If you're good, everyone wants a piece of you. In minivans, Chrysler has traditionally been the brand to beat. Having invented the minivan in 1983, it got an early start on its competition. Now, 17 years later, it has sold eight million minivans in 70 countries worldwide. Last year, a banner year for global minivans sales with 1.6 million units sold, DaimlerChrysler accounted for 40 percent of those sales.
However, each year, the competition, most notably Ford, GM, Honda and Toyota, has become stronger, and these companies have vied for the minivan title. In recent years, those upstarts have had the champ on the ropes, knees wobbling and ready to fall.
It looked like two decades of success and subsequent indulgent living had caught up to the title holder. DaimlerChrysler, however, wasn't about to let go of its sales crown so easily. Down, but by no means out, the automaker set about rebuilding its reputation. At the 2000 Detroit auto show, it revealed a redesigned fleet of minivans with unique features, new styling and more powerful engines. It seemed the champ was off the ropes and had put together a solid flurry of body shots to repel the challengers.
A prominent member of this new fleet is the 2001 Dodge Grand Caravan. It's available in basic SE, Sport, EX and ES trims, and we recently tested the more upscale ES version. The ES comes loaded with an array of standard features, including four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, three-zone automatic climate control, tinted glass, dual power sliding side doors, power eight-way driver seat, leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel, cruise control, power front windows and rear vents, power door locks, dual front airbags, HomeLink and remote keyless entry. Add to that cushy mix a set of optional leather bucket seats (heated in front), a four-disc in-dash CD changer, a power-open and -close liftgate, traction control, auto-illuminating headlamps, auto-dimming mirrors, touring suspension, steering wheel-mounted audio controls and chromed aluminum wheels, and you have an opulent minivan-cum-limousine that certainly looks like it's ready to reclaim its champion status.
The experience starts with impressive power and handling characteristics. The optional 215-horsepower 3.8-liter V6 generates a gutsy 245 foot-pounds of torque (at 4,000 rpm), which does a super job of moving the minivan in the city and on the highway. Our independent performance testing showed the 3.8-liter-equipped Grand Caravan moves from 0 to 60 mph in 9.5 seconds, which is 0.4 seconds faster than our tests of the Chrysler PT Cruiser. Though the Cruiser is hardly a speedster, we think the numbers show the Grand Caravan is hardly your average sluggish minivan, either. And, unlike some of its noisier competition (Honda Odyssey and Mazda MPV, for example), the Grand Caravan moves along in relative quiet.
Dodge says it spent a lot of resources to reduce noise levels inside the Grand Caravan, so that it would be less a family transport and more a "portable livingroom." To accomplish this, the company added thicker sound absorption materials in the floor, headliner and dash as well as extra gaskets between the door handles and outside. Also, the manufacturer says it redesigned the front struts, control arms, engine mounts and roof rack to reduce noise and shake. It also claims rear suspension attachments on the body structure are eight times stiffer than last year's models', further reducing road noise.
Most of our editors feel that the attempts at reduced noise work rather well. The Grand Caravan, while not as quiet as a livingroom, does allow less wind and road noise to permeate its cabin than other minivans like the Honda Odyssey and Ford Windstar. However, this may be all for naught when you load it full of your kids and their pals. Unfortunately, a "cone of silence" for the driver seat is not on the option list.
Our test vehicle was equipped with an optional touring suspension, 17-inch wheels and touring tires. Combined with a 20-percent increase in body rigidity and the stiffer suspension attachments mentioned above, the Grand Caravan provides a wonderfully smooth ride.
Dodge tried to enhance the Grand Caravan's driving experience further by adding an AutoStick transmission (part of the Quick Order package), but it is our opinion that this is of little use on a minivan. AutoStick allows the driver to make shifts manually via a toggle switch mounted on the gear lever. We figure if a driver wants to make aggressive manual shifts, even to pass on the freeway, he is probably going to be driving something other than a minivan. A sequential-shift automatic makes sense on a sport sedan or wagon, but seems a bit silly on a minivan everyone knows they're slow and cumbersome, so why pretend otherwise?
