Americas best-selling minivan is virtually unchanged for this year but will be redesigned for the 2001 model year. Styling on the new models, due in the fall, will be evolutionary, but the 2001 Caravan will have several new convenience and safety features.
Caravan is built from the same design as the more upscale Chrysler Town & Country and the midrange Chrysler and Plymouth Voyager . The Plymouth brand is fading away, so the Voyager will be offered under the Chrysler nameplate for 2001.
One size does not fit all in the Caravan lineup, which comes in standard length (113-inch wheelbase and 186-inch overall length) and as the extended Grand Caravan (119-inch wheelbase and 197 inches overall).
The base standard-length model comes with a single sliding door on the passenger side. All other models have dual sliding doors, both manually operated. The current Caravan does not have power sliding doors a feature found on most rivals but the 2001 model will.
Seats for five are standard on the base Caravan, with two front buckets and a removable three-place bench. Other models have seats for seven: a pair of front buckets, a two-place middle bench and a three-place rear bench. The middle and rear bench seats have built-in rollers that allow them to be wheeled around inside and outside the vehicle. Seating options include two integral child-safety seats for the middle bench, two bucket seats for the middle row and an integrated child-safety seat for one for the middle buckets.
One of the handiest features in the Caravan is shopping-bag hooks, which are built into the back of the rear seatback. On the Grand Caravan, cargo volume is a minimum of 20 cubic feet behind the rear seat and a maximum of 168 with the middle and rear seats removed. For standard-length models, minimum cargo volume is 14 cubic feet and the maximum is 143.
Under the Hood
A 150-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder is standard on the base Caravan, but few are equipped with this engine, which struggles to propel a 3,600-pound vehicle. Most base models come with a 150-horsepower 3.0-liter V-6, which provides adequate acceleration. Grand Caravans come with a 3.3-liter V-6 that generates 158 horsepower or a 3.8-liter V-6 that has 180 horsepower. All engines come with automatic transmission.
Standard-length models have front-wheel drive, and extended models are available with either front-wheel drive or permanently engaged all-wheel drive.
Antilock brakes are standard on all models, except the base Caravan, which you can buy as an optional feature. Traction control is standard on the front-drive Grand Caravan ES and optional on the front-drive Grand LE. Side-impact airbags are not available for 2000 but will be standard for front-seat occupants on 2001 models.
Aside from power sliding doors and side airbags, the Caravan offers just about every other feature found on rival minivans and more than most. These are among the most car-like minivans to drive, they are easy to get in and out of, and there is abundant passenger and cargo space. With lots of competition and new models due next fall, we should see big discounts on this popular minivan.