SPECIFICATIONS Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price $ 33,535 Price As Tested $ 34,605 Engine Type OHV 12-valve 3.8 Liter V6 w/SMFI* Engine Size 231 cid/3778 cc Horsepower 180 @ 4400 RPM Torque (lb-ft) 240 @ 3200 RPM Wheelbase/Width/Length 119.3"/76.8"/199.6" Transmission Four-speed automatic Curb Weight 4172 pounds Fuel Capacity 20.0 gallons Tires (F/R) 215/65R16 Brakes (F/R) Disc (ABS)/drum (ABS) Drive Train Front-engine/front-wheel-drive Vehicle Type Seven-passenger/four-door Domestic Content 81 percent Coefficient of Drag (Cd.) N/A PERFORMANCE EPA Economy, miles per gallon city/highway/average 17/24/20 0-60 MPH 10.5 seconds Maximum towing capacity 3500 pounds Top speed (governed) 112 mph * Sequential multi-point fuel injection
(Bob Hagin wrote up the Dodge Caravan when it first came out in 1984 and found it to be somewhat crude and unfinished. His son Matt says that things have changed in Chrysler quality in 25 years.)
BOB - When we tried the first Chrysler-built minivan in '84, it seemed to have been rushed into service. The rear door didn't fit right and neither did the rear window. But it was innovative and changed the way Americans looked at family transportation. Big families like ours that needed lots of space had to buy full-sized vans that were, in reality, commercial units that had been upgraded with side windows, extra seats in back and fancy paint jobs. Being big, they were a hassle to drive and parking in downtown traffic was impossible. But the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager changed that.
MATT - Chrysler didn't put its own label on a minivan until '90 and unlike its corporate clones, it could only be had with a V6 engine. The Chrysler-built minivans were first on the market, Dad, and they've been the sales leader in this category ever since. This Chrysler Town & Country version has all the bells and whistles available from the corporate parts bin and that includes a standard traction control system that keeps the front wheels from spinning when the driver is coming off a dead stop in wet weather. With the 180 horses and 240 pounds/feet of torque that the upgraded 3.8 liter engine puts out, it would be easy to lose traction in that situation, especially if the van was pulling a trailer.
BOB - That engine has a big advantage over the 3.3 liter unit that is the standard engine on the Chrysler minivans, Matt. I think it has to be a bit anemic if the driver was called upon to do much towing. Our test machine was fitted up with the $270 optional trailer towing package and that kit includes a transmission fluid cooler for the four-speed automatic as well as heavier-duty suspension. The only thing our test van didn't have was the all-wheel-drive option and that would be a plus if the family lives in an area of constant ice and snow or engages in lots of winter sports. And an often overlooked option for really cold climates is the engine block heater that can be had for only an additional $35. Another plus for the all-wheel-drive version is that it comes standard with disc brakes in the back and I've always been partial to having the best possible braking system on a new car.
MATT - To me, the most outstanding feature of this minivan is that it has two sliding rear doors. Crawling in and out of the center seats on the van that I own is a monumental pain that I've never gotten used too, especially when it comes to ensconcing our two kiddie seats back there. I also liked the 8-way adjustable front seats and the fact that they're heated. Our Limited model is new this year and one of its standard features is a roof rack mounted on top but in truth, I don't think I've seen stuff strapped on top of vehicle for a long time so I guess it's kind of a cosmetic thing. And I'm really please that Chrysler has stopped putting that fake wooden paneling on the side of its Town & Country van. It was a throwback the days of the "woodie-wagon" and it looked terrible after it started to fade and weather.
BOB - The radio controls mounted in the steering wheel is a neat item, Matt, and it sure beats fumbling around trying to change stations in heavy traffic. The automatic headlight system is also great for guys like me who are liable to forget to shut them off in the twilight hours. I'm not crazy about the chrome-plated 16-inch wheels that came on the van or the candy-apple red paint that puts another $200 on the price tag but I guess that this Town & Country version is definitely not a "stripper."
MATT - You're right there, Dad. Buyers looking for the lowest possible price will have to go for the Dodge Caravan or the Plymouth Voyager versions. They're available with most of the same equipment and can be "optioned out" to suit the buyer.
BOB - Vehicles built for status-seekers are in every market niche, Matt. If there are upscale pickups and SUVs, I guess minivans are OK.