By on March 11, 2011

When Jack Baruth reviewed the 2011 Town & Country his praise for the minivan’s handling was so effusive that I wondered what sort of Kool-Aid Chrysler served at the launch event. Were mind-altering substances involved? To find out, I requested one of the new minivans for a week.

Some background: Chrysler substantially revised nearly every car and truck it sells for the 2011 model year, something which no manufacturer has attempted in decades. This in itself displayed a surprising amount of energy and ambition. FIAT will get the credit, but truth be told new parts cannot be tooled up overnight so these changes must have been underway before Sergio arrived on the scene. Cerberus, much maligned, is actually due the credit. How much could possibly have been done with Chrysler’s cut-to-the-bone staff stretched so thin and with the company bankrupt?

Given the limited budget and even more limited time, the Grand Caravan’s sheetmetal didn’t change. There’s the new Dodge grille and some nifty “ring of fire” LED tail lights, but the boxy—even for a minivan—exterior they attempt to dress up remains the same. I never could shake the feeling that I was driving a cargo van.

The interior was thoroughly redone. The new instrument panel upper remains hard plastic, but it’s now a single piece and doesn’t look shoddy the way the old one did. The door panels, which you’re much more likely to touch, are soft. The tested van was a $29,660 special, cleverly packaged to include key functional options (power doors, review camera, Bluetooth, multi-functional console, roof rails) for a sticker with a leading two. So no leather (or even seat adjustments beyond fore-aft and recline), though the cloth is much nicer than last year’s stain-resistant textiles. It further helps that blah gray has been exiled in favor of a high contrast black / gray combination. Even with the improvements the interior doesn’t seem as upscale as that in the new Honda Odyssey. One reason: Chrysler has done such a good job of designing for usability that the center stack looks plain. The center stack in the Honda isn’t as easy to reach or operate, but it looks more exciting. While functionality should matter more to buyers, will it actually matter more?

Even compared to that in other minivans the seating position in the Grand Caravan is high and upright. At this price point the seat height isn’t adjustable, not even manually. I wouldn’t want to raise it, but I might want to lower it. Visibility is outstanding, and confidence behind the wheel is inspired. But, in another test of how much functionality truly matters, it’s also harder to forget that you’re driving a minivan.

The cloth seats provide good lateral support, but lower back support is lacking and is not adjustable. Moving to the second row, the “stow-n-go” seats have been enlarged but they remain lower to the floor and less comfortable than the second rows in key competitors. They’re not bad, but wouldn’t be the best place for an adult to spend a few hours. Kids? No problem. Third-row comfort is more competitive, partly thanks to an aggressively angled seat cushion. There’s enough room for adults in all three rows, but the Sienna and especially the Odyssey are roomier. The official stats indicate a huge difference. While the Grand Caravan has 36.5 and 32.7 inches of legroom in its second and third rows, respectively, the Odyssey has 40.9 and 42.4. Such stats can be gamed, and these do appear to exaggerate the real-world difference between the two vans, but it is there.

The Grand Caravan has a clear advantage in cargo hauling versatility. Both the second and third rows stow completely beneath a low floor. In the Odyssey and Sienna the second-row seats must be removed to get a flat floor. The seats in the new Nissan Quest fold to form a flat floor, but on top of rather than beneath the floorpan, SUV style. As a result there’s much less space between the floor and ceiling. When the Dodge’s seats aren’t stowed there’s a deep well behind the third row and two large covered storage compartments ahead of the second row. In the past I’ve fit two large 17-inch laptops in their storage bags in one of these compartments. Up in the front seat there’s plenty of storage space in the bi-level removable center console, a pair of glove compartments, and the center stack. If you cannot tuck all of your stuff into the storage areas of this van, you’re schlepping too much stuff.

As part of its sweeping 2011 model year revisions, Chrysler installed an all-new V6 in its midsize sedans, large sedans, and SUVs in addition to the minivans. The “Pentastar” engine will get direct injection, FIAT’s “MultiAir” intake system, and even turbocharging in future iterations. Even without any of these technologies the 3.6-liter V6 is good for 283 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 260 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. Both figures are the highest in the minivan class. Pair them with a six-speed automatic with short initial gearing, and the new Grand Caravan accelerates briskly. If it’s not the quickest minivan ever, it’s close.

Dip deep into the throttle and torque steer enters the picture—not a surprise given the amount of torque being channeled through the front wheels. Subjectively, the new V6 sounds and feels better when revved than any other minivan powerplant with the possible exception of the Toyota Sienna’s. The V6s from Ford and Nissan are considerably less refined. While the 3.6 really comes on strong (and then rushes for the redline) over 4,000 rpm, acceleration also feels effortless at much lower rpm in casual driving. By following everyone else in developing a contemporary V6 Chrysler could learn from everyone else, and seems to have done so.

The six-speed automatic transmission is a placeholder until Chrysler starts receiving a new nine-speed from ZF. The box is calibrated pretty well for full-throttle acceleration, with quick, firm shifts in this mode, but oddly slurs shifts in more casual driving. Hit the “econ” button on the center console and the transmission rushes to get into top gear. Unlike in other minivans you can manually select a specific gear. There are no paddles, but a gearshift just to the right of the steering wheel is the next best thing. Downshifts can be summoned without removing a hand from the wheel. Perhaps all automatic shifters should be positioned this way? A conventional column shifter isn’t nearly as handy.

Manually downshifting a minivan—what’s the point? Well, last year there wasn’t much of one, except perhaps in the mountains. The 2010 Town & Country I rented for a 1,500-mile trip last Thanksgiving bounced, floated, and generally felt ponderous and clumsy. Especially given this starting point, the handling of the 2011 is remarkable. The revised minivan has precise, firm, perfectly weighted steering and tightly controlled body motions. In comparison, other minivans, including the Odyssey, feel soft, and even sloppy. (Ditto the Ford Taurus X I recently purchased.) In a marked change from last year, the 2011 Grand Caravan feels smaller and lighter than it actually is. I found myself taking turns at speed for the joy of it—something I’ve never done in a minivan before. Bear in mind that this was in the “Mainstreet” trim level shod with 235/60R16 Kumho treads. There’s a sport-suspended R/T on the way, but the base suspension handles so well I have a hard time imagining how the R/T could handle better.

Instead, I fear that the R/T’s tuning will harm the ride. As it is, despite (or perhaps because of?) its aggressively damped suspension tuning the 2011 Grand Caravan also rides extraordinarily well. Pockmarked roads that have bedeviled most of the cars I’ve tested failed to faze this minivan. No pitch, no head toss, just level cruising regardless of the road surface. Impacts are heard, but not felt. A Sienna or Odyssey seems quieter and more luxurious, and so more like a luxury car, but they aren’t nearly this composed. Frankly, hardly anything is.

