2003 Caravan New Car Test Drive
You have to be doing something right when you sell 350,000 minivans every year, commanding 21 percent of the total minivan market in the U.S. Dodge sells more minivans every year than any other brand. Its continued success appears the result of sticking to the basics, focusing on value, packaging, and practicality.
Above all, the Dodge Caravan is family-friendly. It can carry half the little league team while delivering a smooth car-like ride and reasonable fuel mileage. It offers the features and flexibility most buyers want. A broad range of models means that nearly anyone who needs a minivan can find a Caravan that fits their budget.
For 2003, Dodge has added standard equipment to the top ES trim level, which means a lower bottom line in some cases. New options include a huge power sunroof, a DVD entertainment system, and power-adjustable pedals. Also available, is Sirius Satellite Radio. Installed by the dealer, the suggested retail price for the system is $299 plus labor; a Sirius Satellite Radio subscription is $12.95 per month.
Nine versions of the Dodge Caravan are offered for the 2003 model year. That includes two standard-wheelbase Caravans and seven extended-wheelbase Grand Caravans. Three different engines are available. Retail prices: Caravan SE ($19,875); Caravan Sport ($24,515); Grand Caravan SE ($22,280); Grand Caravan eL ($23,865); Grand Caravan eX ($25,840); Grand Caravan Sport ($27,430); Grand Caravan ES ($32,725); Grand Caravan Sport AWD ($31,230); Grand Caravan ES AWD ($34,625).
Grand refers to the length. Grand Caravan models are significantly longer (by 11 inches) than Caravan models. Grand Caravans are 200.5 inches long, stretched over a 119.3-inch wheelbase. Caravans measure 189.3 inches over a 113.3-inch wheelbase. That makes a big difference in cargo capacity when all three rows of seats are in place.
Caravan SE comes with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, hand-crank windows, and a limited list of options. It does come standard with air conditioning, variable intermittent wipers, and an AM/FM stereo cassette audio system. The bigger Grand Caravan SE is similarly equipped, but is powered by a 3.3-liter V6 engine. For 2003, Grand Caravan SE offers the option of three-zone climate control, which is not available on the shorter Caravan SE.
Caravan Sport and Grand Caravan Sport models come standard with the 3.3-liter V6, plus tilt steering, power door locks, power heated mirrors, speed control, a rear-window defroster and anti-lock brakes. The Grand-length Sport gets fancier seats with upgraded cloth, and a standard rear defroster, three-zone climate control, and a heavy-duty alternator. A 3.8-liter V6 is offered as an option.
Snowbelt residents will appreciate the superior all-wheel-drive traction of the Grand Caravan Sport AWD.
Next up the ladder is the Grand Caravan eL, which adds mid-row bucket seats and a 50/50 split rear bench. Again, the 3.3-liter V6 is standard, and the 3.8-liter V6 an option.
Grand Caravan eX comes loaded with popular features, such as the power up-and-down rear liftgate, a power sliding door on the passenger side, removable power center console, remote keyless entry, four-wheel disc brakes, low-back reclining front bucket seats with eight-way power for the driver, a storage drawer under the front passenger seat, and a CD player. The 3.8-liter V6 is standard, and leather upholstery an option.
Grand Caravan ES is the top of the line, available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. ES adds a power sliding door on the driver's side, an overhead trip computer, reading lamps, dual cargo floodlights, automatic dimming mirror, all-season touring tires, and an Infinity 10-speaker stereo. The list has been expanded for 2003 to include a power liftgate, Electronic Vehicle Information Center (EVIC), a roof rack, and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls.
ES also offers a long list of exclusive options, including leather seats with heat, adjustable lumbar support for the driver, four-way power for the passenger's seat, Auto-Stick transmission, and automatic climate control. You can spot an ES by its bright side molding insert, chromed aluminum wheels, and fog lamps.