1992-1995 Chrysler Mini-Vans
A Revolution on Wheels
Note: this article first appeared in the
Spring 1998 issue of Used Cars.
You can count on one hand the number of cars
that have had as much influence on the U.S. automobile market as the
Chrysler minivan. Not only did it change the everyday transportation mode of
American families, it saved Chrysler as an independent automaker.
The concept was simple: A box on wheels that
maximized usable space and felt and drove like a car. Volkswagen had first
approached the concept with its Microbus, but is was too small and
underpowered to gain wide acceptance in America. The sixties also brought
the introduction of a Corvair-based van from Chevy and a small Falcon-based
van from Ford. Of the two, the Corvair came closest to the minivan
concept, being based on the innovative compact car of the same name. But it
was still underpowered and all Corvairs were under attack from Ralph Nader
for supposedly "dangerous" handling characteristics. Besides, America in the
sixties was into big, flashy and fast, so even if the perfect minivan had
been introduced, it's doubtful whether it would've gone anywhere.
In the late seventies, Ford toyed with a
car-like and garage-able minivan, but ultimately it never went beyond the
concept stage. That's one they'd like to have back!
So that left Chrysler (and Renault in Europe)
to introduce the now ubiquitous minivan. Subsequently Ford and Chevy
introduced their response, the Aerostar and the Astro, but they were
truck-based, rear-wheel drive and off the mark. The Japanese at first
ignored the segment and then imported a variety of models, all of which
missed the target as well.
GM tried again in 1990, but their vans were
too radically styled and just bizarre enough to never mount a serious
threat. Incredibly, it wasn't until the nicely done 1992 Mercury
Villager/Nissan Quest twins that anyone copied Chrysler's winning formula.
That's eight years with virtually the entire segment to themselves, an
unheard of amount of time in the ultra-competitive automotive industry.
Chrysler exploited this to the maximum, using clever marketing campaigns,
introducing an upmarket version in 1990, the Chrysler -badged Town & Country
and cultivating high levels of owner loyalty that led to repeat business.
Then came the Ford Windstar, which in many
ways equaled the Chrysler trio and sold extremely well. And others were
readying new models.
Just as Chrysler appeared vulnerable, it
introduced the current generation minivan (1996 models), which simply
outclassed every other effort out there. It rides quietly, steers better
than many cars and offers class-leading packaging and an incredible array of
A year later, GM introduced its very
competitive minivans, the Chevy Venture, Pontiac Transport and the
Oldsmobile Silhouette. For 1998, Toyota abandoned its answer to the question
nobody asked, the Previa, and introduced the capable Chrysler clone, the
Just as all these new models are flooding the
market, the minivan segment as a whole is beginning to soften. This is
mostly due to the latest phenomena, the sport utility vehicle. So all these
new competitors will have to battle for a piece of a shrinking pie. Despite
a shrinking market and new competition, as of this article's publication
Chrysler still owns this segment with an over 50% market share. In less than
two years, Chrysler promises to raise the bar again with an all-new third
For the purposes of this review, we're going
to focus on the 1992-1995 models. These were refined but basically carryover
models with new styling. They sold in large numbers so there is a plentiful
supply on the used market.
As before, three models were offered.
Plymouth Voyager, Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country. Aside from trim
and some option availability the Plymouth and Dodge versions are identical
and were available in standard and "Grand" (stretched) form. The Chrysler
Town & Country was available only in the stretched version and is outfitted
like a luxury car.
Trim levels for the Dodge and Plymouth
include Base, SE and LE. Top of the line models were identified as ES for
Dodge and LX for Plymouth. The option list continued to increase, offering
consumers a myriad of choices. Three engines were available. A 2.5 liter
four cylinder was the base motor on the standard wheelbase Base and SE
models and was unavailable anywhere else. The Base extended models (Grand)
and standard wheelbase LE and LX models received a 3.0 liter
Mitsubishi-built V6. All others, include the all-wheel drive models,
received a Chrysler-built 3.3 liter V6. A five speed manual transmission
could be had only on the standard wheelbase Base model, otherwise you got a
3-speed or 4-speed overdrive automatic. These powertrain selections remained
constant through the 1995 models except for the introduction of a 3.8 liter
Chrysler-built V6 in 1994, which was available only on the Grand versions
and standard equipment for the Town & Country.
Styling is not what attracts people to
minivans. Utility rules. With these vehicles, form truly follows function.