As mentioned earlier, the new Grand Caravan with key functional options lists for just under $30,000. You simply cannot get a Honda Odyssey with three power doors and a rearview monitor for anything close, as Honda forces you to step up to the leather-and-sunroof-equipped EX-L for these features. Compare the Mainstreet with power doors to the Odyssey EX, and you’ll find that the Dodge lists for a substantial $3,825 less. The Honda does include some additional features, such as a power driver seat and automatic climate control. But adjust for these (easily done using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool) and the Dodge’s price advantage remains over $3,000. Toyota is a little more flexible—you can get a Sienna LE with dual power sliding doors and a rearview monitor, but for a power tailgate you need to step up to the SE or XLE. A Sienna LE with Preferred and Convenience Packages lists for only a few hundred more than a comparable Dodge, and if you compare invoices (which often more accurately reflect transaction prices) the Toyota is even about $900 less.

So, the Grand Caravan remains nothing special to look at. And other minivans are more comfortable. But the Dodge and its Chrysler counterpart lead the field in versatility and—with the recent changes—in performance and handling as well. How did Chrysler manage this, starting with a very basic suspension design (MacPherson struts up front, beam in the back) that did nothing especially well? Perhaps they cribbed some of the tweaks VW made for the Routan? If they’ve done the same with the rest of the line—and I can’t believe I’m saying this—there could even be hope for the Chrysler Sebring 200. Driving the revised minivan shifted my opinion of Chrysler all the way from “What’s the point of keeping them around?” to “Time to take the fork out.” Seemingly “done” a year ago, it’s now clear that a thoroughly revitalized Chrysler is just getting started.

Dodge provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

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93 Comments on “Review: 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan...”


  • avatar
    derek533

    It’s still a Chrysler and their recent track record for reliability ain’t the best.  I’d be leery of spending that much when a Toyota (although reliability isn’t the best either) can be had for relatively the same money.  I’d wait before buying at least a couple of years to see if the reliability has improved at all.

    I do give Chrysler/Dodge credit though as they are innovative with their interior seating arrangement and the handling sounds impressive.

    I am curious as to why no mention was made of the new Nissan Quest.  I am actually considering one for my family and hopefully, one of you will review one in the near future. Plus, having seen the inside of one at a dealership, it has the nicest interior of any of the current minivans out there.

    • 0 avatar

      I drove both the Odyssey and the new Quest during the week I had the Grand Caravan, and will be reviewing them next. I’ve focused on the Odyssey in my comparisons because it is probably the best all-around, even if the Dodge is much more enjoyable to drive.

      The 2008 minivans, the first of the current generation, initially had many interior and exterior trim issues. They apparently also eat brake pads, which won’t show up in TrueDelta’s stats because they’re currently considered wear items. I’m thinking of counting pads up to a certain number of miles. What’s the minimum pads should last, even in frequent city driving? 20k?

      With brakes not included, the reliability of Chrysler’s minivans has consistently been close to the average:

      http://www.truedelta.com/car-reliability.php?stage=pt&bd=Dodge&mc=73

    • 0 avatar

      Not sure about the reliability of Chrysler transmissions, but that sounds like a lot of horsepower and torque to route through a FWD transmission.  I wonder how that’ll hold up over time.

      Those 2nd row seats look uncomfortable in pictures…

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Not sure about the reliability of Chrysler transmissions, but that sounds like a lot of horsepower and torque to route through a FWD transmission.  I wonder how that’ll hold up over time.
       
      TTAC’s own Steven Lang recommends that any heavy FWD vehicle you buy receive a thermostatically controlled transmission cooler if not so equipped from the factory.  That seems like sound advice to me and advice that I plan to take.

    • 0 avatar
      GS650G

      Hyundai has installed auxiliary trans coolers for years. I’ve had them on every car I owned for 20 years, I always bypassed the hapless radiator cooler for an external model.
      I’m not convinced FiatCry-sler has mastered the art of making a transmission that holds up, there are too many stories of people being burned by their failures. I think these are great vehicles to rent when you take a vacation and need a family truckster,  but drive something else daily.

    • 0 avatar
      Buster Brew

      For whatever reliability issues Chrysler has suffered, they must be doing something right.  I believe the Town & Country has had the highest owner loyalty rate in the segment for years, and when sales of Caravan and T&C are combined they come darn close to besting Honda, Toyota and Nissan combined.  With all the touch points, handling and power-train much improved, their future looks bright.

    • 0 avatar
      jj99

      Funny crowd in Detroit.  Instead of fixing quality/reliability problems in GM, Ford, and Chrysler products, you make believe that Toyota and Honda have quality/reliability problems.

      I have some bad news for you.  Once again, Toyota and Honda ranked more reliable in Consumer Reports than any Detroit brand.

      And when it comes to used cars from the 2008 model year, I don’t think Consumer Reports recommended anything from GM, Ford, or Chrysler. 

      On the east coast, usually a newer GM, Ford, or Chrysler products is part of a rental, commercial, or government fleet.

    • 0 avatar
      Ion

      The Quest hasn’t exactly been the pinnacle of reliabilty either. It once tied with the Navigator for most unreliable vehicle in CR.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Funny crowd in Detroit.  Instead of fixing quality/reliability problems in GM, Ford, and Chrysler products, you make believe that Toyota and Honda have quality/reliability problems.
       
      I guess that’s because the Detroit products in general are much better than they were, and from a quality point of view (not reliability) the Japanese have slipped – some just a bit, others more so.  Case in point, look at my Altima.  Zero repairs.  I did have a bizarre issue with the door locks cycling by themselves in really cold weather, but went away so I’ll discount that.  Excellent drive.  But, the cost cutting is obvious and not typical of the old way of Japan.  So, I have an ill fitting hood, replete with a prop rod.  No folding side view mirrors.  Clunky goose neck hinges for the trunk.  K-Mart grade floor mats that I have already worn a hole clear through in 22K miles.  Trunk release is a crappy plastic handle stuck through a X cut in the carpet.  No fuel door release.  Hell, that was standard on almost any Japanese product back in the day.  So, even though the reliability is still there, the high standard that was once set has been lowered and it shows.  Would I buy another Altima if this one was stolen?  Yes.  But I can’t help feel a bit disappointed in some of the choices Nissan made.

    • 0 avatar
      Crosley

      I’m amazed people will even try and argue that Chrysler hasn’t had SIGNIFICANT quality problems for the last 30 years.  No car maker is perfect, but when I hear someone try and make the case that it’s actually Toyota and Honda that have the real quality control problem, not Chrysler, can they really say that with a straight face?
       
      Mopar minivans are notorious for eating up transmissions, and I say this as a former Dodge owner who needed a new transmission at 50k miles with ZERO towing done.  I have an uncle who bleeds red, white, and blue that’s owned around 5 new Chrysler minivans (almost all have been complete sh!tboxes with horrible resale) in a row and he’s FINALLY admitted that he needs to try a Honda.
       
      If instead of making better storage cubbies and bluetooth upgrades, Chrysler focused on making a more reliable product than Honda or Toyota, there would be lines at dealerships to buy them.  How about starting with a bulletproof transmission?  Every agency that keeps track of reliability has Chrysler at the bottom of the list, they seem to just be happy being a “disposable” car maker for rental car agencies and people who buy a new car as soon as the warranty is up.

