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The first generation of Chrysler minivans designed from the ground up to be minivans debuted in 1996, and sold well in the face of intense competition.
The 2001 refresh kept the same formula, updated the styling, boosted V-6 engine power, dropped the Mitsubishi engine, and added new features and refinements. Some of these were:
The minivans were raided by overzealous cost-cutters as time went on; over the years, cuts included switch backlighting, the left flood interior light on the tailgate door, and the unique windshield de-icers (in mid-2003).
The 2001 refresh kept prior models’ seat heights, which were liked by most customers, along with generous door openings and seat travel. It also kept the original floor height and strong visibility of the 1996 models, and the transverse-mounted V6 and four-cylinder engines; now all cars had the four-speed automatic, its teething troubles long behind it.
The front suspension stayed with its MacPherson struts and cross member, with a potential upper strut mount. The rear solid axle, hung with old-fashioned leaf springs, remained, for lower cost, better transient handling under a full load, better handling of both light and full loads, and space use. The result was not the sportiest vehicle on the road, but it was what customers said they wanted — and they opened up their checkbooks and proved it for years.
Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country (along with the short-lived Chrysler Voyager) differed mainly in styling, not in trim levels or overall luxury. The Plymouth version had theoretically been dropped, but as a sop to the remaining Chrysler-Plymouth dealers without Dodge, Plymouths were all rebadged to become Chryslers. Thus, the Chrysler Prowler suddenly appeared, and the once-high-end-only “luxury minivan” was given base models, destroying what remaining brand equity was left to Chrysler. The Chrysler Town & Country Touring was all too clearly a Plymouth with different badging... and it was not even the base model.
The biggest and most important change during the lifespan of the 2001-2007 Chrysler and Dodge minivans was undoubtedly the Stow ’n’ Go seating system, launched in 2005 and expanded in 2006. Eschewing the ability to remove seats from the minivan, the Stow ’n’ Go setup let customers fold every rear seat flat into the van. The front ones were somewhat difficult (the headrest had to be moved down, front seat moved all the way forward, a floor lid opened, and the seat folded down and pushed into its holding area), the rear ones were very easy; but it provided an unprecedented level of flexibility. One could carry cargo to one point and passengers back, and temporarily fold any seat into the floor. With all seats down, one could carry the proverbial 4x8 plywood sheets. Parents with fewer than four children could leave one seat permanently folded for easier access, and raise it if someone needed a ride home.
Chrysler’s engines started with the 150-horsepower 2.4 liter four-cylinder, went to the popular and reliable 3.3, and finished with the big 3.8 V6; a planned 250-horsepower 3.5 never made it, reportedly because marketers felt a smaller, more powerful engine would confuse customers. (Dimensions and more details on the engines).
In Europe, a new VM 140 bhp common-rail, direct injection diesel engine debuted, pushing out 312 Nm at 1,800 rpm.
The standard and extended wheelbase divide continued, with both front wheel drive and all wheel drive. Chrysler Town & Country dropped from being a premium model when Plymouth was lost; only the new Limited had “luxury” features. The Dodge Caravan included SE, Sport, and ES; the latter included an AutoStick overridable automatic transmission.
Jerry Olsen wrote that 4-wheel disc brakes were available on both the short wheelbase and Grand Caravan Sport models. It seemed to be part of the Sport Touring Group. The Trailer Tow Group also seemed to include the brakes, but only on the long wheelbase models.
The rear liftgate and dual sliding rear door were activated from controls on the overhead console — and by the key fob — and by buttons inside the van. The motors for the rear sliding doors had a manual override and an obstacle detection system that protected them from accidental damage while opening and closing.
The (optional/included only on some models) removable centre console could be latched into place either between the front (except in European manual-transmission vans) or middle-row seats.
The center console included two separate storage compartments with lockable hinged latching lids. The rear compartment was illuminated and had a large open storage area, complete with removable bin. A tissue and map holder were molded into the underside of the rear lid.
The front compartment had a removable bracket holder for a telephone and a power outlet, constantly powered to allow overnight charging; when mounted between intermediate seats, the console was only powered when the ignition was on.
Middle-seat cup holders were moved to the outboard sides of the seat risers. When the seat was tipped forward for rear seat access, the cup holder remained in place as the seat rotated around it, to prevent spills.
A rear cargo organizer on the floor behind the rear seat was optional in Europe; when open, it formed a storage bin with two folding dividers that were spaced to accommodate up to six full-size paper grocery bags (or, with seat-mounted hooks, plastic bags). When raised and closed, the organizer aligned with the surface of the folded down rear seat back to create a continuous load floor that could carry 4' x 8' sheets of plywood.
