The Dodge Grand Caravan and the shorter Caravan are family friendly vehicles offering the features and flexibility most buyers want. Smooth riding and responsive, most come with a powerful V6 engine that delivers strong acceleration for merging onto hectic freeways. Anti-lock brakes and side-impact airbags are available. And there's a model for every budget.
Dodge redesigned the seating system last year, and the result is one of the most versatile interiors available for a family vehicle. Called Stow 'n Go, the optional system features second-row and third-row seats that flip down into the floor, leaving a huge, perfectly flat cargo compartment behind the front seats. With the seats folded down, the Grand Caravan offers more cargo space than sport-utilities, including the mammoth Chevrolet Suburban. And its cargo space is more accessible and more convenient than that of SUVs.
With the seats in place, the Grand Caravan can carry seven. Selectively folding away the seats allows versatility in hauling a mix of passengers and cargo. No need to pull the seats out and store them in the garage or to try to put stuff on top of them.
The current model dates back to 1996, but Dodge has continuously improved it since then. The 2005 model year brought substantial upgrades. Changes for 2006 are minimal.
Caravan is the short van, Grand Caravan is the long van, 6 inches longer in wheelbase and 11 inches longer overall.
Caravan SE ($18,380) is the base model powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. It comes with hand-crank windows, manually adjusted mirrors, and a limited list of options, although rear-seat video entertainment is now available on all Caravan models. It does have standard air conditioning, variable intermittent wipers, AM/FM/CD stereo, and 215/70 tires on 15-inch steel wheels. The tire-pressure monitor is standard, but Stow'n Go seats are not available.
Caravan SXT ($22,225) is the short van equipped with a 3.3-liter V6 and a higher level of standard equipment, though it does not get Stow 'n Go. SXT does add second-row bucket seats, dual-zone manual air conditioning, tilt steering, cruise control, power windows, power heated mirrors, power locks with remote keyless entry, an upgraded AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo, a rear window defroster, sunscreen glass, 215/65 tires on 16-inch aluminum wheels, and other niceties, plus an expanded list of options.
Grand Caravan SE ($22,920) is a long-wheelbase base model similarly equipped to the Caravan SE. But it's powered by the 3.3-liter V6 engine, and comes with more sophisticated airbags with Occupant Classification System (OCS) and driver's side inflatable knee blocker. It also comes with a rear defroster, speed control, tilt steering column, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, and a few other appointments not included in the short-wheelbase SE. Standard second-row seating reverts to a bench with covered storage bins, although Stow 'n Go is optional.
Grand Caravan SXT ($26,680) is powered by a 3.8-liter V6 and comes standard with Stow 'n Go, along with second-row adjustable seats, a 60/40 split third-row bench with tailgate feature, dual power sliding doors, fog lamps, three-zone air-conditioning system, roof rack, eight-way power driver's seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, steering-wheel audio controls, and an overhead console with trip computer and HomeLink universal transceiver.
Option packages are available in a dizzying array of combinations.
Safety features that come standard include the required front airbags, which feature multi-stage inflators designed to automatically compensate for the severity of an accident. Front seatbelts use pre-tensioners to take up slack during a collision. Middle- and third-row seats include child-seat anchors for a more secure installation. Optional side curtain airbags are designed to offer head protection for outboard occupants in all three rows.
Dodge Caravan and Grand Caravan are large vehicles, but not outrageously so. Measuring 200 inches long and less than 5-feet, 9-inches tall, even the Grand Caravan will fit just about anywhere a full-size sedan will fit. The standard Caravan measures 189.3 inches bumper to bumper. Grand Caravan's extra 11 inches makes a big difference in the amount of cargo it can carry with all three rows of seats in place. Caravan rides on a wheelbase of 113.3 inches, while the Grand Caravan stretches across a wheelbase of 119.3 inches.