    • 0 avatar
      burnout

      The lack of reliability perception is one that Mopar will simply have to overcome.  For me, it’s NEVER been an issue.  I’ve had great experiences with their vehicles and I’m happy to say so.  So when I post and ask where CR and JD Power get their ratings/rankings, I ask b/c I feel like there’s a unfounded bias…who responds to CR and JDP?  Who gets these surveys?  If you go to Edmunds..read the comsumer reviews…pretty much model-for-model, down the line, you get owners saying “Wow…these are nice vehicles!”.  Sure…occasionally you’ll get a bad review, but cars are complex machines…for them to run perfectly is amazing, so an occassional issue can (and will) crop up.  I don’t care what car we are talking about…Dodge, Honda, Ford, Toyota…whatever. The reality is that ANY manufactuer can build a car that ends up have some issue or recall, not just Mopar.

      In 1993 I bought my first new car, a GMC Sonoma p/u…and I’ve bought only new since.  It’s always been a two-car househoold, so in 18 yrs I’ve owned 14 cars/trucks…8 of those have been either Dodges or Jeeps.  The other six have varied (above-mentioned GMC, VW Jetta, Mercury Cougar, Pontiac Sunfire and Grand Prix GTP, Mitsubishi Eclipse).  Of the 8 Mopars I’ve owned…5 of them were perfect.  My 1996 Ram 1500, 1998 Wrangler, 2000 Neon, 2009 Caliber and 2010 Grand Caravan have (or had) no issues.  The other three Mopars weren’t perfect: 2003 Ram…rear-end leak, fixed under warranty at dealer, issue didn’t return; 2006 Grand Caravan…electrical issue; fixed out of warranty at dealer, issue didn’t return; 2009 Journey…brakes/rotor replaced at 26K…way too early, and it apparently happened to a lot of other 09 owners.  When I wrote my review of my Journey on Edmunds, I was blantanly honest about the brake issues and what I thought was a cheap interior (which was remedied on the new 2011 Jounery…the interior is very nice). 

      The point of all of this…I’ve owned my fair share of Mopars from the mid-90s until today…and from my first 1996 Ram 1500 to my 2009 Caliber (and 2010 Grand Caravan), I’ve gotten the same results and satisfaction from my Mopars…nice vehicles, with great options/features, and purchased at an outstanding price.  That’s exactly what any consumer wants. 

  • avatar
    antonio311

    I Love how people like Derek533 love to make comments about Chrysler products without having ever owned one. Consumer reports lies. They loved Toyota & Gave them Rave reviews until All the bad publicity, then finally started to give Toyota bad ratings! Consumer reports always bashes Chrysler products without merit & Sheep like followers with no knowledge about autos take that biased info & make decisions on what to purchase. It’s amazing. I’ve owned 2 chrysler minivans, both with over 200,000 trouble free miles & hauling heavy equipment every single mile. I Strongly recommend Chrysler minivans to everyone. Also Chrysler minivans are indeed Safer & more sturdy than the Asian brands. Just drive a Chrysler & you’ll notice how solid it is when compared to a Flimsy oddessey, or Quest. Chrysler minivans are the best in the world & will be last longer than anyother minivans, I know I’ve actually owned them!

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      To be fair, Derek533 was simply referring to the aggregate reliability data that is readily available.  You don’t have to own the make to state concerns about owning one.
       
      I’ve owned 4 minivans, and here are my ratings:
      96 Grand Voyager, 119k miles, I’d give it a 3/5.  It should have lasted longer.
      05 Odyssey, 28k miles, I’d give it a 1/5 because I took it through lemon law court.
      98 Grand Caravan, 151k miles, I’d give it a 4/5.  It died the same way as the 96 – weird.
      09 Sedona, 33k miles so far, I’d give it a 5/5 so far.  Power, comfort, utility, value.
       
      My personal experience with Honda was terrible, but I can’t project that onto others.

    • 0 avatar
      Almost Jake

      You sound like a Chrysler employee.
      I’ve driven a few vans and always thought the Dodge/Chrysler were cleverly packaged but the poorest built. Couple that with their history of blown transmissions and you can understand why I wrote off the brand years ago.
      The 2010 Grand Caravan I rented the other day while my Sienna was in the shop was embarrassing. The wife and I argued who had to drive it.

    • 0 avatar
      tubacity

      Interesting review.  Not every review has to be along the lines of “what’s wrong with this picture”.  That is too Farag-one or Nied-less. 

      I would give Chrysler another chance.  My 17 year old Chrysler minivan has been more reliable with fewer trips to the shop than my much newer Odyssey.  The transmission failed.  Not news to the TTAC crowd.  Serviced it much more than severe service recommendation.  And yet, puked.  No towing.  Several other things went wrong with the Odyssey also.   
      My Odyssey has been a downer.  I leave it up to the fanboys to make up excuses.  My Odyssey’s poor record speaks for itself. 

    • 0 avatar
      jeffzekas

      My boss bought Dodge trucks in the 80’s and early 90’s, and compared with the Ford and GM trucks (which he owned concurently), they had many more problems– usually windows, doors, and trim that would fall off. I owned a Dodge Aires and I was embarrassed that an American company could make a car with such a cheap, shoddy interior. The motor barely made it to 100,000 miles before dying. After that car, we changed over to Ford and Subaru– lots of regular maintenance (due mainly to the Ford being 4WD and the Subie AWD) but still a thousand times better built and more reliable than my Dodge. So, based on my real-world experience with Chrysler products (and not just CR reviews) i would wait before buying a vehicle from a company which was notorious for cutting costs through “invisible” methods (the fact that the exterior paint started peeling after two years comes to mind).

  • avatar

    A couple functiional points I neglected to mention in the review:
    1. The front row console is removable, if you want a walk through.
    2. Unlike in the Honda and Toyota, no three-passenger second row is available. So max capacity is seven rather than eight. With three kids, I’d like the option of putting all three in the second row.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      FWIW, as the parent of 3 kids in the 1990s (all of whom have grown up), I had 2 Previas in succession, with the “captain’s chair” option for the second row.  This meant that seating was 2 + 2+ 3.  We did not find that to be a problem at all, since it was easy to pass between the second row captain’s chairs to reach the third row.  Our youngest, once she got out of carseat size, rode in the back row.  It probably helped that she was 10 and 7 years younger than her older sisters, respectively.  AFAIC the front two rows of seats in the Previa were as good as it gets, especially in the top-line 1994 model, which was the second one that we owned.

    • 0 avatar
      Rally

      For point #2, our preferred arrangement in the Chrysler minivans is to put one midrow stow-n-go seat down and put two kids in the back seat and one in the remaining mid row.  Open the sliding door, pile the kids in and everyone has easy access to their seat.  Nobody is crawling over anyone else.  If the kids are small and you need to get in to help buckle them in, you actually can, again without climbing over anyone.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      Are the 2nd row seats fore-aft adjustable in any configuration?
       
      I’m 6’4″ and I like being able to adjust the driver’s seat to my comfort position, then get in the seat directly behind and have 3-4″ of kneeroom at least.  There’s very few cars or vans/trucks/suvs that I’ve been able to do that in, and I’m leaning towards a minivan or Ford Flex for my next car.
       
      Also, Class 2 or better hitch is mandatory, for towing a motorcycle trailer.

