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New Car/Review

1998 Dodge Grand Caravan LE

by John Heilig


SEE ALSO: Dodge Buyer's Guide


ENGINE:                  3.8-liter V-6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:       180 hp @ 4400 rpm/240 lb-ft @ 3200 rpm
TRANSMISSION:            Four-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:            17 mpg city, 24 mpg highway, 22.8 mpg test
WHEELBASE:               119.3 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 199.6 x 76.8 x 68.5 in.
CURB WEIGHT:             3684 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:           20.0 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:        53.5/168.5 cu. ft. (all seats in/rear seats removed)
TIRES:                   P215/65R15
INSTRUMENTS:             Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, water temperature, 
                         fuel management computer, compass, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:               Power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, 
                         power seats, cruise control, air conditioner, 
                         AM-FM stereo radio with cassette and in-dash CD player, 
                         anti-lock brakes, dual front air bags.
STICKER PRICE:           $26,605 (base)

I don't think there is any such thing as the perfect vehicle, but the Dodge Grand Caravan certainly comes close. It has comfort. It has room to carry anything and everything you might want to carry. It has decent performance. And it doesn't look that bad.

So it has many of the attributes that I personally consider to be important. It isn't perfect because it still handles like a van, which means that it's slightly top-heavy, and it's not as sexy as a Ferrari.

Our Grand Caravan was powered by a 3.8-liter V-6. As with the majority of minivans it powered the front wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission with a column-mounted shifter. The column-mounted shifter is important because the lack of a console offers access from the front seats to the back of the van. Anyone who has owned a van, or who has driven with children sitting in the back of a van, knows that you must have that access.

It was important for us because of some extenuated driving. After parking, I had to go from the driver's seat to the back and my son-in-law had to go from the back to the driver's seat, and we could get at least some of those maneuvers accomplished without getting out of the van.

The Grand Caravan is extremely comfortable to drive. It was the vehicle of choice for our daily commutes to the New York Auto Show, which involved a 2 to 2-1/2 hour trip into the city and a 1-3/4 hour trip out, because we were bucking traffic on the way in. We had room for our briefcases, press kits and goodies that the manufacturers gave out at the show. With the dual sliding doors, my partner and I were both able to load the van easily. when it rained suddenly, we were able to get umbrellas quickly, too.

Since we were parking in New York City, the fact that the rear windows were tinted and didn't offer the best view of what was back there also helped.

We also took the Grand Caravan on a long trip to our daughter's house in Richmond. In this case, the van accommodated four adults with luggage. While we were down there it accommodated six of us.

Seating was front, both in the front captain's chairs and the second row benches. I didn't get a chance to try the third row, but the second row was comfortable to allow me to take a nap when the stress of three straight days of long commuting got to me. The second row bench is a two-seater bench. It might have been wider if there hadn't been two sliding doors. The third row bench is a three-seater.

Even with all the seats up, there is good carrying capacity in the Grand Caravan. It's a Grand Caravan because the wheelbase is six inches longer than the Caravan and the vehicle itself is about a foot longer. So it can be a hauler if it has to be. The seats are easily removable. They're on wheels and slide right out of the van.

As I said, nothing's perfect. My only real complaint about the GC was that it was relatively large. If we could get all its attributes in a Prowler body (dreamer!) then it might be perfect. But within the limits of the venue, the GC comes as close to perfect as any on the highway today.