2004 Dodge Caravan
2004 Dodge Caravan Expert Review: New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
America's best-selling minivan.
The Dodge Caravan and Grand Caravan offer a smooth ride and responsive handling. These are family-friendly vehicles that offer the features and flexibility most buyers want and there's a model for every budget. With room for seven passengers, they can carry half the little league team and the Grand Caravan has room left over for their stuff.
Dodge has added new features to the Caravan for 2004, including a tire pressure monitor and a new electronic key fob that integrates security and convenience functions. Two new stereo systems both feature in-dash six-CD changers. A new Anniversary Edition features a handsome two-tone leather interior that feels upscale and luxurious.
The Grand Caravan is longer than the Caravan. Most models come with a powerful V6 engine that delivers strong acceleration for merging onto hectic freeways. Anti-lock brakes and side-impact airbags are available, and all-wheel drive is available for improved safety on snow and ice.
Dodge sells more minivans every year than any other brand. Getting the basics right and focusing on value, packaging, and practicality keeps the Dodge Caravan number one in a highly competitive market segment. In spite of fierce competition, Chrysler commands 21 percent of the U.S. minivan market, selling about 350,000 minivans a year, 10 million in the past 20 years.
Dodge has streamlined the lineup to three trim levels for 2004. The Caravan SE ($21,130) is the base level and comes with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, hand-crank windows, manually adjusted mirrors, and a limited list of options. It comes standard with air conditioning, variable intermittent wipers, AM/FM/CD stereo, and 215/70 tires on 15-inch steel wheels. The longer Grand Caravan SE ($24,295) is similarly equipped, but is powered by a 3.3-liter V6 engine.
Caravan SXT ($24,185) add second-row bucket seats, dual-zone manual air conditioning, tilt steering, cruise control, power windows, power heated mirrors, power locks with remote keyless entry, an upgraded AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo, a rear window defroster, sunscreen glass, 215/65 tires on 16-inch aluminum wheels, a tire-pressure monitor, and other niceties, plus an expanded list of options. The 3.3-liter V6 motivates the Caravan SXT.
Grand Caravan SXT ($29,655) is powered by a 3.8-liter V6 and comes standard with four-wheel-disc brakes with ABS and low-speed traction control. The Grand Caravan SXT gets all the SXT equipment listed above plus low-back reclining bucket seats up front, a 50/50 split third seat, steering wheel mounted audio controls, fog lamps, a roof rack, overhead console, tachometer, rear courtesy lamps, illuminated vanity mirrors, and auxiliary power outlets. Dodge claims that dealer incentives on Grand Caravan SXT lower its actual selling price by more than $3,100. So for Internet shoppers, Dodge offers the Grand Caravan eX, identical in every way to the SXT except for a list price ($26,545) that's about what traditional shoppers can actually expect to pay for an SXT at their local Dodge dealership.
Grand Caravan Anniversary Edition ($32,370) comes loaded with two-tone leather, a six-CD changer, rear-seat DVD entertainment, and unique Anniversary Edition badges celebrating 20 years of Dodge minivans.
A power sliding door on the passenger side is optional on Caravan SXT, while Grand Caravan eX and SXT come standard with power doors on both sides. A power liftgate is optional on Grand Caravan SXT and eX. All Grand Caravans offer the option of manual three-zone climate control, with automatic three-zone control optional on eX and SXT.
Side-impact airbags and power-adjustable pedals are optional on all Caravans. Anti-lock brakes (ABS) are available on all models except the base-level Caravan SE. Grand Caravan SXT is available with all-wheel-drive ($2,325), useful in the snow belt.
Options for Grand Caravan models include leather seating, a six-disc CD changer, rear-seat DVD entertainment, upgraded suspension packages, and a trailer-tow group that comprises a 160-amp alternator, 600-amp battery, heavy-duty engine cooling, wiring harness, and a load-leveling suspension.
Sirius Satellite Radio is available factory-installed ($325) or installed by the dealer ($299 plus labor). Either way, a $12.95 monthly subscription is also required. Uconnect, Chrysler Group's hands-free, voice-activated communications system, is a dealer-installed option ($299 plus labor).
Dodge Caravan and Grand Caravan are large vehicles, but not outrageously so. Measuring just over 200 inches long and less than 5-feet, 10-inches tall, even the Grand Caravan will fit just about anywhere a full-size sedan will fit. Bumper to bumper, the standard Caravan measures 189.3 inches long. Grand Caravan's extra 11 inches make big difference in the amount of cargo you can carry with all three rows of seats in place. Caravan rides on a wheelbase of 113.0 inches, while the Grand Caravan stretches across a wheelbase of 119.3 inches.
These are sleek and very attractive vehicles that make the boxy minivans of the past look bland. Dramatic styling features a steeply raked windshield and an aggressive grille. The tracks for the sliding side doors are tucked under the rear side windows for a clean appearance. The D-pillars and rear window are steeply inclined for a sporty look, and a discrete spoiler rises from the trailing edge of the roof. Flared wheel openings add strength to the appearance. Headlamps and taillamps are big, the latter wrapping around to the sides. The optional roof rack is hunkered close to the roof, stylistically less obtrusive and perhaps less likely to generate wind noise, but also offering less clearance for the thicker hooks of some tie-downs.
Dodge Caravan's interior is comfortable and convenient. Both Caravan and Grand Caravan can accommodate seven passengers in a 2/2/3 arrangement.
The seating position in these minivans is higher than that of a sedan, which enables drivers to see over traffic. But you won't need a rope ladder to climb into the seats, as you do in SUVs. The seats are comfortable, though the driver's seat could use more support in the seat bottom.
