While testing the Dodge Grand Caravan SXT recently, a friend of mine was making fun of the soccer mom reputation of all minivans and he, like so many people, wondered aloud why anyone buys a vehicle like this. He pointed out that most large SUVs offer just as much seating capacity and interior space as the Grand Caravan and since most large SUVs are descendants of pickup trucks, they can do more work like towing and heavy hauling. He has a point – as most large SUVs will outwork the Grand Caravan (or any other minivan on sale today), but having had the pleasure of testing most of the large SUVs sold in the US, I can definitively say that the Grand Caravan is just plain better when it comes to serving as a people mover.
In fact, when it comes down to moving a small group of people comfortably, no vehicles do it as efficiently as a minivan and as a leading innovator in the minivan segment – the Dodge Grand Caravan does the minivan job better than any of the competitors with features that make for a comfortable ride for every passenger.
What the Grand Caravan Won’t Do
Before getting into all of the things that the Dodge Grand Caravan does well, let’s get the negatives out of the way.
The Dodge Grand Caravan isn’t going to win any races. It also isn’t going to turn any heads at the local car show, nor is it going to help attract the opposite sex like a sports car or a jacked up truck. The Grand Caravan wont tow 7,000lbs nor will it allow you to haul 4,000lbs of gravel.
If you need your vehicle to win races, win car shows, attract girls, tow a 7,000lb horse trailer or haul a heavy load of gravel, you should probably look elsewhere. If you never have more than one or two people in your vehicle, you probably don’t need a minivan and if you complain about the minivan not being able to do anything of the lighthearted shortcomings above – a minivan probably isn’t the right vehicle for you at this stage in your life.
To those who don’t need the ease of access and three spacious rows of seats with extra cargo room outback, the Dodge Grand Caravan might not make sense , but to anyone who has loaded a family of six into the car for a weeklong vacation or a simple day of running errands with the kids – the advantages are practically exclusive to the minivan segment.
Where the Grand Caravan Shines
While the Dodge Grand Caravan struggles in the areas mentioned above, there are three areas where the original name in minivans shines – passenger space and access, interior amenities and on-road characteristics.
First up, the people mover aspect is the main reason why most people buy minivans, and the Dodge Grand Caravan handles that task very well. My test vehicle was equipped with second row buckets seats, so you gain some comfort and lose on seating position in the middle, but this setup also makes it much easier to access the third row of seats. Rather than having to flip the second row seat out of the way to access the rear seats, those passengers headed for the rear-most seats can climb in through the huge side doors and slip right up the middle without moving any seats around.
You might be thinking “wait a second – large SUVs come with three rows of seats and the optional bucket seats in the second row, so how is the minivan better? Well, the key difference with the Grand Caravan is that the long passenger box affords those folks in the third row far more legroom than many SUVs. Even the biggest SUVs on the market have somewhat limited legroom in the third row of seats, making them practical only for very small adults or kids. The Grand Caravan, on the other hand, has a third row seating setup that will comfortably fit two adults or three small kids. Of course, there is plenty of elbow, shoulder and leg room at every seat, but the added space for the third row is where the Grand Caravan separates itself from the big SUVs.
The other, more crucial advantage of the Dodge Grand Caravan is the low entry point at every door. The issue for many small children with large SUVs is that they sit very high off of the ground, so kids can have a hard time climbing up into their seats without adult assistance. The Grand Caravan, on the other hand, has low sills at both the front and side sliding doors, so little ones will be able to hop up into the rear seats without any problem. Along similar lines, anyone with any sort of physical disability that makes it hard to climb up into a large SUV will most certainly find accessing the Grand Caravan far easier and much more comfortable. As you might expect, the low entry point coupled with the high roofline from front to rear affords the Grand Caravan tons of head space for even the tallest passengers, while also making it easier for adults to move around the rear portion of the interior.
Finally, in addition to being easier for small passengers to get in and out, the low entry points of the Dodge Grand Caravan make loading cargo into the side or rear very easy. When you fold the second and third row seats down with the handy Stow n Go system, the Grand Caravan has a massive cargo area and filling the interior is a breeze with the sills being located so much closer to the ground than what you will get with an SUV with similar seating/cargo space. You cant carry 4,000lbs of loose gravel, but you can comfortably haul a big load of wood or plants for a project around the house.
In short, the Dodge Grand Caravan offers more functional seating space at all six seating positions than most large SUVs while also being much easier to get in and out of for anyone who is vertically challenged or anyone who has a hard time getting into a higher-riding truck or SUV. You can fit six adults in some large SUVs, but the Grand Caravan offers more ease of access and more legroom at every seat than many 3-row SUVs – including the Dodge Durango.
When the Dodge Grand Caravan was first introduced back in the 1980s, it was anything but luxurious. Regardless of how it may have been marketed, the early Dodge minivan was a far cry from a technological giant. Many of them had bench seats in the back, manual roll-up windows and an AM/FM stereo that had just a handful of low quality speakers. The modern Grand Caravan is the complete opposite, with a long list of features once reserved for only expensive luxury brands.
