I seldom drive minivans – I prefer smoking musclecars, powerful trucks and more versatile crossovers/SUVs -- but when out-of-town family came to town
I seldom drive minivans – I prefer smoking musclecars, powerful trucks and more versatile crossovers/SUVs -- but when out-of-town family came to town for a holiday-season visit, I needed a seven-seater and I asked for a 2018 Dodge Grand Caravan to test. While sales have slipped in the genre to just under 500,000 vehicles sold in America last year, Grand Caravan dominates the segment with about 125,000 vehicles sold in 2017, only 1.9 percent fewer than in 2016.
Billed as a multi-purpose vehicle, Grand Caravan was introduced in December 2008, and is still in its first generation, though the pioneering Caravan itself, began life for the 1984 model year, and has lasted five generations.
Priced at $20,000 less than the No.2-selling minivan – Dodge’s Pacifica – Grand Caravan is built at Dodge’s Windsor, Ontario, Canada assembly plant and comes in four trims, six exterior colors and two interior colors, and is powered by a 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine.
Standing pat for 2018, Grand Caravan adds only a new color -- IndiGo Blue – after few changes in 2017 that included reducing trim levels from six to four; upgrading all trim levels with a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system and a backup camera, and SE Plus trim minivans were afforded Dodge’s popular Blacktop appearance package (17-inch aluminum wheels, black exterior detailing, and an all-black interior) as standard.
My test SXT came with a class-exclusive Stow N Place® roof rack system, dual power sliding side doors, power liftgate, leather-wrapped shift knob, black cloth seats with silver accent stitching, Uconnect® Voice Command and Bluetooth® Streaming Audio, a six-speaker audio system, third-row Stow 'n Go® Seating and storage system featuring class-exclusive tailgate seating, and body-color door handles and side moldings.
Constructed with unitized steel with hinged front doors; sliding left and right side doors — power available and rear liftgate with gas props — power available, Grand Caravan measures 203.7 inches long, 78.7 inches wide and 69.0 inches high on a 121.2-inch wheelbase. Curbweight is a stout 4510 lbs.
Inside, the minivan was roomy enough for five adults and two children, as well as eight airline bags. Headroom seems more accommodating than its 39.8 inches in the first row, 39.3 inches with captain’s chairs in row two and .37.7 in row three. Legroom is generous at 40.7 inches in front, 36.5 in the intermediate seats and 32.7 in the rear, and shoulder room comes in at 63.7 inches in row one, 64.1 in the middle and 62.0 in the back row.
The interior really hasn’t been updated significantly since 2008, and its design (intuitiveness) and overuse of plastic seem outdated, but for the price saving, and with the excellent high-seating sightlines, the cabin is adequate.
Grand Caravan’s transverse front engine, front-wheel drive layout features a V-6 engine mated to a six-speed, adaptive electronic control transmission with an electronically modulated torque converter clutch. The system puts out 283 hp and 260 lbs-ft of torque
Rated at 17mpg/city and 25mpg/highway with a 20-gallon tank, Grand Caravan gave me excellent range, as I averaged 22.9mpg in mixed-use driving.
In track tests, as well as on the highway, Grand Caravan was slow, but steady, with enough power to pass at speed. My test mini finished off a zero-to-60mph dash in 7.9 seconds, en route to a sleepy 16.3-second quarter-mile.
Performance-wise, Grand Caravan is front-wheel drive, and in winter snow and many uphill grades, we really could have used all-wheel-drive. In today’s car world, I prefer AWD when available, as you give up little in fuel economy and gain tons in response and control, particularly north of the Mason-Dixon Line in winter, but even down South in rainy and muddy conditions.
The independent MacPherson strut front suspension with coil over gas-charged shock absorbers, stabilizer bar with isolated suspension cradle, works with a twist-beam axle rear with coil springs, track bar, gas-charged shock absorbers (self-leveling shock absorbers are optional). The suspension successfully masks most road irregularities, but potholes and deeper ruts jar passengers. Road noise was apparent, but acceptable, and the power rack and pinion steering was surprisingly compliant, with less body roll and top wobble than I would have thought.
Safetywise, Grand Caravan includes more than 55 available safety and security features including standard front seat-mounted side air bags, a driver-side knee blocker air bag, three-row side-curtain air bags, electronic stability control, tire-pressure monitoring, daytime running lights and remote keyless entry. The available Safety Sphere Package of features includes ParkSense rear park assist, Blind-spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Path detection system
The base Dodge Grand Caravan SE starts at $25,995; the SE plus starts at $28,760 and my SXT trim started at $31,495. The top-of-the-line-up GT trim starts at $34,395. The Driver Convenience Group was added for $995, with second-row window shades, 3-zone automatic temperature control, cup holder with overhead illumination, heated front seats and steering wheel, overhead ambient surround lighting and storage bins and illuminated front door storage. My test ride did not have Navi – part of the $995 Single DVD and Video Entertainment Package that was not included. Destination charges of $1095 brought the sticker to $33,585, but incentives may be available to cut the price further, so check with your dealer.
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Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.