And, if the Grand Caravan is being used for towing, maximum torque can be achieved by simply switching off the overdrive (using a button also located on the gear lever).
While we found the powertrain a joy, we weren't overly enamored with the Grand Caravan's steering. We found it wonderful for one-finger steering in the mall parking lot, but it's a little too light and a tad overboosted, which makes us feel uncomfortably separated from the road. Once again, despite the pugilistic metaphor with which this piece began, it's important to remember that this is a minivan and primarily a vehicle designed to move many people in comfort.
As a luxurious people-mover, the Grand Caravan has its merits. The tall, leather-clad bucket seats are extremely comfortable, with sturdy side bolsters that follow the contours of your back from the lumbar-supported bottom to the top. The second-row seats were equally comfortable, though they lack fore and aft adjustments. In the back row, passengers are still treated to an expansive seat surface, but the bolstering doesn't coddle it as much as it does in the front seats. However, the third-row seats do recline, which is a rare feature in minivans. The optional front seat heaters were a welcome addition during a frigid February. And the rest of the aforementioned internal luxuries prove that Chrysler is serious about feature content.
We found the Grand Caravan's center instrument console one of the most elegant and functional on the market. The high-quality interior materials are attractive, simply labeled, straightforward and durable looking there's no chintzy plastic switchgear that wouldn't stand up to the hard use by you and your peanut butter-covered clan.
Speaking of switchgear, the current trend in minivan design is to reduce the amount of physical input required from the driver and occupants as much as possible. Power windows, locks, seats and mirrors have been available for some time. As has keyless entry. Now power sliding side doors are popular. The Grand Caravan has two of these, which can be operated via the key fob to save even more energy. There are also interior switches on the B-pillars and the overhead console. However, the automatic sliding doors can't be activated by just pulling on the interior or exterior handle (annoying if you don't have the key fob handy). That said, a nice touch is that the doors can be operated manually without any switches simply pull on the handle and close, the ol' fashioned way. In other minivans, such as the Honda Odyssey, if you pull on the handle, you have to wait a seemingly interminable length of time for the automatic doors to shut.
The Dodge's climate control is automatic and can be set to monitor three zones (driver, front passenger and rear occupants), removing the burden of fiddling with temperature settings. Additionally, Dodge (and Chrysler) is the first to offer a power-up and -down liftgate: just press a button inside the van or on the key fob and, after a few seconds of beeping noises (as if a dump truck were backing up), the rear gate opens and closes. Nifty idea, and we could see how it would be useful to somebody of small stature. But most of the time, we found ourselves using the power liftgate to show off to friends rather than taking advantage of any supposed usefulness. Most of our editors note that they wouldn't order the power liftgate if they were buying a Grand Caravan. A couple of additions they'd rather see offered are electronic parking assist, as is available on the Windstar, and stability control, which is optional on the Toyota Sienna, for example.
One of the biggest knocks against the Grand Caravan has been its lack of a stowable third-row seat. Its closest competitor, the Odyssey, has a third-row seat that folds flat into the floor. DaimlerChrysler responds by saying the storage bin for the seat creates a resonance chamber that increases cabin noise and also necessitates placing the spare tire in an inconvenient location. Also, say the Dodge minivan designers, a stow-and-go third-row seat means you can't have recline on those seats, and it would negate the ability to offer all-wheel drive in their products because the recessed seat storage bin would intrude into the undercarriage area where the all-wheel-drive mechanism is housed.
If you want to make full use of the Grand Caravan's cargo area, you must detach and haul the third-row seat out of the vehicle and then stow it somewhere safe and dry. Of course, when you have need for those seats again, you must reverse the procedure. Admittedly, this is a pain. However, the mechanisms Dodge designed for its removable seats are the best on the market. They are intuitive and ergonomically sound. Also, Dodge split the third-row seat 50/50 and placed rollers on the bottom of each seat to make them lighter and easier to shuttle around. Unless you expect to regularly have need for a full cargo area and also a third-row seat, the lack of a stowable third-row seat shouldn't be too much of a problem. However, some of our editors feel that the lack of such a seat is an oversight that will cost Dodge market share and negates the company's claim that the Grand Caravan is the "best minivan ever."