With the Caravan and Voyager, you really don't gain much in the way of
exterior distinctiveness by moving up through the trim levels. A little
extra trim and fancier wheels are present on the up-market LE, ES and LX,
and monochrome and two-tone paint schemes were offered to bring some
character to the party, and but it is hard to do much with a box on wheels.
Of course, with the Town & Country you get the works: alloys, paint stripes,
distinctive grille, special paint, etc.
Fit and finish are average. Chrysler set no
build quality standards with these vans, but you don't have to worry about
things falling off either.
Chrysler's minivans have always been about
being car-like and in the interior this is most noticeable. Other than
sitting higher and further forward, you'd swear you were in a car.
The controls and layout of the dash are good,
offering an easy to see "information center" readout along the top with all
sorts of warning lights. A full set of well placed gauges, including a
tachometer, greets you on the LE, ES, and LX models. Others make do with a
speedometer and temperature and fuel gauges, although the gauge package is
available on SE models at extra cost.
Cupholders, assist straps, locking drawers
abound, adding to the usability of these vehicles. A glaring omission, in
our opinion, is the lack of reading lights for the rear passengers. Anyone
with kids can understand the desirablity of those!
A driver air bag was standard on all '92 and
'93 models; dual airbags for '94 and '95. The dashboard was slightly
re-designed for 1994.
In minivans, seating configuration can vary
greatly, accommodating a range of tastes and requirements. Chrysler offered
them all, so you can choose between front buckets and two rear bench seats
of four bucket seats with a rear bench. The rearmost seat folds down for
extra cargo capacity and all seats (except the front buckets) are removable.
Although the idea is to give the owner seating versatility, in reality those
bench seats are awfully heavy and a pain in the neck to move in and out.
You'll probably settle on a configuration and keep it.
Fun to drive and minivan are two words just
not heard in the same breath. Minivans are wonderful conveyances of people
and cargo, but the driver will get little enjoyment out of the process.
Having said that, Chrysler has done a good job of getting the most out of
what is a pretty simple suspension system. The ES and LX models even come
with stabilizer bars front and rear, 16in alloy wheels and tires and tighter
shock calibrations in an effort to bring some semblance of "sportiness" to
the driver. Just don't confuse it with Corvette, or a Stratus for that
Acceleration is acceptable with the sixes,
pretty anemic and noisy with the four. You can get by with the four if you
spend most of your time around town, but we recommend one of the sixes.
Besides being more adept at moving the big box around, they do it more
smoothly and quietly. The 5-speed manual transmission is just about
impossible to find, so you'll most likely end up with one of the automatics.
Neither is particularly smooth. The 4-speed is a direct descendant of
Chrysler's disastrous "ultradrive" (see side-bar) but apart from the
occasional abrupt shift, it appears to be rid of its demons.
Room and comfort for the front seat
passengers is good, although lower back support is lacking, at least on the
base and SE models we tried. Two middle seat passengers have plenty of room
to stretch out and the seatback is adjustable. The rearmost seat in the
standard length van simply does not offer enough legroom for anyone over
5'7". If you plan on carrying adults in the rear, you really need the
stretched version. do ok as long as they aren't over 6 feet and the front
passengers do not have their seats all the way back.
It's difficult to quiet things down in a big
box, and road noise is noticeable at 30mph and up. A sound insulation
package was available on the SE and standard on the LE and up models and
helps somewhat. The six cylinder motors operate unobtrusively, but the four
gets buzzy and drones at highway speeds.
The Chrysler trio received a good safety
rating as a result of its performance in government crash tests. Dual
airbags became standard in 1994. Previously, only a driver bag was standard,
with no passenger option. ABS brakes were optional in all years on SE models
and above, standard on the T&C.
This is one area Chrysler does not set the
benchmark in this class. Not bad, just not at the top of its class. These
are very durable machines, however. They take a lot of abuse from kids
jumping all over them, slamming doors, spilling drinks and food. They just
shrug it all off and keep delivering.
We've had several reports and inquiries about
excessive oil consumption by the Mitsibushi-built V6 with over 90,000 miles,
so if you are looking at one of those pay close attention and ask questions
in that area.
Even though the 4-speed overdrive
transmission had supposedly been fixed by the 1992 models, VMR still
recommends you pay close attention to the way it operates, and inquire about
any repairs. This transmission is not one of Chrysler’s finest efforts, and
it mars an otherwise fine product.