The molded front seatback panel included an assist handle and two shopping bag holders on both driver and passenger front seats. All minivans added a vinyl map pocket on the left side, while luxury editions and vans with leather added an umbrella holder on the right side. New inboard armrests provided more walk-through space when folded upright.
The face of the center stack was canted upward for better visibility; various switches were moved for easier access.
The new overhead console had a single door that held two pairs of sunglasses. The overhead rear climate control module was moved from the driver's side to the centre, providing (less convenient) access for both center row passengers.
The Chrysler Voyager was sold in more than 70 countries, with the first international Voyager imported into Europe in 1988. Starting in 1991, Voyager entered European production in Graz, Austria. These models had a diesel and manual transmission option.
Chrysler only had 12% of the European market, selling 50,000 vans per year in a 400,000 minivan market. In all other markets combined, Chrysler sold only 10,000 minivans per year.
Grand Caravan SE and eL models were added; the four speed automatic was made standard on four-cylinders starting in October 2001, and the 3.8 was standard on ES, which also gained bright inserts in the front fascia. There were minor options changes, including a rear cargo organizer, steering wheel radio controls (on ES), and rear seat audio system (Sport and ES).
In 2003, the normal oil change schedule was lengthened to six months or 6,000 miles, regardless of engine. The 2.4 engine got a revised timing belt tensioner and next-generation computer. The EGR valve was dropped from all engines.
To decrease wind noise, the storage position for the roof rack front crossbow was moved back to the third notch. A power sunroof was added, along with power adjustable pedals.
The eC model was dropped; SE Value Package and eL gained options. Various packages, including Sport Caravan, were renamed.
The 3.8-liter V6 included the Popular Equipment Package. ES added power liftgate, removable center console, Electronic Vehicle Information Center (EVIC), auto dimming mirrors, AM/FM radio with cassette and CD, third-row lamps and grab handles, roof rack, steering wheel radio controls, and 16-inch chromed aluminum wheels.
Power adjustable pedals were available across the board. Driver and passenger air bags with multi-stage inflators were added; with optional side-impact air bags for front outboard occupants. The eC model was gone, leaving the LX with two option packages: Value and Popular Equipment packages. A fold/recline feature was added to second- and third-row seats on the Value Package.
All wheel drive was no longer available on the Town & Country LX. The eL had an optional 3.8 V6. The eX gained a standard driver-side power sliding door, steering wheel audio controls, Security Alarm, and leather-wrapped steering wheel. The LXi added power liftgate, EVIC, auto-dimming mirrors, AM/FM radio with cassette and CD, third-row lamps and grab handles and roof rack. The Limited added heated front seats, AM/FM/cassette/CD changer and Quad Command seats with 50/50 rear bench. One-touch power sun roof with one of the largest openings in the segment (840 x 532 mm) was on the Town & Country and the Grand Caravan.
The Town & Country and Grand Caravan also had an optional DVD entertainment system, a flip-down seven-inch diagonal screen and an in-dash unit to play DVDs. It came with a wireless remote and wireless headphones. Input jacks allowed connections with video games, MP3 players, and such.
To celebrate 20 years of minivans, Dodge sold a limited Anniversary edition model based on the SXT, with Anniversary badging, two-tone leather seats, CD/DVD changer, 16-inch chrome wheels, embroidered floor mats, and rear video. Chrysler’s version was the Town & Country Platinum, based on Touring, with simimlar additions to the Dodge and a rear cargo organizer, chrome interior door handles, embroidered floor mats, and body-color cladding.
New features for 2004 included a tire pressure monitor warning lamp, an integrated key/remote keyless/Sentry key design, and updated audio/entertainment packages.
For 2004, Chrysler discontinued its Voyager nameplate, switching the standard wheelbase Town & Country minivan to the Town & Country name.
The big news for 2005 was the aforementioned Stow ’n Go seating and storage system, standard on most long-wheelbase minivans. A new overhead rail system with three moveable/removable storage bins and rear HVAC controls was also optional on most long-wheelbase models.
Front advanced multi-stage air bags with passenger-side Occupant Classification System (OCS) became standard on some models, along with a driver-side inflatable knee blocker, and optional three-row side-curtain airbags. DoorAlert was added: this turned the hazard flashers on when the sliding doors were opened. The front grilles and fascias were refreshed, and hands-free cellphone control and satellite radio become optional. There were some changes in option availability by model.
For 2006, the Dodge models were changed, with short and long wheelbase SE and SXT versions; SXT had standard Stow ‘n Go. There were various other changes to seating and options. “Auto start” and “easy start” were added to DVD audio and video, and the gauge cluster gained a light for an unattached/loose fuel cap.
There were no substantial changes for the 2007 model year, as the 2008s were being prepared.
Some safety improvements included:
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