Another common criticism of the Dodge minivan is its less than optimal ratings in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests. While Ford and Honda minivan products boast about their five-star NHTSA safety ratings, Dodge and Chrysler have never managed to equal their scores. In response, DaimlerChrysler says expressing those results with one number can be misleading because the tests involve four impact areas: front driver and passenger impact and side impact on the front and rear seats. It should be noted that both Honda and Ford have received top scores in all four areas.
In 2000, Dodge Caravan scored four stars in both frontal tests and five stars in both side tests. To improve safety, Dodge performed updates and refined the new model. The brake rotors have been beefed up, and the calipers are 20 percent larger. Electronic Variable Brake Proportioning has also been added to ensure better brake distribution between the front and rear stoppers. The headlights have been enlarged 50 percent, increasing brightness by 80 percent. Forty pounds of metal has been added to the underbody, center pillar and sliding doors to strengthen the body structure. And softer, energy-absorbing material has been added to the interior trim surfaces to lessen the impact of a crash on cabin occupants. Although U.S. crash tests have yet to be conducted (NHTSA's results are due in May of 2001), DaimlerChrysler expects the new design to rate higher than previous models.
Cargo capacity is also a premier consideration for any minivan. Dodge has equipped the Grand Caravan with an abundance of storage nooks and crannies for the wide assortment of paraphernalia that accompanies most families. There's a tilt-out CD and coin storage unit at the base of the center instrument stack, a lockable storage drawer under the front passenger seat, plentiful cubbies on all doors (with lids in the rear), eight sturdy cupholders and a removable center console with integrated powerpoints. This last feature is slick: It docks in a bracket on the floor and can be moved to sit either between the front or middle seats. When the console is removed, a rubber liner turns the bracket into a handy tray. The console has a spacious lidded compartment for loose items and a separate section, with a powerpoint, that neatly houses cellular phones.
In back, the third-row seats have handy grocery bag hooks so your shopping doesn't roll all over the floor, which we understand is bad for peaches, pears and other soft produce. Or you can purchase the optional pop-up cargo organizer with stiff sides designed to hold grocery bags and other loose cargo. It can be also be fixed at mid-level to create a two-level storage space. The Grand Caravan can be converted from a seven-seater to a two-seater (with a maximum of 167.9 cubic feet of cargo area) with a myriad of seating configurations in between.
In addition to all its other attributes, the Dodge Grand Caravan (and its cousin, the Chrysler Town & Country) are the some of the best-looking minivans on the road. DaimlerChrysler has imbued its new minivan lineup with numerous sporty styling cues, many borrowed from its own sport-utility and sedan models. The roof and beltline rise from nose to rear to create a wedge-like shape and give the impression of speed even while standing still. Also, the 17-inch chromed aluminum wheels on our tester said lady's man more than family man.
We enjoyed driving the Dodge Grand Caravan more than any other minivan currently on the market. It represents a solid effort to regain and retain the minivan sales crown. However, we wonder if it's improved quite enough. The lack of a stowable third-row seat, navigation system, stability control and parking assist sensors are serious omissions to us. In addition, while DaimlerChrysler quality has improved in recent years (a trend we expect will continue), and Dodge offers an impressive warranty package, the Caravan's reliability history is poor. Also, the Grand Caravan isn't cheap. At nearly $35,000, it's at the top of the minivan price range. We'd excuse the relatively high price if the Dodge included all the features we'd like, but it doesn't.
However, even if DaimlerChrysler's new minis don't prove to be the best of the breed, it has at least set a new standard in terms of driving dynamics to which all contenders will have to aspire and, bottom line, that's good for consumers.
DaimlerChrysler invented the minivan in 1983. Now, 17 years later, it has sold eight million minivans in 70 countries worldwide. Last year, DaimlerChrysler accounted for 40 percent of worldwide sales. However, each year, the competition, most notably Ford, GM, Honda and Toyota, has become stronger, and these companies have vied for the minivan title. The Dodge Grand Caravan is part of DaimlerChrysler's bid to take back the crown.