    • 0 avatar
      kkop

      @Dr. Kenneth Noisewater:
      I’m 6’4″ as well.  I own a Nissan Titan.  It allows for me to move front seat all the way back, then have inches to spare in the back seat.  150,000 miles so far.
      Ford Flex:  driver seat slightly cramped, but second row is fine.  Pity.

    • 0 avatar

      Dr. Noisewater,
       
      You might want to take a look at a Honda Element.  I’m 6’4″ as well, and not only had plenty of room in the driver’s seat (legroom was average, headroom was better than anything else, ever), but couldn’t hope to push my knees against that seat when sitting in back.  There simply is not a car with more rear seat legroom that you can get without being overly rich.
       
      It’s only a 4-person car, since the back seat only holds 2 people, but those 4 will ride very comfortably. The Class 2 hitch is available too – just buy a transmission cooler at the same time and you probably won’t have any trouble.

  • avatar
    benzaholic

    This is almost frustrating.
    Chrysler was able to tweak the suspension across virtually their complete product line in basically just one year, and every review I read says they did astounding work and that the driving experience on every model is now among the best available.
    They’re making it look too easy. If even Chrysler can achieve this kind of suspension competence so quickly, why can’t everybody else get it that right?
    From another perspective, I really don’t think they changed hard points of the suspension, so this was just springs, dampers, bushings, and alignment. Why did Chrysler get it so wrong for so long?

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      It also highlights how bad a job Daimler and Cerberus did.  If Fiat can come in and address the most egregious mistakes in under a year, what was wrong with both Chrysler’s prior stewards that they could not do this?

    • 0 avatar

      I think most of this work was done under Cerberus. Remember that there’s at least a year of lag time between conception and production. The bad job was done under Daimler.

      I feel very much the same way as benzaholic. It’s not just Chrysler. It’s just about every manufacturer. If Chrysler can do so much with relatively cheap changes–in a MINIVAN!–then why do most cars ride and handle so much worse?

    • 0 avatar
      FromaBuick6

      Michael,
       
      I think your probably right about the work on the 2011s being done mostly under Cerberus.  The major changes, like the Grand Cherokee, 300/Charger and Pentastar engine originated under their ownership.  Those were part of the presentation given to the Feds in ’09 when they were pandering for cash.  Suspension tuning and interior materials could have been under either of them, it’s hard to say.
       
      Either way, the credit goes to the designers and engineers that have been Chrysler employees through all this.  They’re the ones responsible for theses remarkable improvements.  Fiat may not have had a whole lot to do with it, but at least they seemed to know what they were doing when they came in and started shuffling chairs.  And Sergio immediately became my hero when I heard he immediately berated and fired the Chrysler executive who suggested the company double the Cash for Clunkers credit at a meeting back in ’09.
       
      Chrysler’s done a lot with very little for ’11.  Everyone had written off the Compass and Sebring/Avenger.  And the minivans, arguably the company’s only worthwhile product, were embarrassingly awful inside.  But they’ve made these products legitimately competitive, almost overnight.  I’m not saying I’m going to rush out and buy a Mopar, but I’m excited to see what Auburn Hills has up its sleeve.

    • 0 avatar
      WaftableTorque

      Air springs strike me as perfect for minivans. The cars that have them are just as heavy but no one ever complains of their ride/handling balance. Unfortunately, they have names like S-Class, A8, 7-series, LS, Equus, Panamera, Continental GT, etc, so cost is probably the issue.
       
      My friend bought a 2009 Caravan, and the engine had the thrash of a tractor engine at high rpm’s, so it’s nice to see Americans are now capable of building a refined V6 engine.
       

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      WaftableTorque –
       
      Until its recent demise, the Mercury Grand Marquis had air springs (oddly enough, the Town Car used to have air springs, but switched to conventional coil springs when production moved to Canada for all but the L models).  I’m sure that Mercedes et al. likely have more complex systems that they use in their flagships, but a full air suspension replacement on a Grand Marquis or Town Car could be done for around $2,000 total parts and labor, less if you had a mechanic friend.  Air suspensions in general aren’t super expensive.

    • 0 avatar
      MattPete

      I’ve found references to the Phoenix/Pentastar engine in 2006, so it was initiated pre-Cerebus (2007).

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      @ Waftable yes rear air suspension is prefect for a minivan. I had a 98 Windstar so equipped and have had 3 Panthers with it as well. In a couple of instances I carried 6 of my friends in the Windstar with an average wt of over 200lbs ea. Even with 1500lbs it road and handled the same.
       
      Back when Air suspension was an ala cart option on the Panthers a decade or more ago it was only $2xx. Many of the cars it was part of the HPP or handling and performance package which gave specific front springs, sway bars, quicker steering box, different rear end ratio and dual exhaust for ~$600.
      @ Nullo, TC’s were/are available with air suspension till the end as were the GM and retail CV. If you pay $2000 to have a Ford rear air suspension redone you would be getting taken for a ride. IF you needed to replace all the parts at retail you would be looking at $600 max if you go aftermarket and there is only about 2.5 hrs of labor to replace all the components. 90% of the time the problem IF there is one is the O-rings on the solenoids a $6 kit that takes about 1/4 hr ea to install. Of course many mechanics that have no clue condem the system and either shotgun the “repair” or “save the customer some money” by converting it to steel springs which cost the same as a set of bags and seals.

      In my experience the Ford system is quite reliable I’ve put 200K on 2 and over 100K on the other 2 w/o any problems. The air-over struts on the Continental and front of the Mark VIII are are not that reliable for what ever reason and they aren’t cheap. I’ve never seen a failure of the compressor or computer.

    • 0 avatar
      nickoo

      Chrysler got it wrong for the same reason GM has got it wrong and will continue to get it wrong with their new CEO.  These companies have been run by bean counters and people who have no idea what they are doing.  These types of CEOs only care about quarter to quarter profit and think slashing costs is the way to get there.  It was these bean counters making them put out poor products that any self-respecting engineer or designer wouldn’t  dream of releasing on the public.  In the case of Chrylser, Daimler did just about everything they could to destroy that company, the pre-Daimler vehicles up to 2004 were miles ahead of the post-Daimler vehicles.
      I love what Giles and Sergio are doing for Chrysler, these guys are both car guys, and my hope is they never IPO.  It may take several more years for Chrysler to completely turn around, but if they continue what they are doing they will be just fine.
      I’m considering the charger r/t when they back it with the ZF8 speed, they have done an amazing job on that car.  The only two major criticisms I still have are
      1. Fix the dakota so I have a decent midsize option, the 1/2 ton ram is ridiculously huge.
      2. Kill the 4.7 v8 and bring out a smaller cam-in-cam VCT “hemi” with cylinder deactivation, and for goodness sake, it’s time to move to an aluminum block!
       

  • avatar
    ajla

    Especially given this starting point, the handling of the 2011 is remarkable. The revised minivan has precise, firm, perfectly weighted steering and tightly controlled body motions.

     
    Could you give some more comparative context here?

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not sure what you’re asking. The 2011 van feels much different than others, including the 2010. Firm and tight, but not at all harsh, it invites the sort of driving Jack described in his review. I have some badly pockmarked roads near my house that make most cars feel like crap. The potholes and bumps hardly register in the new Dodge.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      Do you mean remarkable “for a big minivan” or just remarkable period?
       
