What's New for 2001
America's best-selling minivan is all new for 2001, with many industry-first features including a power rear tailgate, a power sliding door obstacle detection system, and a removable and powered center console, and a pop-up rear cargo organizer, all residing under sleek new sheetmetal.
Chrysler single-handedly inspired the phrases "mommymobile," "soccer mom," and other insipid sound bites back in 1983 when it invented the minivan. The Dodge Grand Caravan has been the best-selling minivan in its segment since then, but it needed to play catch-up to all the newcomers that have been nipping at its heels, such as the Ford Windstar and the Honda Odyssey. Now with this fourth generation version, DaimlerChrysler seeks to refine rather than redesign the notion of a minivan, with a more crisp exterior appearance, more powerful engines and an interior chock-full of gadgets.
The Grand Caravan comes in two trim levels this year, the base Sport and the more-luxurious ES. Both are available with all-wheel drive for those who live in less-temperate climates or who wish to do some light off-roading. Standard equipment for the Sport includes four-wheel ABS with a front disc/rear drum setup, power windows and power door locks. The ES will get you four-wheel disc brakes, three-zone climate control, power eight-way driver's seat, power sliding doors and a HomeLink universal transmitter. Leather trim and 17-inch tires are optional.
Powering both Grand Caravans is a 3.3-liter V6 producing 180 horsepower, (boosted 22 horses over the previous engine). Get either model in AWD version and you'll be rewarded with a spunky 3.8-liter V6 that squeezes out 215 horses. The 3.8 is also optional on the front-wheel drive ES, and it meets LEV standards in all 50 states. A more powerful version of this engine, rated at 230 horsepower, will be available in mid-year 2001.
Dodge's Grand Caravan gives you 25.6 more cubic feet of cargo capacity than the standard Caravan, for a total of 169 with second- and third-row seats removed. Although Dodge spokespeople are wishy-washy about the lack of a stowable third seat that makes the Honda Odyssey so pleasing (the well in the back creates excessive road noise, they opine), they made installing and removing the seats easier by the use of rollers and lightening the load: the rearmost seats now weigh 55 pounds collectively.
Also noteworthy are all the cool gadgets with which to outfit your ride and fill your life with necessities you never knew existed. We can't say that the standard equipment list is especially exemplary, but money can buy a lot of gewgaws. How about the power liftgate? A removable center console, fully-equipped with three power points, that you can scoot from the front seats to the rear? A pop-up rear cargo organizer? A 6.4-inch liquid crystal display and wireless headphones as part of an entertainment system? All available, should it please you. You can also opt for an in-dash four-disc changer, and dual-power sliding doors with object detection upon both opening and closing. Although DaimlerChrysler minivans have previously been criticized for not measuring up in terms of safety ratings, Grand 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. Competition is stiff in the Grand Caravan's segment of the market. While we recognize Dodge's latest effort to maintain sales leadership, we can't help but wonder why this former innovator in minivan design took such a conservative approach to this 2001 redesign.