We enjoyed driving the Dodge Grand Caravan more than any other minivan currently on the market. It represents a solid effort to regain and retain the minivan crown. However, we wonder if it's improved quite enough. The lack of a stowable third-row seat, navigation system, stability control and parking assist sensors are serious omissions to us. In addition, while DaimlerChrysler quality has improved in recent years (a trend we expect will continue), and Dodge offers an impressive warranty package, the Caravan's reliability history is poor. Also, the Grand Caravan isn't cheap. At nearly $35,000, it's at the top of the minivan price range. We'd excuse the relatively high price if the Dodge included all the features we'd like, but it doesn't.
However, even if DaimlerChrysler's new minis don't prove to be the best of the breed, it has at least set a new standard in terms of driving dynamics to which all contenders will have to aspire and, bottom line, that's good for consumers.
System Score: 8.5
Components. This is one great-sounding audio system. It consists of a full array of speakers and electronics that will likely impress even the most discriminating listener.
For starters, there's an 8-inch subwoofer located in the rear passenger-side quarter-panel. That's right a minivan with a subwoofer. Who'da thunk! This gives a nice, full, round sound to the system. Added to this are a pair of 6-by-9 full-range speakers positioned on the sides, just in front of the third seat. Next come a pair of 6-inch mid-bass drivers in the front doors coupled with drum roll, please a wonderful pair of mid/tweets located on the dashboard. These fire upward into the glass and reflect back into the cabin lending a nice spaciousness to the sound.
Electronics-wise, the system boasts a four-disc in-dash CD changer which routes through a nicely appointed head unit with a very user-friendly feel. Special features include a three-band graphic equalizer with a "mid" tone control, pop-out balance and fade buttons, and a meaty round volume knob. The system also offers steering wheel controls, including mode select, seek/scan and volume up/down. All in all, a nice setup, except for the funky presetting procedure that Chrysler seems attached to (well, someone has to be; certainly not us).
Performance. This is one of the best-sounding minivans we've heard, and clearly a step above most of the competition. As mentioned at the outset, the built-in subwoofer adds a nice kick in the, er, bottom end, lending the system a fullness usually not found in this class of vehicles. As if that weren't enough, the dash-loaded mid/tweets fill the cabin with expansive highs and intricate detail. The result is a system that sounds good whether you wanna lay back or rock. An overall excellent system.
Best Feature: Dash-mounted mid/tweets.
Worst Feature: Funky radio presets.
Conclusion. You don't normally associate the word "perfection" with minivans, but this one is close. I don't believe in giving 10s, so it gets an 8.5.
Editor-in-Chief Christian Wardlaw says:
Were I to base my opinion of the redesigned Dodge Grand Caravan solely on driver comfort, sound quality from the Infinity speakers, low-end punch from the torquey 3.8-liter V6 and overall drivability, I'd say DaimlerChrysler had dethroned the Honda Odyssey as "Best Minivan."
This is one comfortable rig, and it drives better than any minivan on sale today. It's actually fun to blast through turns in the DGC, something that cannot be said for any other minis. Cruising on the freeway, the Dodge is surprisingly quiet, well isolated from wind, engine and tire roar. Visibility is excellent, and our test van's stereo system offered rich sound and a handy four-disc in-dash CD changer.
What's missing are key elements from competing models that could have made the Grand Caravan a solid contender. The third-row seat cannot be stored in the cargo floor when folded, and there isn't a grocery well when it's raised. The second-row captain's chairs don't offer fore/aft travel to maximize legroom, and they won't slide together to form a bench seat.
Expensive at about $35,000, there isn't a factory-installed entertainment system or a GPS-based navigation system. Also MIA is a sonar reverse sensing system and a spy-mirror that lets you see which kid is beating up which. All-wheel drive is extra, sending the sticker even closer to 40 grand.
What is here doesn't impress as good reasons to buy the Dodge. Tri-zone automatic climate control? Big deal. AutoStick automanual transmission? Get real, this is a minivan. Power rear liftgate? More of a gimmick than useful tool. Grocery bag hooks? Well, that one is actually kind of nice.
