Third-Generation Plymouth Voyager (Dodge Caravan)
and Grand Voyager / Grand Caravan: 1998-1999 Reviews
There are basically two varieties of Chrysler minivan: the standard variety, and the foot-longer "Grand" version (which includes the Town & Country). Thanks to a wide variety of engines, options, and suspension tuning, the result is a fairly diverse set of vans based on a single platform. If you think that means the same van with different geegaws, think of the difference between a Daytona and a Spirit...both built on the same platform.
We have a review of the 2000 Town & Country LX - click here to read it.
Best alternative minivans
We were very impressed by the Chevy Venture with touring package, which is about the same size as the Dodge and Plymouth "Grand" models, with a more powerful engine. We were less impressed by the long-wheelbase Venture without the touring package.
Those who have a lack of trust with regard to Chrysler reliability may wish to turn to the Toyota Sienna. Though it lacks some of the conveniences of the Chrysler and Chevrolet models, the quality is pretty much assured, if it is anything like, um, every other Toyota model made in the last ten years.
Interesting note: the Toyota Sienna won top honors in J.D. Powers' 1999 minivan reliability survey, but the Plymouth Voyager was #2. Not bad!
Common characteristics: Plymouth Voyager SE and Plymouth Grand Voyager
We had the opportunity to review both a Grand Voyager and a Voyager SE, two vehicles at rather different price points. This is what they had in common, other than the same engine, transmission, and basic platform:
Chrysler minivans are well-mannered, civilized vehicle that would have been classified as luxury cars not long ago had they not been so tall.
With their current mixture of luxury, room, acceleration, handling, and poor-but-not-awful gas mileage, minivans are a far smarter choice than SUVs for most people. Just imagine lots of chrome, a higher stance, and Paul Hogan, and you can drive a minivan for years with better mileage than most SUVs, and all the creature comforts and extras a minivan can offer. If you absolutely need four wheel drive, just get an AWD Voyager, or look at a Subaru. (Most people never need four wheel drive).
If you live in the US, though, don't look for a manual transmission or diesel engine - in any minivan (at least until VW's new Microbus hits next year).
The Voyager's space is about the same as the current Windstar, while the Grand Voyager is about the size of the Chevy Venture and its Pontiac twins. Getting in and out was easier than with the Venture; the floor seemed lower, and there was no rear sill, making it easier to move packages in and out.
Rear seats on wheels are easy to remove and re-install, though, once it's out of the van, dealing with the 100-lb bench seat may require a helper; I was able to handle it by myself, and was amazed by the ease of installation. A clear red indicator shows when they are not properly connected a good touch, because improperly installed seats can cause serious injury in an accident, resulting in heavy lawsuits.
The Voyager series comes with a variety of engines, ranging from a 2.4-liter, 150 hp four to a 3.8 liter V-6. Regular models can have the 2.4 four, a 3.0 Mitsubishi V-6 from way back when, and the sturdy and reliable 3.3 V-6. All actually produce about the same power; each step up brings a tad more power and torque than the previous engine. The 3.8, which is based on the 3.3, is only available on the extended (Grand/Town & Country) models, which are not available with the 2.4 or 3.0.
Our test vehicles both had Chrysler's mainstay 3.3 liter engine, which seemed sufficient. Despite its lower power, the 3.3 seemed as responsive as the Venture's only engine, partly because the 3.3 and transmission react more quickly.
All of Chrysler's V-6s have picked up a significant amount of power through year-to-year incremental improvements. The 3.3 has gotten a reputation for long-term durability and reliability; the 3.8 is no doubt equally good. Many people have found the 3.0 to be reliable as well. (The 2.4 hasn't been around that long, and is less popular).
The 3.0 V6 was dropped when the 2001 models were announced; the 3.3 was raised to 180 hp (with a slight increase in torque), and the 3.8 was raised to 215 hp (also with a slight increase in torque).
The interior and controls were very well done and intuitive; this minivan required very little adjustment time before we knew where everything was and what it did. There is a handy windshield wiper defroster option which we recommend. The sun visors could use better lengtheners; why is this feature available in pickups but not minivans? Visibility was otherwise very good. Cup-holder design was excellent, and cup holders were everywhere; they ratcheted closed to match the size of just about any container Though we had to slam the side doors on the '98, the '99 doors slid quietly shut without any fuss or force. The headlights seem brighter, too.
The horn is quite loud and has a nice tone. The 3.3 liter V-6 warms quickly and gives good heat and air conditioning (depending on the season). The vents were fairly loud at high volume, quiet at normal fan settings. Extra (optional) ducts carried heat to the passengers. The defroster was fast and effective, and there was a handy (optional) wiper defrost wire.
Between 1998 and 99, Chrysler learned a lot about plastics, presumably from studying the Venture. No longer do coins or sunglasses jingle on hard plastics. No longer to hard plastics rub each other. Chrysler discovered soft plastic, and the minivan is even quieter now than it was before. On the other hand, there is still a little more wind noise at highway speed than in the GM models. Without remote entry, there is no way to unlock all the doors from the outside; most other automakers let you use the electric locks by turning the key twice.