The gauges are straightforward: big, round analog displays, a great design. The instrument faces are light gray with black numerals, not quite as legible as white on black. They light up green at night. The dash is canted slightly forward for better visibility. Indicators for the turn signals and high beams are cleverly located in a thin hooded display above the instrument panel where they are easy to see.
The optional steering wheel controls are well designed, among the best available. Cruise controls are on the front of the steering wheel and allow precise regulation of speed; an indicator on the dash tells the driver the system is on. Behind the steering wheel are audio controls that let the driver easily adjust volume, switch among pre-set stations, activate the seek function and switch between AM and FM bands. It's a brilliant design.
Controls for the sound system and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) are intuitive and easy to use. However, the audio system's on-off/volume knob is obscured by the gearshift lever when in Drive; also, the separate Set button on the radio for setting a preset is less convenient than the traditional method of holding the button down. Our test vehicle had the optional six-CD in-dash changer, a nice feature even though it is separated from the AM/FM/cassette unit by the HVAC controls. Three-zone temperature controls allow the driver and front-seat passenger to set their own comfort levels. There's a separate control for the rear of the cabin for the kids to fight over, though the driver has veto power.
Sirius Satellite Radio provides 100 coast-to-coast channels, including 60 streams of commercial-free music along with 40 streams of news, talk, sports and entertainment. It's a great option to have when traveling because the stations don't change as you drive across the country.
Uconnect uses Bluetooth technology to integrate the same cell phone you carry on your belt or in your purse into a hands-free system installed in your Caravan. Uconnect features include voice dialing, an audio address book, microphone mute for privacy, call transfer and English, French, or Spanish-language compatibility. Up to five different phones can be used with the system in the vehicle. Uconnect's control pad is mounted on the dashboard and its microphone is attached to the overhead console. A hidden speaker transmits the audio. Your own mobile phone may be placed anywhere inside the vehicle. Conversations may be continued while entering or exiting the vehicle, without disrupting the call.
Power sliding doors on both sides are standard on premium models, and they work very well. The driver can operate them by pressing buttons on the dash or on the keyless remote. Second-row passengers can open and close the doors by pressing a switch on the B-pillar, but the driver can lock that function out for children's safety. Also for safety, the power sliding doors and rear liftgate are designed to reverse if they strike an object (like a small hand) when opening or closing. Power doors are a tremendous aid for the physically challenged. The manually operated sliding doors are also easy to open and close. Access to the middle and rear seats is easy, much easier than in a sport-utility.
Bucket seats are available that make second-row passengers as comfortable as the front-seat passenger. The third-row bench provides room for two adults, but it's short on shoulder room for three adults.
All of the seats are easy to remove.
These are smooth, quiet vehicles, particularly when measured by minivan standards. Under-hood padding helps reduce noise, as do high-quality gaskets between the outside mirrors and the body and around outside and inside door handles. Roof rack crossbows were engineered in a wind tunnel to reduce wind noise, but the design does not eliminate it entirely.
For most minivan owners, handling means how well the vehicle maneuvers in a parking lot and tracks down the highway, rather than how fast it can slalom through a line of traffic pylons. Fortunately, the Dodge Grand Caravan has a relatively small turning radius that makes getting into parking spaces easily. As with many of the latest aerodynamic designs, it isn't always easy to tell exactly where the front corners of the van are located. It's easy to tell where the rear is, but the height of the windows blocks the view of low objects, like that expensive sports car you don't want to scratch.
The 3.8-liter V6 available for the Grand Caravan delivers strong power. The V6 is quite useful for merging into fast freeway traffic, accelerating from intersections, and passing on two-lane roads. The 3.8-liter engine is rated at 215 horsepower and 245 pounds-feet of torque. Anyone who regularly carries a heavy load of passengers should get this engine. An optional towing package is available with the 3.8-liter engine that raises the Caravan's trailer tow rating to a 3800 pounds.
The Caravan SXT and Grand Caravan SE, equipped with the 3.3-liter V6, have enough power to climb hills without breathing hard, and merging onto the freeway doesn't give you visions of your life insurance salesman.
Ride quality is supple and well-controlled on the highway, in spite of a relatively simple and basic suspension layout. The rack-and-pinion steering responds nicely and provides feedback through the steering wheel, enhancing confidence on winding roads. The Grand Caravan tracks true at highway speeds, so there's no need for constant, minor steering corrections. Indeed, the Dodge Grand Caravan offers superb driving dynamics.
The brakes offer good feel, performance and durability. Standard brakes are discs in front with heavy-duty rotors and drums at the rear. ABS is standard on all Grand Caravans and optional on Caravan SXT; ABS allows the driver to brake and steer in a panic stop. Four-wheel disc brakes are standard on Grand Caravan eX and SXT. Disc brakes generally offer more resistance to brake fade (the tendency of the brakes to lose performance when heated by repeated use) than drum brakes.
Dodge continues to show why it is the leading brand in minivans. The Dodge Caravan's roomy interior offers convenient, carefree motoring. The driving experience is controlled and enjoyable. And there's lots of V6 power available in the lineup. A wide selection of models means there's a Dodge Caravan or Grand Caravan to fit any minivan budget.
Dodge Caravan SE ($21,130); Caravan SXT ($24,185); Grand Caravan SE ($24,295); Grand Caravan eX ($26,545); Grand Caravan SXT ($29,655); Grand Caravan SXT AWD ($31,980); Grand Caravan Anniversary Edition ($32,370).
Windsor, Ontario; St. Louis, Missouri.
Options As Tested
side-impact airbags ($390); Premium Group ($3,380) includes leather-trimmed seating, movable center console, security alarm, power liftgate, three-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, four-way power front passenger seat, 10-speaker Infinity audio with rear audio controls, touring suspension, vehicle information center, power adjustable pedals.
Dodge Grand Caravan SXT ($29,655).
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2004 Dodge Caravan Information
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