For this content-poor minivan to sell until another redesigned model hits the streets, it is going to need a price drop (already in place in the form of rebates), top-notch safety scores for all types of crash tests and superior reliability (not a good track record on this front). Otherwise, I think Chrysler's grasp of the minivan sales crown will be lost for good.
Technical Editor Miles Cook says:
My experience with minivans has been somewhat limited until the past few months where I've driven no fewer than three variations of the new Chrysler offerings, not to mention our long-term Honda Odyssey, a Ford Windstar, a Pontiac Montana and a host of others.
Our new long-term Grand Caravan and the tester shown in this story combined with a loaded-to-the-hilt Chrysler Town & Country gave me plenty of chances to determine that the current Chrysler/Dodge offerings are the best domestic minivans you can get. Domestic, that is, because the Honda Odyssey is still better. But not by much.
Sure the Honda's cheaper, has better resale value and has key features like a fold-down rear seat that you don't have to remove. But it's not as much fun to drive, doesn't look as good and the power sliding rear doors are annoyingly slow to open and close. Look at it this way: All minivans are basically appliances. They carry people and stuff in much the same fashion. If you can find one that inspires even a little bit of driver interest, then that one is a winner in my book.
Wading through all the hype, I'd say buy the Honda as it remains the ultimate minivan for outright practicality. But if you actually like to drive something that's even a little enjoyable (the Grand Caravan's AutoStick, though a bit of a stretch in a minivan, is fun to use) and you can't stomach the thought of owning a vehicle without an American nameplate, then any of the Chrysler or Dodge variants are your best bet of the Big Three offerings.
Associate Editor Liz Kim says:
A punchy engine. Refined, car-like handling characteristics. Lots of cool new toys to play with. Sounds like a formula for a winning minivan, yah? Well, unfortunately, you have to add other considerations into the equation. How about the fact that the third-row seats, although split, still weigh 55 pounds each, and that they're still a pain to remove? What about the pitiful resale value? What about the fact that the Honda Odyssey not only provides similar positive attributes only for a heckuva lot less money, you also get a disappearing (voila!) third seat, as well as a resale value that doesn't magically vanish into thin air in two years?
As it is, it's difficult to justify the costs, especially when the options list doesn't include such niceties as a navigation system or a rear parking sensor.
It's tough enough to have to drive a boring minivan. But to have one that costs that much? Salt in the wound, amigo.
"I do not have any 2,100-rpm vibration or noise on this front-wheel-drive unit. I am thrilled with driving this silk-smooth vehicle, and my wife and I are constantly fighting over who will drive when we are together. I am extremely impressed by the quality of the ride and the rich features. The configuration, space, comfort, 3-zone climate control, heated seats, sound system, video system, etc. makes this vehicle a keeper for the next 10 years. There are two annoyances: (1) The release handle for the hand brake!!! The guy who decided on the location for this handle should be fired; better yet he should be punished by having to reach for it 100 times WAAAAYYY down there under the steering column! I can't imagine such a well thought out vehicle with such a big lapse of attention, especially with that handle having been so conveniently placed on the '98 model. (2) For some very weird reason, we get an annoyingly 'crackly' reception on the AM 1070 radio station in the Los Angeles basin. This is a very powerful news station I have listened to for years and never had any reception problems with except in the GC. I met the video system installer at the dealer for some upgrades to my installation, and he went through a couple of other GCs on the lot both had the same problem. He then tested his own car and my other car: no reception problem. Real weird! He couldn't even think of a reason
. Other than this last bit of whining, this GC has been a blast to have and drive." abeali, "MY2001+ Chrysler T&C/Voyager/Dodge Caravan," #641 of 665, Feb. 20, 2001
