History is riddled with stories of successes that were initially ignored. The first minivan concept was developed at Ford and it met with little success. The concept finally made its way to Chrysler where the idea was enthusiastically received and went on to become one of the best selling automobiles of all time. To date, five generations of the Dodge Caravan have been marketed. This article will focus on the third, fourth and fifth generations of this iconic automobile.
Introduced as a 1996 model at the Detroit Auto Show, the third-generation Caravan was offered in both long- and short-wheelbase configurations. For 1997, Caravans equipped with all-wheel drive got four-wheel disc brakes and traction control was offered. In 1998, the four-speed automatic was paired with the 3.0-liter V-6 and the 3.8-liter V-6 was reworked to make 180 horsepower. The 1999 Caravan got two sliding doors, a cargo net between the driver and front passenger seats, Chrysler’s “AutoStick” automatic transmission. For 2000, the sport package evolved into an actual sport model, and was fitted to the long wheelbase Grand Caravan body. The Sport model featured all-wheel drive as standard equipment—along with the 180-horsepower, 3.8-liter V-6.
Presented as 2001 models at the 2000 Detroit Auto Show, fourth-generation Caravans were larger than the models they replaced, though the wheelbase remained unchanged. Other highlights of this generation included Stow ‘n Go fold-flat seats, separate climate control systems for the front and rear passenger compartments and a power operated driver’s seat. Front-wheel drive was the norm, with all-wheel drive offered with the long wheelbase Grand Caravan models. The 2008 Dodge Caravan bowed at the 2007 Detroit auto show as the Grand Caravan. The four-cylinder engine was also dropped and the Grand Caravan became exclusively V-6 powered.
Standout features for the fifth-generation model include; Swivel ‘n Go Seating, which mated rotating seats for the middle row with a removable table; a hard-drive based audio system, second and third row video screens; power actuated second row windows; standard side curtain airbags; and dashboard-mounted transmission controls. For 2011, with the “re-invention” of the Dodge brand as the Chrysler Corporation emerged from bankruptcy, the Grand Caravan was re-imagined as a more “manly” minivan. Suspension refinements were introduced to improve its handling, all the engine choices, save one, were dropped, leaving the 283-horsepower “Pentastar” V6 as the sole powerplant. The six-speed transmission came along. Interior refinements include extra sound insulation, acoustic glass, new seats, softer-touch dash and door panel surfaces and new LED ambient lighting for the center console.