1999 Dodge Grand Caravan
1999 Dodge Grand Caravan Expert Review: New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
A lot of minivan for the money.
It's not hard to understand why the Dodge Caravan is consistently among the top-selling minivans in America. Not only does it do workmanlike duty as a cargo-hauler, it also delivers the kind of spaciousness, comfort, styling, ride quality and handling that buyers have come to expect from the company that has dominated the minivan field for the past 15 years. And the Caravan does it for a price that makes it one of the better values in the minivan field.
Chrysler realizes minivan buyers aren't all the same, so the company offers a model to suit the tastes, needs and budget of every imaginable buyer. Each comes in short- and long-wheelbase versions to suit space requirements. Chrysler Town & Country rides like a luxury sedan, while Plymouth Voyager and Dodge Caravan are designed to offer value. The base Dodge Caravan doesn't skimp on the essentials, but is priced nearly $14,000 less than the Town & Country LXi.
A few changes were made for 1999. The rear floor pan and spare-tire winch were redesigned to increase the angle of departure, which means the back of the vehicle is less likely to scrape the ground when traversing steep driveways, gullies, or other obstacles that challenge the Caravan's ground clearance. Designers have upgraded the appearance with a body-colored grille and door handles. Light Cypress Green was added to the palette. On the top-line Grand Caravan ES, 17-inch touring tires and 17-inch aluminum wheels are now standard, as is a rear spoiler.
Inside, a front-seat cargo net has been added. A small trip computer is now available for the top-line Grand Caravan ES. A next-generation airbag has been added. Head restraints for the middle and rear seats are now standard, and a child safety seat is available on models with the quad-seat configuration.
Like all of Chrysler's minivans, the Caravan comes in a variety of configurations. The short-wheelbase Caravan comes in three trim levels: Caravan, SE and LE. The long-wheelbase Grand Caravan comes in four trim levels: Grand Caravan, SE, LE and ES.
Four engines are available.
The base Caravan comes with a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine. Caravan SE comes with a 3.0-liter V6. Caravan LE comes with a 3.3-liter engine. A 3.8-liter V6 is optional. All Caravans come with four-speed automatic transmissions, except the base model, which comes with a three-speed automatic.
The 3.3-liter V6 is standard on the Grand Caravan base model, SE and LE. The 3.8-liter engine is optional on the LE, and standard on the ES. A four-speed automatic comes standard on Grand Caravan, SE and LE models. The four-speed AutoStick is standard in the top-line ES. All-wheel drive is available on Grand Caravan LE and ES.
Our Grand Caravan ES test model represents the top of the Caravan line; the ES starts at $21,720 and comes with a level of standard equipment normally associated with a luxury car. The base Caravan starts at $18,585.
The ES we drove came equipped with an option package that included an overhead console with trip computer, front and rear floor mats, second row reading lamps, ignition/glovebox/ash try light group, power speed-sensitive locks, illuminated visor vanity mirrors, manual driver's-seat lumbar adjustment, eight-way power driver's seat and quad bucket seats. That package was priced at $2,025, boosting the total to $23,475.
With sliding doors on both sides of the Caravan, getting in and out is a breeze. Once you've had two sliding doors, you'll never go back to one - whether you're moving toddlers, teens or tools. You'll love the speed and convenience of loading cargo from the driver's side.
Head and legroom are quite sufficient, in both the front bucket seats and the second-row seats. Clearance between the second-row seats-and between the passenger's side seat and the sliding door--is sufficient as long as you're not of nose-tackle proportions. And although Dodge says the Grand Caravan's rear bench can seat three, one of them would have to be a child.
The Grand Caravan ES is extremely spacious - particularly after the seats are removed. Removing the seats required a yeoman effort in years past, but it's much easier now. The center-row bucket seats can be unlatched and removed via the sliding side doors, while a solid yank on a lever pops the third-row bench seat up onto a set of wheels, allowing it to be rolled backwards and removed via the tailgate. However, it's still a two-person job as those seats are heavy. For smaller loads, the seat backs can also be folded down -- affording enough room for the proverbial sheet of plywood.
Cargo space is no longer the only consideration when buying minivans, but it's still an important one. So here are some numbers: The wheelbase of the Grand Caravan is 6 inches longer than that of the Caravan -- 119.3 inches, compared to 113.3 inches. Besides providing more space, that means the Grand Caravan is more stable at high speeds and in cross winds. But it also means that it's less maneuverable than the smaller Caravan. The Grand Caravan is also longer - 199.6 inches, compared to 186.3 for the Caravan.
Grand Caravan ES and Grand Voyager offer 168.4 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats removed. By comparison, Ford Windstar offers 153 cubic feet, Chevy Venture/Oldsmobile Silhouette/Pontiac Montana 156 cubic feet, Toyota Sienna 143 cubic feet, Honda Odyssey 135 cubic feet.
The Caravan's suspension makes it drive like a sedan. The rigid chassis works with the suspension to keep the tires firmly planted in corners. That's definitely a benefit in the Caravan. Tall minivans tend to lean a bit when cutting a corner or hitting a cloverleaf. The Grand Caravan's suspension is so well controlled that even when it leans it feels solidly planted. Power rack-and-pinion steering adds to the responsiveness during abrupt lane-change maneuvers and when negotiating tight turns. The Grand Caravan rides as smoothly and as quietly as many sedans.
The 3.8-liter V6 engine that came on our Grand Caravan ES is the biggest engine offered in the Dodge, Chrysler and Plymouth minivans. Rated at 180 horsepower, it provides significantly more punch than the 158-horsepower 3.3-liter engine. The 3.8-liter engine delivers lots of thrust in all situations-whether launching from a standing start, passing slowpokes on the highway or merging into heavy traffic. Coupled with a 4-speed automatic transmission with AutoStick, it really delivers the goods.
The Grand Caravan ES goes 0 to 60 in 10.1 seconds. It offers comparable performance to the Honda Odyssey LX, but the Ford Windstar LX and Toyota Sienna XLE have an edge in the drag racing contest. Grand Caravan's front disc and rear drum brakes offer controlled stopping power. All but the base model come standard with anti-lock brakes, which allow the driver to maintain steering control during panic stops.
There are so many minivans on the market these days-of varying sizes and configurations-that the buyer almost always wins out, as minivan makers continue to offer more space, bigger engines, increased ride comfort and higher trim levels to lure buyers away from the competition.
Chrysler popularized the modern minivan and continues to be on the leading edge of features, convenience and comfort. Its minivans continue to be among the most popular and offer a lot of value.
St. Louis, Missouri.
Options As Tested
overhead console with trip computer, front and rear floor mats, second-row reading lamps, ignition/glovebox/ash tray light group, power speed-sensitive locks, illuminated visor vanity mirrors, manual driver's-seat lumbar adjustment, 8-way power driver's seat and quad bucket seats.
Grand Caravan ES.
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