" We used to own a '96 Chrysler T&C LXI, which we traded in for a 2001 GC ES, fully loaded, silver with blue leather. The GC is a real pleasure to drive. Have about 3,500 miles on the car so far, problem-free, first time with any of our new cars. Plenty of pep, car cruises effortlessly at 80 mph on the highway, solid as a rock. Handles very well. We are very pleased. Only complaint is location of parking brake handle, which could cause a dislocated shoulder by reaching for it. I am not a minivan person (this is my wife's car) but I would buy this car again in a heartbeat. Big improvement over the 96 T&C." crestonave, "MY2001+ Chrysler T&C/Voyager/Dodge Caravan," #644 of 665, Feb. 25, 2001
"With twins on the way, needed something more 'user friendly' than the Tahoe. Looked at the Honda, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota and Oldsmobile. The Chrysler/Dodge twins are hard to beat. At first, I lobbied for the Honda reliability, resale and build quality at the top of my list. After a good look at the Honda, I was disappointed. Average interior materials, poorly operating power doors, somewhat noisy engine, but I did love the 'magic seat.' The Ford did not impress at all. Cramped feeling inside, bulky looking outside and expensive. The Dodge and Chryslers were an obvious choice, but which one? Grand Caravan ES had the 17-inch wheels, touring suspension, sportier appearance, came pretty much loaded. Town & Country LXis were less expensive but harder to find equipped my way (3.8-liter engine, tow package, touring suspension). Limiteds seemed expensive for the suede/leather combo, painted roof rack and memory driver seat. An earlier post referred to these vehicles as the most refined Chrysler products. I'd have to agree. Everything, from the turn signal stalk to the HVAC controls feels almost Lexus-like. Why GM can't figure this out is beyond me. The 3.8-liter is quiet and smooth and feels adequate for the vehicle's mission. Most impressive is the handling. The $95 touring suspension is well worth the money. Very controlled at higher speeds and with minimal body roll in turns, it truly feels like a well-suspended sedan. So far, everything works as it should, there are no rattles, squeaks or vibrations, and the general fit and finish seems to be at a high level. I'd encourage anyone in the market for a van to take a good look at the Chrysler product. Time will tell it's overall worth but early on, it is quite impressive." tasillo, "MY2001+ Chrysler T&C/Voyager/Dodge Caravan," #442 of 665, Jan. 17, 2001
2001 Chrysler Town & Country owners:
"We just leased a new 2001 T&C LXi three weeks ago. We absolutely love it. It drives like a big car and the luxury features can't be beat. The rear liftgate, side power doors (the real kind that can be opened manually as well as electrically, and when done manually, just as easy as a regular door), three-zone automatic temperature control, leather seats, dual power seats, a trip computer that calculates temp, compass, miles to empty, average mpg, etc. No, it doesn't offer a foldaway rear seat like Honda, but Honda doesn't offer any of these great luxo features. And the Chrysler/Dodge vans don't look like a potato on wheels (Honda). We went with the LXi instead of the Limited because of price and the rear seat has a 50/50 split instead of one big bench seat. The stereo is great in the van, too. We got the optional four-disc, in-dash CD changer with 200 watts and ten Infinity speakers. The mileage is great, too. It gets (with the 3.8-liter V6) 17/24 mpg. The Toyota was tiny inside (nice leather, though). It was also a very light feeling when driving and seemed to be all over the road on highway on a windy day. The inside is SOOOOO quiet even at highway speeds in the Chrysler. I know that I sound like a spokesman for the Chrysler Company but this van is THAT GOOD!!! " bondguy, "2001 Model Minivan Comparison," #131 of 140, Jan. 31, 2001
"My van is 2001 T&C LXi AWD. The van is excellent, and the quietest vehicle I have ever owned, notwithstanding the mild, low frequency vibration at 2,100 rpm. The AWD is awesome in snow with Nokian Hakka Q tires 2-foot drifts and higher, unplowed, just barreled through, uphill in a cloud of snow. Did purchase the 100K/five-year warranty (we drive 25K per year) since I am worried about repair rates. It is a great product from ChryslerWarranty.com about $1,500 for four years' peace of mind. I recommend the vehicle, but I would include the warranty in your purchase cost calculations." aps5, "Chrysler minivans with AWD (only)," #7 of 16, Feb. 5, 2001
