Fix + Fast
From their debut, the Caravan and Voyager stayed America’s most popular minivans into the 21st century; the Dodge Caravan was Canada’s best-selling nameplate for many years (and stayed in the #2 place for years afterwards). During the early 1990s, Caravan and Voyager had the highest resale values in their segment, and both beat all competitors in 1990 customer satisfaction, despite being six years old and a quick-and-dirty extension of the Reliant. Two out of three Chrysler minivan owners bought another.
For 1991, both minivans were extensively restyled, in their first major changes (other than adding long-wheelbase models) since 1984. Body enhancements dramatically improved handling, comfort, and refinement. The size was similar, preserving maneuverability, garage-ability, capacity, step-in height, and loading ease.
The unpopular (now treasured by enthusiasts) manual transmission was dropped; all-wheel drive was added; and the base 2.2 disappeared in favor of a 2.5 liter four-cylinder (long-wheelbase models used a Mitsubishi V6). A new 3.3 liter Chrysler V6 and a four-speed automatic transmission were launched as options on the Grand Voyager and all wheel drive minivans, standard on Town & Country.
The 3.3 was a step up from the Mitsubishi engine; designed entirely by Chrysler, it produced 150 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque, on par with the 318 V8 and the 2.2 Turbo I. The engine was normally trouble-free, without the valve guide issues the Mitsu was prone to; though the reliability of the 3.3 was matched by the unreliability of the four-speed automatic transmissions.
All wheel drive provided the Caravan, Voyager, and Town & Country with the same snow-bound utility as many SUVs (ground clearance was high, which helped). The system was only available in SE or LE trim, or on the Chrysler.
When the minivans had taken off in sales, money was suddenly available to “do it right,” and the 1991 revision showed the results. The third generation — the first to completely leave the K base — took numerous iterations before it could match the 1991 models in comfort and performance. The 1991s were substantially more comfortable, with better aerodynamics, less noise, and a more confident feel on the road.
All the minivans got a 90-amp alternator, and top models got a tachometer as well (though, again, no manual transmissions were available, except in export models). Four wheel antilock brakes were available with the 3.3, and a trailer towing prep package was available with the V6/four-speed automatic combination. All but the base model had seats for seven passengers (the base model only had two rows of seats).
For most of this article we will refer to the three minivans just as “Voyagers.” The three were practically identical save for trim and suspension tuning.
The following changes were made to the minivans for 1991 (some changes were made to most other Chrysler front wheel drive cars as well):
These changes involved changing:
Standard Voyagers came with P195/75R14 tires; Grand Voyagers and all wheel drive Voyagers came with P205/70R15 tires. Conventional spares were optional. Fancier tires and wheels were optional... up to 15” wheels. The standard spare was a compact under the cargo floor; on all wheel drive, outside, lowered via winch (the same place it would be in later models).
A new instrument panel had a black brushed finish cluster with color-keyed padded top, cubby bin, and new pull-out cup holders.
A large speedometer included a trip odometer. There were gauges for fuel level and coolant temperature, with lights for voltage and oil pressure. LE models and the Popular Equipment Package (code AAB) also had a tachometer, with gauges for voltage and oil pressure (shown above). As in past years, there was little or no difference between Dodge and Plymouth on the inside.
The new A-604 was to get a horrible reputation, partly because Chrysler did not make it absolutely clear that the transmission required a special, friction-modified fluid and more frequent changes than in the past. The owner's manual said Dexron would do when ATF+3 was not available; the dipstick didn't warn of the consequences of Dexron any more than the manual.
The transmission was revolutionary, providing new standards of quietness, speed, and smoothness, in a compact and lightweight package. The world’s first fully adaptive electronic controls provided kick-down shifts with unmatched smoothness, giving the power train a more responsive feel with no increase in harshness. Adaptive controls compensated for changes in engine or friction element torque to provide good consistent shift quality for the life of the transaxle, which unfortunately tended to be fairly short.
The shift quadrant included both L(ower gear) and 3 (overdrive lockout).
Chris Theodore, who was given responsibility for fixing the “Ultradrive” problems, said that there were
many teething problems when it was first released, which were isolated and resolved one by one. Eventually, for those who used the correct fluid, the repair record of the transmission ended up being roughly average, but it would take years to achieve the reliability of the three-speed. Most of the problems had been worked out by 1991.
The column-shifted three-speed TorqueFlite automatic had wide-ratio first and second gears for quicker launches; overall top
gear ratio was 3.22 to 1 with the 2.5-liter engine and 3.02 with the 3.0-liter engine.
A starter with permanent field magnets was used on all four-cylinder vans to eliminate potential field-wire-to-frame electrical shorts.
Minivans used a standard 500-ampere maintenance-free low-profile battery.
Rack-and-pinion power-assisted steering used a fast steering ratio to cut steering wheel turns to 3.1 revolutions over the entire steering range. All Voyagers had power-assisted brakes- disc front, self-adjusting drum rear. A dual master cylinder with two separate diagonal braking systems provides extra braking safety. A body height-sensing valve kept front and rear braking balanced properly under all passenger and cargo load conditions.
The top of the line stereo was the Infinity line, available in I and II variants; both had AM stereo, FM with seek and scan, cassette with tape program search, and ten speakers in six locations. Infinity II mainly added a graphic equalizer.