      How does it hold up to stuff like the Flex Ecoboost, Mazda5, MDX, B6 Passat wagon, or R-class? What’s the first thing you can think of that matches its handling/ride?
       
       

    • 0 avatar

      The stability of the ride is remarkable period. The handling for this size vehicle. I wish a Flex handled remotely as well. The Taurus X I recently bought doesn’t. I’m almost always disappointed in how Mercedes handle, and disliked driving the GL, while feels huge. An R-Class feels much more like a car than a GL, but still isn’t remotely fun to drive. I actually had fun driving the Grand Caravan. An Acura MDX isn’t as “dialed-in.”
      Even within Chrysler the new Grand Cherokee and Durango feel like larger, softer vehicles. The minivan is more fun to drive than them as well.
      A BMW X5 with the fancy shocks of the Sport handles at least as well, and better in terms of balance (no surprise, given the weight distributions), but doesn’t ride as well. And the minivan might be more “tossable.”
      It’s hard to compare the Grand Caravan with regular cars, as the driving positions and sizes are so much different. The new Jetta did similarly surprise me by offering a very composed ride and intuitive handling despite a simple suspension design. VW’s involvement with the Routan might be the common thread.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Go for it Chrysler.  Good luck and this sounds like a compelling van.  (BTW I don’t have a stigma against minivans, my lady does.)  Although it is hard to be cool in a minivan – as the Oak Ridge Boys told me… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2tt1cg1h_I
     
    I really hope Chrysler is around for many, many years.  (BTW can you believe the contrast between GM and Chrysler and how bankruptcy focused Chrysler like a laser while GM continues almost business as usual.)

    • 0 avatar

      The government made it clear that they came very close to letting Chrysler go, and certainly wouldn’t save it again. In contrast, the message sent to GM was that they were too big to be allowed to fail. A liquidation never seemed like it might happen.
       
      I have had the same thoughts. GM seems almost as arogant as ever and doesn’t seem nearly as motivated to make major changes.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      I don’t think the government would have the same compunction were we not in the middle of a recession at the time.
       
      That was always the differentiator: GM could have crashed and burned as late as 2007 and help likely wouldn’t have been forthcoming no matter who was in office.  The problem (if you can call it a problem) is that they’re not likely to bite the dust outside of a downturn.

    • 0 avatar
      MikeAR

      Michael, Dan, the impression that I have gotten since the bailout is that Chrysler did realize that they were lucky to have survived. GM has always seemed, since the bailout, to have learned nothing from it and in fact felt entitled to be saved. I think that the corporate culture has given them the idea that their problems weren’t of their own making and that they have friends in high places who will always be there no matter what.

    • 0 avatar
      dadude53

      Let`s keep the record straight here. How many times in their history Chrysler was near bankrupcy respectively had to be saved by the government? How many times GM?
      As for lessons learned.When did Chrysler ever consistently learn from their mistakes? In the `70s when they had to entirely close their European business derivatives(Simca, Sunbeam) and sell them off?After Iacocca left and they just kept cooking their old soup until the pot was dry? In my opinion Chrysler is just polishing their line-up and remains a truck and SUV heavy manufacturer with little to no presence in the lower mid-size and small car field.( Where did the Neon go?)
      Sure GM has it`s problems too but those two companies in my opinion cannot be compared at all.At least GM is not a once glamerous lady that over time deteriorated into a cheap prostitute handed down through the pimps.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    One reason: Chrysler has done such a good job of designing for usability that the center stack looks plain. The center stack in the Honda isn’t as easy to reach or operate, but it looks more exciting

    I noticed this.  The Sienna’s IP is weird (the Caravan’s looks normal, if dull) but at least the controls are distinct, much like the Camry, and easy to pick out at speed.  Good to see they didn’t wreck it in an attempt to look contemporary.

    Honda flubbed this, like they did the Accord: sure, it looks nice and upscale to a ahve smooth row of similar-looking buttons, but you can’t as easily see what each button does.  Ford’s MyTouch is a travesty for this reason, and voice control doesn’t help.

    The cloth seats provide good lateral support, but lower back support is lacking and is not adjustable. Moving to the second row, the “stow-n-go” seats have been enlarged but they remain lower to the floor and less comfortable than the second rows in key competitors. They’re not bad, but wouldn’t be the best place for an adult to spend a few hours. Kids? No problem.

    If you’re going to take people in the second row regularly, the Swivel’n’Go is a better choice, even if you have to remove the seats and store them.  Stow seems like a good idea for someone who carries stuff and occasionally people.

    Do they still sell it with the second-row bench?  That options was awful

    1. The front row console is removable, if you want a walk through.

    Oh, good.  The reason I got the Sienna CE (and not the LE) was the fixed box that negated walk-though.  I’m honestly surprised that Honda and Toyota do this.

    • 0 avatar

      The front center console in the Honda is definitely removable, and that in the Toyota might be as well.

      Swivel and Go appears to be dead. Chrysler told Jack that larger chairs are coming as an option, but they aren’t available yet.

      With kids, I’d go with the stowable seats. It can be very helpful to be able to stuff them under the floor. Or you can do this to get a limo-like back row–my kids got a kick out of this.

  • avatar
    cmoibenlepro

    a POSITIVE Chrysler review?  Did hell just froze over?

  • avatar
    James2

    @Michael Karesh
    Did you add a gear in the review? I thought Chrysler was still rocking 5-speeds and the upcoming ZF was an 8-speed. I admit to not keeping up with the transmission we-have-more-gears-than-you wars, though.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Car and Driver reported that ZF recently exhibited an automatic FWD transmission with 9 – speeds!  9 – SPEEDS!  There’s not enough room between stoplights in the city to even get higher than 5th gear I’d wager.  A trans like that better have a silly high overdrive for when I hit 90mph on the interstate, that’s about the only way I can justify it.

    • 0 avatar

      Chrysler introduced a transverse six-speed with the 2007 Pacifica, and the ZF will be a nine-speed. Since we travel nearly 80 on the highways here in Michigan, the extra ratios will be helpful.
       
      The rear-wheel-drive cars are the ones stuck with five-speeds, and that will be getting eight-speeds.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      With the 9 speed I bet in many instances it won’t go through all those gears in normal up shifting. Heck the 5sp that Chrysler pedaled for some time would only access 3rd (2nd OD) on down shifts and not up shifts.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      On the bright side, if you can shift it manually, you’ll be able to make it sound like an F1 car coming off of every stop light. Unless you can only get through a 300 RPM range for each shift; then it’ll just sound like a gravel truck.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      9 gears?! Call me a luddite, but 6 forward gears are the most that I (and most other drivers who don’t drive heavy commercial semi trucks) could possibly use. After that, might as well just go CVT and get infinite ratios throughout a range between extremely low and high.
       
      Heck, one of our cars still gets around with a 4-speed automatic and gets close to 30 mpg highway. The other has a 6-speed manual and gets 32-33 mpg highway, when I’m not hammering it around charter members of the Anti-Destination League.

  • avatar
    340-4

    Suddenly the thought of an orange R/T model is rather appealing.
     