Minivans in general have problems with engine accessibility. Three spark plugs are easy, three are buried. Chrysler went through some effort to make maintenance and repairs relatively easy, but the nature of the beast dictates some difficulty. Fortunately, pretty much all minivans now have technology to make raising the hood infrequent.
Overall, these were very likable and drivable vehicles. We actually preferred the smaller Voyager thanks to its handling, acceleration, and drivability.
1999 Plymouth Voyager SE car review
The Voyager is the least expensive minivan you can buy. For the price of a well-equipped mid-sized GM sedan, you can get a massive, comfortable minivan. The price you pay is in handling (not that many people would ever reach the limits of the Voyager's handling) and gas mileage.
This is a comfortable vehicle, and it handles and accelerates with confidence and grace. Like the Grand Voyager, a blindfolded driver would have thought it to be a car, albeit a more comfortable than usual model. Everything was where one would expect it, and the controls were thoughtfully and logically laid out, to the point where there were no surprises, no "what's this?" questions. Well, there was one exception: the emergency brake and hood release had very similar latches, and the hood release was where Chrysler used to put their brake releases. Next year, guys, use a different kind of handle...
The climate controls were particularly user-friendly, especially after experiencing the Neon and Ram. The radio sounded good and was easy to operate. The cruise control was surprisingly easy to figure out and use at night, and the headlights seemed brighter than the '98 Grand Voyager's lights. The car could use a couple of additional bulbs at night for illuminating the coin tray (nicely outfitted with rubbery places to hold coins without jingles) and labels for some switches, including the brake release.
Once we got over the novelty of popping the hood every time we started up, the Voyager was very predictable and dependable. The acceleration, while not tremendous, was sufficient and satisfactory, and the sound effects were pleasing: the 3.3 liter engine sounded like a sports model under acceleration. The handling was quite good, and the van felt more confident than the longer, heavier Grand Voyager. It was truly a pleasure to pull into parking spaces with this massive-interior, modest-exterior-sized vehicle. The transmission was exceptionally smooth at all times, even when doing kickdown downshifts. (It kicked down readily and whenever necessary; it struck just the right balance between supplying acceleration and being "busy." Which is to say that it never downshifted needlessly, and never failed to downshift when needed).
There were no defects in our press-fleet model. Normally, Chrysler has some squeak/rattle problems in the first production models, which are worked out in the next model year; they've had three years now to get the bugs out, and they seem to have done an admirable job.
The dual doors came in handy, as did the reclining bench (rear) seats, when we installed our child seat and child. (Though you can buy two built-in child seats, which we strongly recommend to people who expect children, our test vehicle had the standard seats.) Even with the seats in place, we were able to fit quite a bit of cargo in by using empty floor space; however, to really load up the car, you need to take out the rear seats, which leaves places for five people to sit. (We'd even recommend keeping the rearmost seat in the garage most of the time).
There was a great deal of leg room for the middle-row passengers, very little for the rearmost passengers.
Overall, we fell in "like" with this van immediately. The longer we drove it, the more we liked it.
1998 Plymouth Grand Voyager (Grand Caravan) car review
The Grand Voyager is basically a Voyager with lots of extra room and some extra weight. The price you pay for roominess is some extra cash, some extra fuel consumption and pollution, and a bit more difficulty in parking and lane changing. On the other hand, it is incredibly large inside, and even with the rear seats in place, there's good cargo room. Once the rearmost seats are removed, it can accommodate a great deal of cargo.
The transmission was smooth, though it took some time for the Grand Voyager's computer to adapt to our driving patterns (it flared when shifting for about 100 miles, then rapidly moved to being barely perceptible. Kickdown also took less time and seemed smoother at the end of our test). Based on our experience with the Voyager, we suspect that either Chrysler worked on the transmission and its computer control (likely) or that this particular van had been driven very differently by prior reviewers (also likely); the transmission adapts to your driving style.
Handling was excellent (with the optional sport suspension and wheels), not just carlike but actually better than some cars. The traction control and antilock brakes both worked well and without a lot of fuss; Chrysler changed their antilock brakes in 1998 models to make them less intrusive. Chrysler also switched to safer, slow-inflating airbags in their 1998 models. Both the Grand Caravan and Venture have dual sliding doors, and most minivans now seem to be available with one or two built-in child seats - a feature we strongly advise for those who might have children someday.
Though minivan base prices seem reasonable, options can quickly stack up. Two options most motorists should get are the touring suspension and the trailer towing package, which usually includes heavier duty components and a transmission cooler (we did not verify that this was the case for the Grand Caravan); these can keep your long-term repair costs down.
The Grand Caravan is similar to the Grand Voyager. Most buyers will probably find the standard Voyager/Caravan to suit their needs at a significantly lower price, and with the added benefits of easier parking, better gas mileage, and presumably better handling and faster acceleration with the same engine due to their lighter weight. The main difference between the standard and Grand is their length; the Grand also has a larger optional engine (3.8 liters).