In the auto-making industry, taking a different step is always a doubtful endeavor, for there are no assurances of success. However, the Dodge Caravan, which was introduced by Chrysler Group LLC in 1984, became a bold pioneer of the minivan segment, paving the way for cars that could be used by families with its ample cabin space and easy handling. The Caravan has lived through five generations, and until 2012, its parts are still moving through the assembly lines, with the model promising a fair but difficult battle against its competitors.
1984 – 1990: The compact seven-seater
Based from Chrysler’s S platform, the initial releases of the Caravan were compact from the outside yet spacious on the inside. Three trims were available (base, SE, and LE), and each trim was available with a slightly longer version called the Grand Caravan, which was characterized by having more cargo capacity behind the rear seat. The units had a front-wheel drive, and they looked very much like a breed of a station wagon and a van, sitting up to seven passengers in three-row seats. The bench seats in the back row were removable and could be snapped back into place. For safety, the units had three-point seat belts for the front passengers and simple lap belts for the others. Despite not having airbags and ABS, the models had side-impact reinforcements at all seating positions. Other characteristic features of the units were the sliding door on the passenger side, the hatchback door for rear cargo access, and the non-adjustable headrests for the front seats.
1991 – 1995: The safer minivan
This generation of the Caravan came out with several innovations, including a Quad Command bucket seating, anti-lock brakes, integrated child safety seats, reclining seats, dual front airbags, driver’s side airbags, and an all-wheel drive. The introduction of the airbags also brought with it alterations to the interior; the seats had new contours and fabrics, and the dash was restyled. On the outside, the models also had roof racks and door handles, and the color of the grille and moldings was made similar with the car body.
1996 – 2000: The easy-to-use Caravan
This generation offered a lot more for consumers. The models were available in short and long wheelbase, eight different powertrains, and three- and four-door configurations. Some of the new changes were the driver’s-side sliding door, the Easy Out Roller Seats, and a door handle with lock for the rear hatch. In 1998, a sportier Caravan ES was available; it sported an AutoStick transmission and 17-inch wheels. Aside from new colors and interior fabric, there was also a keyless entry remote, lift-gate handles, and an additional sliding door.
2001 – 2007: The improved interior and exterior styles
The fourth-generation models were available in eleven trim levels excluding the base model. These units generally had a larger body frame as well as redone headlights and tail lamps. Some of the innovative features included a remote-operated rear hatch and sliding doors, composite panels for the windows, plastic bedliner for the cargo floor, and rubber flooring for the rear cargo area. In 2005, a Stow ‘n Go seating was introduced along with a new fog light fascia and a restyled grille.
2008 – 2012: The easy-to-drive, comfortable-to-use Grand Caravan
This generation saw the birth of the highly upgraded Grand Caravan, which had the longest wheelbase among all manufactured models. These models came with a Swivel’n Go seating, video screens for the second- and third-row seats, dashboard-mounted transmission controls, a MyGIG entertainment system, and a gearshift on the instrument panel instead on the floor. Handling improvements were also done, which called for the installation of a larger front sway bar and a new rear sway bar, a new steering gear, and a new front static camber setting, among others. The models also provided much passenger comfort, for they had acoustic glass, softer surfaces, LED ambient lighting, and extra sound insulation.