Grand Caravan and Caravan are sleek and attractive with steeply raked windshields and aggressive grilles. The tracks for the sliding side doors are cleverly camouflaged under the rear side windows for a clean appearance. The D-pillars and rear window are steeply inclined for a sporty look, and a discrete spoiler rises from the trailing edge of the roof. Flared wheel openings add strength to the appearance. Headlamps and tail lamps are big, the latter wrapping around to the sides. The optional roof rack is hunkered close to the roof, stylistically less obtrusive and perhaps less likely to generate wind noise, but also offering less clearance for the thicker hooks of some tie-downs.
For 2005, Dodge freshened the Caravan's appearance with a new U-shaped grille featuring black bars behind Dodge's trademark body-color crosshairs, a design cue shared with the new Dodge Magnum. Also new was a molded-in license plate pocket and revised fog lamps, while new body-colored side moldings protected the door. These details have continued unchanged for 2006.
Models with power sliding doors on both sides add convenience when moving passengers. They're particularly useful when you find yourself herding children while carrying two armloads of gear. Press the button on the remote transmitter twice and the door slides open; press it twice again and it slides closed and seals. From the second-row seat, the power sliding door can be opened and closed by pressing a button; it can also be opened manually. A safety lock switch hidden on the trailing edge of the door can be engaged to prevent a child from opening the sliding door from inside. The power sliding doors can be fussy when passengers are in a hurry to get out, however, and passengers usually are in a hurry. Pulling on the outside lever opens the power door manually, with just slightly more effort than opening a regular manual door.
The standard manually operated sliding doors are easy to operate, smoothly gliding open and closed with the pull of a nicely designed lever. The outside door handles are comfortable and well designed; they impart a feeling of quality in appearance and operation. All door handles should be this good.
A power rear liftgate is available that adds convenience when picking up groceries or supplies. Press a button on the remote control and the liftgate opens or closes automatically. It's a great feature for those times when you approach the van with an armload, especially when it's raining.
Dodge Caravan's interior is comfortable and convenient. Both Caravan and Grand Caravan can accommodate seven passengers in a 2/2/3 arrangement.
The seats in our Grand Caravan SXT were nicely finished in light-colored leather. The material is soft and appears to be durable. The seat bottoms are nicely finished on all sides; we mention this because some manufacturers don't finish the inboard side panels, which leaves an unattractive, unfinished look that you don't notice until after you've bought the vehicle. Faux carbon fiber trim added a touch of high-tech to the cabin.
The seats in the Grand Caravan seemed more bucket-like than those of the similar Chrysler Town & Country, and not as comfortable. The Dodge has a manually adjustable lumbar support, however, and the seatbacks seem to have more side bolstering than in the T&C. The power seat adjusters have exposed screws on them that do not feel aesthetically pleasing. The seating position is higher than that of a sedan, which enables drivers to see over traffic. But you don't have to climb up into the seats, as you do in SUVs.
The Stow 'n Go seating system, standard on Grand Caravan SXT and optional on Grand Caravan SE, is the best seating setup on the market. The second and third rows of seats fold flat into the floor leaving a perfectly flat platform for cargo. Folding and unfolding the seats is a quick three-step process. Pull one strap to drop the seatback, then pull two other straps to tuck it into the floor. This leaves a perfectly flat platform. Very few seats fold perfectly flat and no one else (except Chrysler) has a second row that does this. The system is also flexible. The third row is split 60/40 and either or both of the second-row captain's chairs can be stowed. So, for example, you could stow the right one-third of the third-row bench and the right-hand second-row seat for loading something long, while still leaving seating for yourself and three or four passengers. Alas, the front passenger seat does not fold down, so you may want to secure that kayak to the roof rack.
The second-row seats move fore and aft to optimize legroom for rear passengers. Getting into the third row is a little awkward, but easier than in most SUVs. Once back there, the third-row seating is comfortable, though the seat bottoms are steeply raked.