All in all, we've talked to countless owners
of these vehicles and seldom do we hear of anyone dissatisfied with their
performance or utility.
All vans came with a 3yr/36,000 mile
transferable factory warranty, so if you are looking at a '95 model there
may be some coverage left on the factory warranty.
Despite their endless utility, Chryslers trio
are pretty simple vehicles. This makes them relatively easy to service
compared to, say, a Previa.
The 2.5 liter 4cylinder and the 3.0 liter V6
engine are overhead cam designs. The 3.0L calls for a maintenance check on
its timing belt at 60,000 miles. If not replaced, it should be done at
90,000 miles. The four calls for replacement at 120,000 miles. Both will
cost you somewhere between $225 to $350, depending on where you have it
done. The procedure on the six is slightly more that the four. The bigger
sixes (3.3L and 3.8L) are pushrod designs and do not require this service.
Struts are used only in the front, so you'll
save money when those need to be replaced.
With declining demand for minivans in
general, and hundreds of thousands available for sale, now is a good time to
get a great deal on a used minivan.
All things considered, Chrysler's lineup for
1992-1995 are not only the best overall vehicles in the minivan segment (for
their time), they are also the best overall values -- just be wary of that
The transportation revolution they started
may be over, but the versatility, efficiency, and economy of these vehicles
still can't be beat.
There have been a
few bumps along the road of minivan domination. VMR recommends
that you avoid these models:
with 4-speed overdrive "Ultradrive" automatic transmission
Any model with
over 80,000 miles and its original 4-speed automatic
transmission. It's ready to
blow, trust us.
with turbocharged 4-cylinder engine
When the story broke, it was all over the airwaves. Chrysler's
vaunted minivans were under investigation for faulty rear hatch
latches that popped open during rollovers. Regardless of the
merits of the charge (any large opening is susceptible to
deformation during a rollover with subsequent latch failure),
Chrysler clearly dropped the ball by stonewalling and allowing
the negative publicity to mushroom.
Although there has been no
determination that a safety defect exists with the minivan
latches. Chrysler will replace, free of charge, the latch with a
stronger design. Call Chrysler at 1-800-MINIVAN.
1992 All models - The brake pedal pad attachment to the pedal
arm may not have adequate strength due to mislocation of welds,
and could break. Failure of the pedal pad to pedal arm
attachment results in loss of braking ability, and could result
in an accident. Replace brake pedals with new unit if
1991-92 All models - The steering
wheel armature stamping can crack and separate from the center
hub attachment to the steering column, causing possible loss of
control. Dealer will inspect steering wheel for armature
cracks in the center hub attachment area. Any steering wheels
showing cracks will be replaced.
1992 All models - The zinc
plating operation performed on the upper steering column shaft
coupling bolt caused hydrogen embrittlement and breakage of the
bolt. Dealer will replace the zinc plated bolt with a
phosphate plated bolt.
1992 All models - Fuel tank
flanges were not bent as required to allow the specified
clearance for the fuel tank mounting straps and fuel lines at
the tank, causing damage to the mounting straps and fuel lines
at the tank. The damaged straps may break, causing the tank to
drop and fuel lines to break. Dealer will repair the
flange by bending to the correct angle and replace any damaged
fuel lines or mounting straps.
1992 All models - The bolts used
to attach the strut to the body and the rear lift gate can
accumulate fatigue damage due to a bolt being loose, the gas
strut is over-pressurized, and the frequency of opening and
closing cycles is high. Have dealer inspect the assembly
and make appropriate repairs.
1992-93 All models - Covers on
the solid stalk mounted seat belt buckles can become dislodged
causing the release button to stick inside the cover, allowing
only partial latching of the seat belt. Contact Chrysler
at 1-800-853-1403 for information.
1992-93 All models - The center
rear seat, right outboard side, safety belt anchor hook can
become unattached from the body anchor position. In the event of
a crash, the occupant may not be properly restrained.
Contact Chrysler at 1-800-853-1403 for information.
1992-93 All models - The ABS
hydraulic control unit can experience excessive brake actuatior
piston seal wear causing possible loss of ABS function.
Contact Chrysler at 1-800-853-1403 for information.
1993 All models - Fifteen inch
wheels may have a malformed lug nut seat configuration which
causes poor nut to wheel contact and centering of the wheel,
possibly causing loss of the wheel. Dealer will replace
wheels with the malformed configuration.
(c) Copyright 1998-2001
VMR International, Inc.
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