"My wife is spoiled by leather and heated seats. Therefore, the Odyssey was out of the question. We have had leases for the 1994, 1996, and 1998 T&C vans. Even with sons well over six feet, and a daughter who can't pack light for college, the T&C has been more than adequate in interior space. The change in 1996 was a dramatic improvement, but it had several quality shortcomings. The 1998 had more features and a significant improvement in quality. The 2001 has the addition of the power doors and gate. But I think most of DC's efforts resulted in upgrading the safety and durability. I actually purchased this van. For those who had questions about availability of models and colors, your local can track your choice down in his region. My wife's choice of the champagne Limited required my dealer get one from another dealer 290 miles away. The added cost was $165 to the dealer and a 48-hour wait for delivery. Not bad!" jfz219, "MY2001+ Chrysler T&C/Voyager/Dodge Caravan," #116 of 665, Sept. 16, 2000
Regarding the noise/vibration (around 2,100 rpm) that many Town Hall participants have reported:
"(2001 GC ES AWD with trailer towing package): (a) Revving the engine to 2,100 at standstill in neutral does not produce the resonance. To the contrary, you have to put some load on the engine to make it resonate, such as by pulling up a hill, even a fairly slight hill. (b) Same results with stock tires and snow tires (latter: Michelin Arctic Alpin). (c) Engine cold or hot makes no difference. (d) All seats in or all removable seats out makes no difference. (e) In my case, my dealer found that my spare tire was against the exhaust system. When he corrected that, it reduced but did not eliminate the noise. I don't (yet) have other experience about what dealers will do when pressed. To reiterate an earlier post, to get a better handle on the situation, I test drove a GC ES FWD over a 'test course' consisting of a hill and then a GC ES AWD over the same course immediately afterwards, specifically trying to reproduce the problem. I convinced myself that the problem is unique to the all-wheel drive, though I acknowledge my sample size is small. Some [owners] of front-wheel-drive vans here also report noise issues, but it's hard to say whether we'll all talking about the same thing. Those are my observations. Now for my speculations: a) My opinion [is] that this 'noise' is a resonance, some kind of harmonic thing; It is sharply 'tuned' to 2100 RPM +/-. (b) Because I'm specifically listening for it, I think that the 3.8-liter powertrain in all these vehicles (FWD and AWD) has a natural frequency of the equivalent of 2,100 rpm or so. (c) That said, there is obviously more metal to move around in the AWD powertrain, and I think that exacerbates the problem such that it becomes annoying (at least to some) rather than unnoticeable. (d) I believe this is a design issue, not an assembly issue. Other posts to the contrary, I believe the noise doesn't vary from one AWD vehicle to another as much as the tolerance to it of the individual owners varies. (e) I originally said here that I thought it was either an intake manifold or exhaust system problem. I'm now leaning strongly toward the latter, partly based on my experience with the effect of the spare tire thing. (f) As far as DC fixing the problem is concerned, the way it seems to work is that every individual dealer's shop struggles to address their complaining customer's problem. If unsuccessful, they have the option of calling for help. In my opinion, only when enough complaints percolate up from the service departments will engineering get involved. They will need to become convinced that it's a universal problem and/or that it is hurting sales (which from what I read, DC could use more of). (BTW, I also have reported this issue to DC Customer Service, as an earlier poster suggested. They claimed not to have heard of it before.) Because of the confusion in the minds of some prospective buyers, here is my suggestion if you are considering the AWD. Test drive one by going up a hill at a steady 2,100 rpm and listening. The problem is 100 percent reproducible. You will quickly determine whether this is an issue for you (it may or may not be). Finally, to put things in perspective it's time for me to make one more thing clear. I'm thrilled with this vehicle, overall. It has far exceeded my expectations for fit, finish, amenities, comfort, power, handling, even overall quietness (the resonance not withstanding). If you look at reviews of the 1996-2000 model and note their complaints (e.g. poor headlights, marginal power, heavy rear seat, etc.), you will see that most if not all the issues have been addressed. I've now had a chance to put the AWD to the test with a nasty drive over Mt. Hood (Government Camp) OR in a blizzard. At least with my Michelin Arctic Alpins, both the ability to accelerate and brake on snow was superb I was really impressed ." rolfe2, "MY2001+ Chrysler T&C/Voyager/Dodge Caravan," #547 of 665, Feb. 2, 2001
Edited by Erin Riches