    Please do a quick drive of this trim level when it arrives and let us know what they did!

  • avatar
    Jaywalker

    Nice review, Michael, thanks. It is remarkable how seemingly simple changes have such an effect – why did they wait?

    One thing I wish I saw more in reviews is mentions of “maintainability.” How hard will it be (can also be read as, “How expensive will it be…”) to make common repairs brakes, belts, water pumps, spark plugs. (Maybe for minivans we should add “replace transmissions…”) I reached the end of my tether when I needed professional assistance to replace three of the spark plugs on my ’98 Explorer 4.0L SOHC. So far, I haven’t seen a transverse V-6 I’m willing to pay for – I don’t want to fight with the rear bank of plugs or anything else hiding back there.

    • 0 avatar

      From TrueDelta’s reliability survey I gather that easy to service cars are exceedingly rare these days. There are now cases where a few hours of labor are required to change the headlight bulbs.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheeljack

      The trick to changing plugs on many of these transverse/FWD V-6 engines is to remove the upper intake manifold. I know it sounds intimidating, but most are fairly easy to remove and feature a reuseable rubber gasket so no need to visit the dealer for a new intake gasket before proceeding. 

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      “So far, I haven’t seen a transverse V-6 I’m willing to pay for – I don’t want to fight with the rear bank of plugs or anything else hiding back there.”

      Hey, at least you don’t have a boxer Four in a Subaru – those are just about impossible to change the spark plugs in. On the other hand, the alternator sits on top of said engine and is very easy to change.
       

  • avatar
    twotone

    I should start delivering flowers or pizzas so I justify buying one.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I’m happy that Chrysler appears to be getting its act together. When we went to our auto show, we spent more time at the Chrysler area than any other. Very impressive were the interior changes made to the 200, Patriot, Compass and the new 300 looked stunning. At least Chrysler is using the hated and ubiquitous “black triangles” on the C pillar to put “200” on them! I wish them well and may consider them at some point in the future.

  • avatar
    pannkake

    Good job Dodge!
    So, what is with the obsession over soft dash boards?  I don’t plan on touching it, and the hard ones in my cars have some cool textures molded in them.  I think a better test of interior quality would be what the headliner is made of.  I hate the fuzzy “mouse fur” material.

  • avatar
    motorrad

    I’m a Honda guy from my first new car after college , 1990  Civic SI, and the wife has a 08 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited.  She has 85K on that thing and absolutely nothing has gone wrong with it.  oh, it burns a quart of oil every couple of thousand miles but nothing else has broken or stopped working.

    Now, I’m not as impressed with my mother’s Sebring

  • avatar
    Acd

    I can’t wait to be in a position to get rid of my wife’s 2008 Town & Country for a 2011.  Between this review and Jack’s it sounds like Chrysler has rediscovered the virtues of handling and a buttoned down, composed ride that were so lacking in the 2008-2010 versions. 

    Back in the 1990’s Chrysler seemed to have the ride/handling combination dialed in as well.  I remember what a revelation the original LH Intrepid/Concorde/Vision were to drive in the fall of 1992.  Big, comfortable American cars that could actually handle–what a concept!  Even the upper level 1996-2000 generation minivans had a crisp feel to them.  Air conditioning and transmissions were another story but when eveything was functioning they were great driving cars.

  • avatar
    alex_rashev

    This IS a handsome grille.

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    Seems like Chrysler did a nice update, good to see Toyota and Honda have some competition still in the minivan segment.
     
    I do disagree with you about shifter placement however.  It may be practical to put it where it is, but aesthetically I hate it to the point I would not buy a vehicle with had a console type shifter mounted on the dash like that.  If you are going to put the shifter there, why not just make it a column shifter?

    • 0 avatar

      This shifter is easier to operate than a column shifter, even before considering the manual shift mode. In manual shift mode its no contest. I would have loved to have had a shifter like this one in the Escalade I reviewed last week. It’s column shifter with its rocker for manual shifting was much more difficult to use.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      Fair enough, but how often (if ever) are drivers going to use the manual shift mode in a minivan?  I’ve owned two cars with manual shift modes, and with both, I played around with it a bit the first day, then never used it again (well, I still own the second car with it, but I don’t foresee having a need).  I see your point about mountain roads, but even there, I kind of doubt your average soccer mom would know how or bother to use the manual shift feature.
       
      I really prefer floor mounted shifters, but I can see how having the removable front console could be seen as more useful in a minivan.  Something about that shifter just sticking out of the dash bugs me, though in an automatic it isn’t as bad as it is in a manual.  I’ve seen manual cars with layouts like that (something makes me think Honda has one) and it looks like the most uncomfortable layout possible – forcing you to hold your arm out straight while shifting the whole time.

  • avatar
    joeveto3

    I’m really happy to hear your enthusiasm for the Grand Caravan’s revised handling.  I rented a 2010 for a few days when I was in Memphis and came away from the experience really discouraged.  The Grand Caravan could be the perfect vehicle for our family of 7.  The van itself had beautiful functionality, but the handling was so disappointing, I couldn’t wait to return it to the rental desk.  There is no way I could live with a vehicle whose handling was so…dead.  And I don’t just mean dead in that it was boring, I mean dead in that its reflexes were dull to the point of being borderline dangerous.

    With this review, maybe it’s time for a test drive.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    I rented one of these vans three years ago when my older kid graduated high school, we ad lots of out of town relatives to shuttle between the house and the airport. I really like the hideaway seats and the overall size and functionality of the vehicle. I especially liked the shifter on the dashboard. It’s not the normal paradigm, but it really works well. Glad to see they’ve made it better. I thought the handling of the GrCaravan was fine but, I was really an airport shuttle for that weekend, And can’t say that I drove it with anything resembling ‘verve’.

    Regarding GM and Chrysler, it’s funny how quickly opinions change on this board. Not three months ago, everyone declared Chrysler dead, And stranger still how GM is assigned an arrogant label, like a corporation can be arrogant, only the actions of it’s personnel can be arrogant. Me, I consider the management confused right at the moment, arrogance would assume a series of deliberate actions, and I’m not seeing it right now (and this is from a GM fanboi). I think both companies’management are attempting to lose the “Government Motors” stigma as fast as possible, by hook or by crook, as it were.

    Mr. Karesh is right, the stuff we’re seeing now came from Cerberus, Marchionne and Fiat are the lucky recipients of a lot of domestic Chrysler engineers work. Sergio has made some disparaging remarks about some of the current lineup, but I’m waiting to see what this genius is going to do. We’ll see his results in several years, for as big a gift as he was given, it had better be brilliant.

    Personally, I’m glad to see the improvements, and I thoroughly hope that people take the time to consider some of these vehicles. I’ve had a few setbacks in the last couple of years, and if I had the money to spend, I’d be looking at a nice Journey, myself. And again, that’s from a GM fanboi.

    • 0 avatar

      A company can be arrogant in the sense that its culture influences its members to be arrogant. GM has been known for this for decades, through generations of executives. Members of the media observe this in their direct contacts with these executives. When the same behavior is observed across many executives across many years, it’s clearly not just a matter of individuals.