The turn signal lever was modified to allow a lane-change feature (light pressure brought temporary blinker action), and a momentary high-beams activator for headlights was added.
Wiper blades had an airfoil element to keep the wiper in contact with the glass at speed; arm-mounted washers used two nozzles which delivered a total of five streams of washer fluid across the glass, and were known for freezing up in cold weather unless a high-grade washer fluid was used. Electronic wiper intervals could be set for from 2 to 15 seconds.
The electronically controlled liftgate window wiper/washer had both a standard and interval mode.
The fuse block was altered to make fuse-changing easier, while big halogen headlights provided bright light.
The four-speed heater/defroster system included six adjustable outlets on the instrument panel to provide bi-level, forced air ventilation when desired. The system included side window demisters in addition to the six panel outlets.
Unibelt restraints were provided for all outboard seating positions, attached to pillar-mounted speed-sensitive retractors that locked up during severe deceleration. The company provided low-tension retractors to make tension relievers unnecessary. Lap belts were added to the center position on the rear bench only.
In 1992, optional integrated child seats were added. Much safer than strap-in seats, these were designed for infants, replacing front-facing seats over a fairly wide weight and height range. A wide adjustment range made the seats useful for a long time, and the use of these seats may have saved many small lives, given that studies showed most strap-in infant and child seats were not installed correctly. (This was also long before vehicles were required to have standardized anchors in 2001.)
The driver's bucket seat could be moved a full 6.7 inches from front to rear on an inclined track; reclining could be done in increments of less than 1°. Top models featured an adjustable lumbar support on bucket seats.
Tinted glass cut down on glare and heat.
Voyager's and Caravan's cargo compartment was wide enough between the rear wheel housings to accommodate a sheet of plywood 4 feet wide.
This side door had redesigned door handles for good gripping and easy sliding. A new childproof door lock was included, and a separate outside key lock was standard. The door window glass was hinged at the front and had a flip-out latch at the rear for ventilation. The door was guided by three tracks with gliding rollers with sealed needle bearings.
Voyager and Caravan had jack supports on the sills; the jack supports’ locating pins engaged the jack to help prevent the vehicle from slipping. It was stored under the hood.
The air conditioner had a new, more efficient compressor with new ducting. The bi-level feature put 70% of the air through the main vents (dashboard) and 30% through the floor (heater) vents; Defrost put 70% through the defroster and 30% through the floor, while activating the air conditioner compressor to dry the air. The air conditioner compressor could also be activated by a simple on-off button (for the vent position; it was always active in Defrost).
The cruise control was steering wheel mounted, and now had an ACCEL button to increase speed by 2 mph per tap. The system was electronically operated, checking throttle eight times per second, with a 1-2 mph tolerance from the set speed. Detecting loss of traction immediately cut the cruise control.
Tilt steering had five positions. Four-wheel antilock brakes were available. High-end models had lockable storage drawers under the front passenger seat.
The electric rear defroster had an automatic timer, of roughly ten minutes. The roof luggage rack held up to 150 pounds of luggage.
The optional console had a mini trip computer, switches for power vent windows and map/reading lights, and storage for a garage door opener and sunglasses. The mini computer had a compass/outside temperature display, trip odometer, fuel economy, distance to empty, and elapsed time.
The rear passenger compartment air conditioner/heater (which required front a/c) had two sets of upper level outlets in the left trim panel to deliver cooled, dehumidified air to the first and second rear seats. This included a 120-amp alternator but only activated when the main a/c was on.
Owners report that it does not respond well to R134a conversions.
A variable rate A/C compressor
prevented moisture in the air from freezing on the surface of the system's evaporator and eliminated the noise and vibration of operation changes as well as variances in the outlet air temperature and the dehumidification of inside air.
The automatic power door locks were vehicle-speed-sensitive and activated at 15 mph (unless programmed off). The driver's door could not be locked with the door switch if the key was left in the ignition.
The sliding side door now included a memory lock. With this feature, if the door was open when the power lock switch was pressed, the body computer "remembered" the switch position and carried out the command once the door was closed.
Power rear quarter vent windows: a small electric motor at each window drives the operating mechanism through a cable. A switch for each window is on the optional overhead console.
The third row seat could be folded forward to a horizontal position for extra cargo capacity. The adjustable track provided six-and-a-half inches of front-to-rear seat travel with three latching seat positions: forward, rearward and midway.
Quad Command seating
had two middle bucket seats along with a rear 3-passenger bench seat, with quick-release mechanisms.
The Converta-Bed combined the rear seat with the middle bench seat to become a full-size bed.
The Chrysler Town & Country, advertised as the first luxury minivan (a bit of a stretch), had appeared in 1990; it had a longer wheelbase and standard 3.3 liter V6 engine, along with a soft-gathered leather interior and four-speed automatic transmission.
In 1992, the Chrysler minivan gained all wheel drive, an aerodynamic luggage rack, woodgrain delete, gold wheels, and standard Infinity II sound.
Two rarely mentioned options were the CNG (natural gas) minivan, and the fully electric TEVan; the TEVan appeared in 1993 and was also sold in 1994, while the CNG minivan was brought out in 1994.
A short run-through of changes not yet covered:
The SE had all the exterior and chassis features of the base Voyager, plus:
The LE has all the exterior ami chassis features of the SE, plus these differences:
Main minivan section • The extensive 1994 changes • 1984-90 minivans
Repairs and performance •
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