-liter inline four hooked up to a primitive three-speed automatic propels the SE. Optional is a 3.3-liter V6 coupled to a four-speed automatic gearbox.
Making the SE a foolish choice (and causing us to question Dodge's logic) is the new and cheaper eC model that comes only in Bright Silver paint with a taupe interior. Equipped with the 2.4-liter I4 and a four-speed automatic gearbox, the eC lists for $3,000 less than the SE, yet has a better automatic tranny and the same equipment level. The downside of the eC is that you can't get a V6 engine or different colors, and the options list is very short.
The Sport is fitted with a 180-horsepower 3.3-liter V6 coupled to a smooth-shifting four-speed automatic.
Air conditioning and a stereo with cassette player are standard on the eC and SE versions, and Sport models add antilock brakes; power windows, locks and mirrors; and cruise control. Optional on all Caravans are power adjustable pedals, a feature that allows shorter folks to get comfortable behind the wheel without having the airbag-equipped steering wheel too close to their bodies. Certain features such as leather seating, DVD player and traction control are not available on the Caravan. If you're looking for a mega-loaded minivan, Dodge has a Grand Caravan with your name on it.
And if you expect to use the Caravan's seven-passenger capability and/or generous luggage capacity, we'd advise you to get the V6, either as an option on the SE or by opting for the Sport model. In addition to more muscle, another benefit of the V6 is its quiet performance in contrast to the four, which can get buzzy when pushed.
One of the things we've raved about while piloting any of the new Chrysler or Dodge minivans is their agile handling and supple ride characteristics. We suspect that these vans will surprise a lot of folks who expect the driving experience to be an exercise in lethargic vehicle dynamics.
Crash-test scores are mostly good, but not outstanding as on class leaders, such as the Honda Odyssey and Ford Windstar. Another area where the Dodge falls a bit short is in reliability history, though it has improved in this respect in recent years.
For the money, these are sweet-driving and comfortable shuttles that deserve a look if a short-money purchase is the main objective.
Laura's old car was costing her a small fortune every month for gas and repairs. She didn't even want to drive her kids to the park any more. But buying a new Kia Soul changed all that.