Grand Caravan SE and both Caravan models come standard with the traditional seating setup instead of the new Stow 'n Go system, so the seats must be removed to turn them into effective cargo haulers. We found the second-row bucket seats and third-row split bench easy to remove, however. All or any one of the four seats can be popped out and rolled away in three quick steps, providing a wide variety of seating and cargo configurations. Reinstalling them takes a little more practice, as you need to learn how to line them up before snapping them into place. Each seat is heavy enough that care should be exercised when lifting it off the garage floor; you may want help. Most of the time what you'll do is leave the seats in the van but fold the seatbacks down to form a continuous load floor for large items.
The low floor makes getting in and out through the side doors easy. Caesar the 160-pound mastiff requires a ramp to get into an SUV, but he stepped easily and without hesitation through the rear and side doors of our Grand Caravan. Likewise, the low load height makes loading cargo easier, and the Grand Caravan can carry more stuff and bigger items than any SUV. There's a fair amount of cargo space behind the third row. When the seats are in place for passengers, there are wells behind the third-row seats that are perfect for groceries. A pair of cargo nets can be suspended from hooks, providing well-designed bags to keep your melons from rolling around. Another net can be secured between either the second-row or front-row captain's chairs. Hooks on the backs of the seats are useful for h
The Dodge Grand Caravan and Caravan are smooth, quiet vehicles, particularly when measured by minivan standards. Additional sound-deadening measures added last year reduced wind noise. We found carrying on a conversation to be easy and pleasant.
Ride quality is supple and well-controlled on the highway. The rack-and-pinion steering responds nicely and provides good feedback through the steering wheel. The Grand Caravan tracks true at highway speeds, so there's no need for constant, minor steering corrections. Indeed, the Dodge Grand Caravan offers superb driving dynamics. Grand Caravan rides more softly than an SUV, gliding over potholes rather than trying to beat them into submission. It's an excellent choice when transporting passengers on beat up freeways and bumpy urban streets.
Grand Caravan's relatively tight turning radius makes getting into parking spaces easy. It isn't easy to see exactly where the front corners of the van are located, however. It is easy to tell where the rear corners are, but the height of the windows blocks the view of low objects, like that expensive sports car you don't want to scratch. Optional rear Park Assist helps with this by lighting a series of small lights in the rear roof liner that are visible in the rearview mirror or when you turn around.
The 3.8-liter V6 in the Grand Caravan SXT delivers strong power. This big V6 employs a traditional pushrod overhead-valve design rather than the more contemporary overhead-cam setup found on many imports. Dodge is advertising lower horsepower and torque numbers for this engine this year, but it's only the numbers that have changed. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) recently revised its test procedures for determining horsepower and torque, and nearly everyone's figures are coming out smaller. Numbers for the Caravan's four-cylinder were affected only slightly and for the 3.3-liter V6 not at all, but the 3.8-liter is now rated 205 horsepower and 240 pound-feet instead of the 215 horsepower and 245 pound-feet advertised last year. What's important to remember is that the engine itself is as strong as ever, even though its strength is now measured more conservatively.
We recommend the 3.8-liter V6 to anyone who regularly carries a heavy load of passengers. It offers good response when merging into fast freeway traffic, accelerating from intersections, or passing on two-lane roads. EPA City/Highway estimated fuel economy is a reasonable 18/25 mpg. An optional towing package is available with the 3.8-liter engine that raises the trailer rating to 3800 pounds.
Models equipped with the 3.3-liter V6 have enough power to climb hills without breathing hard. The 3.3-liter is smooth and quiet when cruising, although it makes itself known under full-throttle acceleration. Merging onto the freeway may not give you visions of your life insurance salesman, but it doesn't offer the acceleration performance of the larger 3.8-liter. The 3.3-liter is rated 180 horsepower and 210 pound-feet of torque, which is significantly less than the 3.8-liter. Fuel mileage is only slightly better than the 3.8-liter, at 19/26 EPA city/highway. The 3.3-liter V6 is a flexible-fuel engine, so it can use E85 ethanol.
Both engines allow the Grand Caravan to be certified as low-emissions vehicles in all 50 states.