  • avatar
    Slare

    The brakes are much improved on at least some trim levels.  It may be across the board but I am not 100% positive about it.  I’ve seen them, and it is a serious upgrade.  Study up before buying and make sure you get those brakes.
    Lead time for a lot of these changes has been shortened under a year, it does not take a year to implement different bushing rates or other tuning changes.  The credit should not go to Cer, maybe somewhat to Fiat.  It is the result of engineers being given the green light ($$$) to correct the biggest flaws in each platform.  Most of the thanks should go to the supply base and a few dedicated engineers left at Chrysler.  But I must admit that they were empowered to do so by a product-focused management attitude driven more by the Fiat merger.
    Common people don’t realize that must of the shit people complain about in cars was not made like that due to lack of ability to make it any better.  That end result is usually a compromise made to please someone’s budget or timing goals.  What Chrysler has done really well of late is to target the weakest areas of each product and work effectively to improve those key areas.  A lot of the products had such glaring flaws that these targeted improvements yield amazingly better overall vehicles, and my general opinion that will be enough to lure back anyone who would consider a Chrysler vehicle.
    How good the all new products are, and how well their quality stands up is what will keep them in the game.  That remains to be seen.

  • avatar
    ridoca

    I must disagree, from what I see from ChryCo each brand has been given a clearer focus, most of the problems with the lineup have been addressed, and the future looks promising.
    And I would give FIAT a lot more credit than Mr Karesh has. Acording to Ralph Gilles, all the dirving dynamics changes made to the entire lineup came courtesy of Fiat. As a matter of fact, when Marchionne came into Cryco, he saw the update to the Sebring/200 that the team had been working on under Cerberus management, realized that it was nothing more tha a bandaid with more of the same low grade plastics and that it didn’t address any of the major problems of the platform (noise, vibration, suspension, road feel, etc). He “immediately canceled the project and instructed them to start over, and to do it right this time”. It’s this type of decisions and management approach that gave the engineers and designers over at Chryco a new direction and focus.
    Good management should never be underrated, and Cerberus certainly didn’t provide any of that to my knowledge.

  • avatar
    Rday

    i have owned many minivans. Mainly Ford Windstars, but there was a 1989 and a 2002 Grand Caravan. The 2002 caravan was OK but my mechanic told me to get rid of it before it had too many miles on it. My 89 was a great van but had all kinds of engine problems. Rebuilt the engine twice and sold it when it needed its’ third engine rebuild. When I went to sell the 02 with 80K on the odometer, I received half as much as I would have received if I had bought a similar priced Odyssey with the same mileage; it cost me about $8k more to own the Dodge. After this ‘blood letting’ I switched to Toyotas and Hondas and have never regretted it. My 10 Sienna is a great van and has had excellent reliability according to CR. I didn’t consider the Odyssey because they have had tranny problems and they have a timing belt which is expensive to replace. My Honda Ridgeline seems to need routine maintenance much more frequently than any Toyota I have ever owned. From now on I will be sticking with Toyota until other companies can show me that they have the same excellent reliability and resale prices. It is a shame the the accelerator problems distracted the public from how really good Toyota is. At least people are regaining their senses and CR is admitting just how good toyota really is.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    It’s encouraging to read about the Chrysler minivan improvements and hope they do well in the marketplace. While I have my doubts, I’m also hopeful they can substantially improve on the typical Chrysler reliability, as well.

    However, the accolades have little to do with Chrysler. It has more to do with having viable competition for Toyota and Honda. They’ve both demonstrated (particularly Toyota) that as they start approaching GM-like market domination, they start taking their market for granted (like GM did once) by decontenting, lowering quality, and raising prices. Maybe they won’t be in such a hurry to act like GM if their sales aren’t guaranteed, and the only way that happens is if there’s decent competition (like maybe from Chrysler).

  • avatar
    thats one fast cat

    Calling Jack Baruth!
     
    Get thee to a track with yon 2011 Chrysler T&C and let’s put all of this subjective discussion around ride to the test- inquiring minds want to know just how fast it will go….

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Good for Chryco in making a fun to drive minivan.  Now they need to get busy on the minor annoyances like reliability.
    My brother’s 2002 DGC has needed transmission, lifter and several gasket repairs in under 80k, as well as the usual 2 brake jobs and struts/shocks.  His 60k 2003 Ram 2500 developed the notorious rattle of death, and no one knows why.  And transmission problems.  And electrical.
     
    No thanks.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I think VW was the secret sauce, they probably just gave all of them the Routan suspension settngs. My Mom has one, and it drives COMPLETELY differently, and infinitely better than the regular Chysler vans I have had for rentals. Pretty impressive actually. It’s an early ’10, she has 20K on it and so far not a single issue. 

    The Routan was certainly the pick of the bunch. VW discounted them hugely, and they pay for the maintenance for the first three years or so. And our local VW dealer is fantastic, which certainly CANNOT be said of any of our local bottom-feeder old-school Chrysler dealers. 

    • 0 avatar
      taxman100

      My wife and I will be buying a minivan this year, and the Volkswagen is at the top of the list.  we prefer the full sized 2nd row captain’s chairs, plus the leatherette availability on the mid level trim.

      We have two very young children, and my wife can sit in the 2nd row and attend to them, while being entertained by the dvd player.  That is why we want the full sized adult seats in the 2nd row.

  • avatar
    nrd515

    My last three vehicles have been Chrysler, and my 2003 Ram was the only one with any real issues, the rear end came apart about a year or so after I got it. It was fixed in 5 hours under warranty. It was replaced with a 2008 Charger and it had warped front rotors, and the seat split just before I traded it for my 2010 Challenger R/T. The split wasn’t caused by a defect in the material, it was a result of the leather getting hung up on a high point of the seat when the seat was in the full forward position (My GF is 4’11”), and when I moved the seat all the way back for me, it “popped”. Same thing happened to my friend’s 300. The Challenger has been perfect, so far, I love it.

  • avatar
    mal1981

    @Michael — Did Dodge put in a better transmission with the new engine for this years model? I’ve had several family friends  that have owned Dodge caravans in the past and all of them had to have transmissions replaced after 50,000 miles. This is the main reason why I’m so hesistant to buy a Dodge, even though I’m in the market for a minivan now. Honda is just too expensive so I was leaning towards Toyota but if you think Dodge has fixed reliability issues, then maybe I’ll look at them. Thanks.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    http://www.autoobserver.com/2010/03/honda-odyssey-owners-report-transmission-troubles-inconsistent-response-from-maker.html Here is a chart that shows transmission problems reported per 100k units sold from 2000-2009 on the chrysler, honda and toyota minivans

  • avatar
    Cease2Exist

    I am trying to convince my wife that a minivan (new or used) makes far more sense than does a CUV, new or used, to haul are toddler around.
    Yes, we have one toddler. Yes, we would like more space than what our current sedans offer.
    Those of you with children understand how many feet of cargo space are needed per American toddler now to carry all of their “stuff,” and those of you without children may or may not understand the volumes I’m speaking of.
    As a complete side note, I haven’t seen prices or lease rates (I guess those are based on selling prices, also) this good in years, and I get the very distinct impression that automakers are blowing out prices to move inventory. With a possible ‘another slowdown’ building in the economy, I really wonder what’s going to happen now that inventory is building, yet the economy seems to be getting re-whacked.