The Dodge Grand Caravan SXT Plus comes with leather seats throughout and a healthy dose of leather trimming on the doors, center console, steering wheel and shift knob. When equipped with the single DVD entertainment package, the Grand Caravan also benefits from a premium infotainment system including a touch screen, an integrated rearview camera, a dedicated hard drive for music files, wireless headphones for the headliner-mounted rear display screen and USB access ports. The Driver Convenience Group adds more luxury, with rear window shades, 3-zone auto climate control, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, unique interior lighting and an overhead storage console while the Security Group adds a remote start system and an alarm system. The Security Group works with the factory key fob, which also allows you to open both sliding doors and the rear hatch at the push of a button.
With those first two packages mentioned above, the Dodge Grand Caravan SXT Plus has power, heated leather front seats, leather second and third row seats that fold quickly into the floor, a premium infotainment system with touch screen controls, a 3-zone automatic climate control system, a 9 inch screen for rear passengers with wireless headphones and a standard speaker system that won’t set off car alarms – but it also won’t leave you wishing that you had spent more money on a factory speaker setup.
Now I understand that none of these features are mind-blowing, but even when you add those packages mentioned above, the Grand Caravan SXT Plus rings up at only $32,129 and as 6/7 passenger vehicles go, that is a great price for everything included.
When the Dodge Caravan and Grand Caravan were introduced on the Chrysler K platform back in the early 1980s, the main powerplant was a very sluggish 4-cylinder engine. Sure, you could opt for a higher performance turbocharged engine, but in terms of driving dynamics – the original Caravan was far from fun to drive. Even as people movers go, the early Caravan wasn’t quick, it wasn’t fast and it didn’t handle well. This didn’t make any difference back then, as in the early day of the minivan it was all about utility and efficiency, but the industry as a whole has evolved so much that driving dynamics matter regardless of the segment and that has led to a very positive improvement for the Dodge Grand Caravan.
The most significant feature of the Dodge Grand Caravan drivetrain is the 3.6L Pentastar V6, which delivers 283 horsepower via a 6-speed automatic transmission. As I said above, the Grand Caravan isn’t going to win any races, but the available power makes this six passenger minivan anything but sluggish. This engine allows you a surprising amount of low end acceleration so the Grand Caravan will comfortably hurry away from a stop and if you are in a huge hurry to get to work, soccer practice or the airport – the newest Dodge minivan won’t hesitate to go way faster than any posted speed limit in the USA. Really, while few people take the Grand Caravan racing, I would bet that the Pentastar V6 will outrun a great many cars in a straight line, just in case you find yourself hustling from a stop to merge into fast-moving traffic. After all, this is the same engine that powers the Dodge Challenger SXT.
More importantly, in addition to offering best in class horsepower and torque, the Dodge Grand Caravan offers an advertised figure of 25 miles per gallon on the highway. This brings us to another category in which the Grand Caravan bests the large SUVs, as your larger, truck-based SUVs struggle to hit EPA numbers like those.
Power and fuel economy aside, the Dodge Grand Caravan offers a very smooth ride and, while handling really isn’t a concern of many minivan drivers – the modern Dodge minivan handles the road very nicely. While the Grand Caravan is a taller vehicle, the low entry point leads to a low center of gravity and as a result, it cuts through corners surprisingly well with the Touring suspension that comes standard with the SXT package. In fact, I have been to several track events where we were taken on a schooling lap with a professional driving instructor who was driving us around in a Grand Caravan, and he was hitting the turns fairly hard. Of course, no one takes a minivan to a road course, but the Grand Caravan is surprisingly nimble for a vehicle with such vast cargo and seating capabilities.
Best of all, unlike the old school minivans that were high riding and a touch on the bouncy side, the modern Dodge Grand Caravan offers a smooth, quiet ride for those folks seated in all three rows. Whether I was cruising down a bumpy Detroit highway or tackling one of the many local unpaved dirt roads, the suspension of the Grand Caravan does a great job of keeping the harshness and noise of the road out of the passenger compartment.
The Final Word
So, why do people buy the Dodge Grand Caravan? Because at the end of the day, it is very difficult to find a vehicle that will comfortably seat six adults while still having room for cargo, with premium infotainment goodies and a 283hp engine that still gets 25mpg on the highway. No other vehicle segment offers the interior space and the ease of entry of the minivan and with Chrysler literally inventing the minivan back in the early 1980s, the Dodge Grand Caravan continues to be the leader in the segment alongside the slightly fancier Chrysler Town & Country.
People buy the Grand Caravan because as 6/7 passenger vehicles go, it is fun to drive, efficient and fairly well equipped for under $33k, but the ultimately, the Grand Caravan is one of the easiest vehicles on the market to load with passengers and/or a big load of cargo. In terms of functionality, the Dodge Grand Caravan is unbeatable in this price range – allowing the originator of the minivan segment to still be the top dog.