We haven't tested a Caravan with the base 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, but with just 150 horsepower and, more important, only 165 pound-feet of torque, we don't expect it to be a rocket. It's rated 20/26 mpg.
The Grand Caravan's brakes offer good feel, performance and durability. Standard brakes for the short-wheelbase Caravan are discs in front with heavy-duty rotors and drums at the rear. ABS is optional on the short SXT, and standard on all Grand Caravans. ABS allows the driver to brake and steer in a panic stop. Four-wheel disc brakes are standard on Grand Caravan SXT. Disc brakes gene
The Dodge Grand Caravan one of the most versatile minivans available when equipped with the Stow 'n Go seating system. It's one of the best solutions available for quickly switching between big loads of people, cargo and pets. The driving experience is controlled and enjoyable. And there's lots of V6 power available in the lineup. The shorter Caravan is a good, practical minivan at a low cost of entry. A wide selection of models means there's a Caravan or Grand Caravan to fit most budgets.
NewCarTestDrive.com editor Mitch McCullough filed this report from Los Angeles.
|Model Line Overview|
|Base Price (MSRP)|
|Dodge Caravan SE ($18,380); Caravan SXT ($22,225); Grand Caravan SE ($22,920); Grand Caravan SXT ($26,995)|
|150-hp 2.4-liter dohc 16-valve inline-4; 180-hp 3.3-liter ohv 12-valve V6; 205-hp 3.8-liter ohv 12-valve V6|
|Safety equipment (Standard):|
|driver and passenger airbags with multi-stage inflators, front belt pre-tensioners and force limiters, LATCH child seat anchorage on middle and rear seats|
|Safety equipment (Optional):|
|three-row side curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes (ABS), traction control|
|3 years/36,000 miles|
|Windsor, Ontario; Fenton, Missouri|
|Specifications As Tested|
|Model tested (MSRP):|
|Dodge Grand Caravan SXT ($26,995)|
|rear intermittent wiper/washer, rear defroster, power windows, power quarter vent windows, power locks, cruise control, front seat cargo net, underseat lockable storage bin, floor mats, front & rear power outlets, AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo with steering-wheel controls, leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated power mirrors, tinted glass, visor mirrors, 160-amp alternator, passenger assist grips, overhead console with trip computer, dual power sliding doors, illuminated remote keyless entry, fog lights, universal garage door opener, headlights with time-delay off, deluxe interior lighting, dual illuminated visor vanity mirrors, eight-way power driver's seat with manual lumbar support, second-row bucket seats, 60/40 split third-row seat, aluminum wheels: low tire-pressure warning monitor|
|Options as tested:|
|side-curtain airbags for all three rows ($595); Leather Interior Group ($2,930) includes leather low-backed bucket seats, heated power front seats w driver's adjustable lumbar support, four-way power passenger seat, three-zone automatic climate control, cabin air filtering, movable center console, Infinity speaker system, vehicle information center, power liftgate; Premium Group ($860) includes power-adjustable pedals, rear Park Assist system, security system, 3 overhead storage bins, touring suspension; in-dash six-disc CD/DVD changer ($555); UConnect hands-free communication with automatic dimming rearview mirror ($360); rear-seat video system ($950) includes second-row 7-inch video screen, wireless headphones, video remote control|
|Gas Guzzler Tax:|
|Price as tested (MSRP)|
|3.8-liter ohv 12-valve V6|
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm):|
|205 @ 5200|
|Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm):|
|240 @ 4000|
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:|
|Head/hip/leg room, f:|
|Head/hip/leg room, m:|
|Head/hip/leg room, r:|
|160.7 cu. ft.|
|independent, ISO struts with integral gas-charged shock absorbers, asymmetrical lower arms, coil springs, link-type anti-roll bar|
|tubular axle, single-leaf semi-elliptic springs, track bar, gas-charged shock absorbers|
|P215/65R16 Bridgestone Turanza|
|disc/disc with ABS in.|