  • avatar
    Cease2Exist

    I am trying to convince my wife that a minivan (new or used) makes far more sense than does a CUV, new or used, to haul are toddler around.
    Yes, we have one toddler. Yes, we would like more space than what our current sedans offer.
    Those of you with children understand how many feet of cargo space are needed per American toddler now to carry all of their “stuff,” and those of you without children may or may not understand the volumes I’m speaking of.
    As a complete side note, I haven’t seen prices or lease rates (I guess those are based on selling prices, also) this low in years, and I get the very distinct impression that automakers are blowing out prices to move inventory. With a possible ‘another slowdown’ building in the economy, I really wonder what’s going to happen now that inventory is building, yet the economy seems to be getting re-whacked.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    From a non-engineering student, and I apologize if this was already brought up, why is a 9 speed transmission necessary (as is purported to be coming)? Doesn’t it just add weight and complexity and isn’t there a point of diminishing returns for fuel efficiency with extra cogs? I’m honestly curious, and since many on here, with the exception of a few (I won’t name names), seem to be very smart and knowledgeable about these topics, I’d like to get your thoughts.

    • 0 avatar

      With more cogs you can have a lower first gear and taller top gear. The former enables the same low-speed performance (feel off the line) to be extracted from a smaller engine. The latter boosts highway fuel economy. I don’t think the extra “cogs” add much weight. It would be instructive to see how many planetary gearsets are employed in a six-speed vs. a nine-speed.

  • avatar
    hanyoukimura

    “The new instrument panel upper remains hard plastic, but it’s now a single piece and doesn’t look shoddy the way the old one did.”
     
    Um, what? I checked out one very similar to your test model and the upper dash was one piece, and soft touch.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    We just took out the same basic van that was tested and were floored with how much of an improvement the drivetrain was and how much better the handling improved. The interior IMO is the best in the T&C but the Caravan is dramatically improved. We were both glad Chrylser didn’t go and screw up the exterior like Nissan and Honda did with there polarizingly ugly varients that compromise on visibility and make the vehicle look tall and plain/slab sided. The Caravan looks just right in our eyes but they could have at least jazzed up the alloy wheels some. Why in the world are they putting in a 9 speed transmission? Is this a race to see who can cram as many gears into a transaxle as possible or what? Just sounds like another silly fad. Expect costs/complexity and weight to increase and a higher consumption of fluid needed to feed this beast when service time comes. My friend has a 2009 T&C with nearly 50K miles and the reliability has been perfect. The rental company down the road has several in there fleet and the manager says they are rarely in the shop and have been very good. These are 2009’s and 2010’s so it seems to me that all this talk about poor reliability is something from many years ago. I would have no problem purchasing a new 2011.

  • avatar
    Jimal

    I’m actually rocking a brand new (275 miles on the odometer) Grand Caravan for the week while I’m at the 12 Hours of Sebring. I may have some counterpoint notes by the end of the week. My first impressions, driving from the airport in Orlando down to Lake Wales, where I could get an affordable hotel, were positive. If all goes to plan I will be able to rate how it works as a motorhome, as I plan to camp out at the track Thursday night. Should be an adventure.

  • avatar
    AKRonald

    I have leaned toward Toyota for many years – excellent reliability.  In 2001 we needed an AWD van.  The Grand Caravan has been frustratingly satisfying for about 145K miles.  The engine recently needed the ECU replaced, and the catalytic convertor finally triggered the check-engine light.  The transmission has given no problems, despite a fair amount of Pop-Top hauling.  I have had to have part of the AWD rear-end replaced twice (80K and 140K miles -apparently a seal gave way twice).   Still doesn’t burn a qt of oil between 5K changes.
    Depending on my need for a replacement of its size (car #2 is a Prius) when this one finally gives up the ghost, I will probably go back to the trough for another of the same.

  • avatar
    Dave1951

    I may be the only transmission technician on here, but I got news for people, you are just as likely to have a transmission problem with the Ody nowadays as the older Caravans. And minivan trannys in general are more trouble. The Windstar and GM minivans were almost as troublesome as the older Chryslers, and for some reason more Chryslers fell victim to people using the wrong transmission fluid than the others. As far as trucks, you cannot find a stronger, more reliable transmission than the Dodge 545RFE, barring none. The 68RFEs have been pretty trouble free as well, although diesel guys are always pushing the limits. The 42LE/42RLE and the 62TE are solid trannies. The older Chrysler Torqueflites were superior transmissions, but when they added the overdrive unit in the late ’80s, things went down hill. The FWD A604 was a dissaster, but over time they fixed the problems (41TE then 41LE). In the older cars the 3-speeds were never a problem (A404,A413,A470,etc.) We don’t see anywhere near the Chrysler’s we use to see. Miss em, too. They’re easy to work on.

  • avatar
    shaker

    Drove a 2011 Chrysler T&C version of this as a rental from Enterprise for a work trip last week. Engine was impressive, tranny was reasonably responsive (“eco” button off), and like Mike, I think that the shift lever location was just fine, and easier to operate than a column shift. No nav, yet came with the touch screen radio and backup camera (which worked well, but the screen washed out a bit in bright sunlight); A/C controls separate). Stow N Go was great for making a flat load floor fast. Dash looked good (maybe a bit heavy on the chrome trim), cloth seats were supportive, leg room just adequate for 35″ inseam (thankfully, the dash doesn’t jut out enough to contact knee). Handling and ride very good for a 4,700 lb vehicle. Gas mileage over 95% HWY for 500 miles = 27MPG. Overall, very impressed; it just needs to prove that these qualities would persist over many miles (ours had 6k miles on it); if so, a happy customer would be a likely result.

  • avatar

    So, I have read this entire post but I will tell you from first hand experience the new 2011 Dodge caravan is a POS. We had transmission issues from day one and the van has shuttered when the van is idle.

  • avatar
    rdyer478

    I looked around did a lot of statistical searching and nearly drove myself mad. No matter how good the reviews, there’s personal opinion to counter it,… or support it. I traded my 1997 GC with 150k miles which only had an O2 sensor go out. No tranny issues. Not much value as trade in but it was reliable. The new 2011 GC is a sweet ride. Smooth operation including the tranny. I drove it home some 300 miles without any issues and I LOVE IT! I’ll be watching and listening but in my experience it is not a POS, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. I highly recommend it recognizing some come off the line doomed to fail.

  • avatar
    edge65

    I have purchased a 2011 Grand Caravan.I had 3 Vans before this all Chev. without any major problems. I had always stayed away from Chrysler because of their transmission problems. I went against my better judgement and purchased this vehicle,and wish that I hadn’t.
    There are a lot of things to like about this Van. but are weighed down by noisy brakes,play in the driveline when putting the Trans. in drive which results in an annoying clunk,rough change between 1st. and second gear, and surging from the Trans. when in reverse on a hill.I have brought these problems to both the dealer and Chryslers attention without any resolve yet.Am I sorry I didn’t keep my Chev. This is unbelieveable for a new vehicle.I couldn’t recommend a Caravan to anyone.


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