The 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan is the granddaddy of minivans. Even though it wasn't the first minivan, the Dodge Grand Caravan (and sibling Chrysler Town & Country) started the minivan craze in the US. Is it time for a resurgence? The 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT carries a base price of $26,730 ($39,855 as tested), with a 3 year/36,000 mile basic warranty, a 5 year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty and EPA fuel economy estimates of 17 city/25 highway. Let's drive.
It is easy to deride the minivan. It's a mom-mobile. It's a station wagon. It desexualizes anyone who sits in its driver's seat. Well, I'm not here to deride the minivan. I'm here to give it a clear-eyed, open-hearted appraisal.
There's no better place to start than with the Dodge Grand Caravan. Or, honestly, the Chrysler Town & Country. Or the Volkswagen Routan. All three vehicles are identical under the skin, and even mostly on top of the skin. The Dodge Grand Caravan is the Platonic Ideal of minivan -- it's the picture that appears in your head when you think "minivan." Boxy shape, with a short front overhang, steeply-raked windshield and slab sides, the GC doesn't run from its heritage. It has sharpened up a bit with the times, so the current generation of GC is slightly more angular, slightly less jelly bean than the previous two generations. Dodge has hung a version of the corporate grille off of the front of the vehicle, with a chrome Ram's head emblem, nailed right at the center of the crosshairs. It doesn't look bad, but it doesn't transform the minivan into a Ram tough truck, either.
For a minivan, the GC has some girth. With a 202.5" length and 68.9" height, the minivan has substantial presence. By comparison, that's a half-inch longer than a Chevrolet Tahoe. Hardly "mini."
In the Driver’s Seat
Sitting in the GC's driver's seat, it's easy to understand the attraction/repulsion that people have had with minivans over the years. The driving position is quite upright, not quite school bus driver upright, but pretty close. It takes a while to get used to the dashboard-mounted gear selector. The location makes sense, though, because your hands don't need to be off of the steering wheel long in order to shift and mounting the shifter on the dashboard keeps the floor free from a transmission tunnel or any other obstructions, which means that there's room for the optional ($630) sliding front center console. My test vehicle was loaded to the gills, with every option you'd want to check on the sheet. Most of those options focused on keeping the second and third row passengers happy. I tried to haul as many passengers as possible during my week with the GC, and each new passenger would inform me about another new feature that they had discovered.
The kids loved the rear-seat entertainment system, especially the SIRIUS Backseat TV ($495). I felt like it was a bit limited, with just three little kids' stations available. It would be cool if there were more channels for general audiences, like ESPN, CNN and others. Maybe soon. The dual ceiling-mounted screens blocked my rear view, which I hated.
As driver, though, I felt a little left out. My steering wheel tilted but didn't telescope. My foot pedals were adjustable, but I still couldn't find a great driving position, and the overstuffed driver's seat didn't help.
On the Road
Grand Caravan is available with three different engines: a 3.3-liter V6, a 3.8-liter V6 and a 4.0-liter V6. My test vehicle had the big one, the 4.0, which produced 251 hp and 259 lb-ft of torque. Considering the GC's curb weight of 4,621, performance was just what you'd expect from a minivan: adequate. I'm not sure that more power would make Grand Caravan more fun to drive. It actually might make things worse. Grand Caravan's Achilles Heel is its suspension. The softly-suspended GC delivers substantial body roll through every turn, and a curvy road can induce car-sickness in even hardy passengers. I managed to make two grown women turn green without even trying while driving through one of Los Angeles' canyon passes.
My test vehicle had an abnormally high number of miles on it for a press car, with over 15,000 on the odometer. Usually, I'm reviewing vehicles with fewer than 5,000 miles on the clock, vehicles still in their break-in period. This mature GC showed very few signs of wear. It had a few scuffs on the interior here and there, but for the most part, still looked brand new inside and out. But the suspension and chassis were already starting to show some age. The GC creaked and groaned, squeaked and bumped like an old Buick. It did not inspire confidence for the next stage of its life, after the 36,000 mile limited warranty expired (suspension parts are not covered under the 5 year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty).
So, is it time for the resurgence of the minivan, and in particular, the Dodge Grand Caravan? Apparently, Dodge believes so, as I've heard that Grand Caravan will undergo a makeover for 2011. I think that the platform needs more than a cosmetic refreshing -- it's not the looks of the GC that turned me off, it was the ride. And that's more than a matter of slapping on some new body panels.
A couple of the other minivan makers have revamped their offerings, or will very soon. Toyota Sienna is all-new for 2010, and Honda Odyssey and Nissan Quest will be all-new for 2011. That's some stiff competition, especially considering that all three of those Japanese minivans were already more fun to drive than the GC. Add to that the new crossover vehicles that seat seven, like the Ford Flex and GMC Acadia. They can't quite match the flexibility and passenger-friendliness of a minivan, but they come very close.
I hope Dodge does a great job on the next-generation of Grand Caravan, because the expertise in passenger comfort and space management is so evident, and so superb. Now if they can just exert some energy on the driver's experience, improving handling, comfort and feel, Grand Caravan will have a good chance of resurgence, and will drag the minivan market along with it. If the next Grand Caravan ignores the driver, it will languish. After all -- the driver's seat is the one seat in the vehicle that is guaranteed to be occupied on every drive.