By on July 9, 2011

Women and minivans, women and minivans. They don’t quite go together like a horse and carriage, but it’s possible to be just a little more romantic about either when the location is right. I fell in love with the revise-and-retouch 2011 Chrysler minivans during an epic Northern California trip, as detailed in my first-drive review, but sometimes the girl who bewitched you in that far-away hotel room turns out to be a completely damaged headcase in daily living, and sometimes a manufacturer-prepped van in a gorgeous setting doesn’t hold up in that cold, no-makeup morning.

To find out, I requested (meaning “rented”) a Grand Caravan from my local PR flack (meaning “Enterprise counter agent”) and I set out on a trip designed to test the not-so-minivan to its limits (meaning “I had a trip I was going to take anyway and I want to get paid for doing it.”) Only by driving nearly two thousand miles in under three days could I determine if Chrysler was ready to compete against the leaders in the segment. Translation: “I will submit my fuel receipts for this trip, and they will not be paid because there was no reason to cover this kind of distance.”

My initial review of the Town & Country was so enthusiastic that Michael Karesh promptly contributed a counterpoint where he provided detailed statistical comparisons to other minivans, as well as a link to a site called “TrueDelta”. I’ve never been to “TrueDelta”, but based on the name I expect it has something to do with either maximizing acceleration or evaluating photos of the mons veneris. I’m interested in both of those things, both separately and together, so I’m saving my first trip to the site for a day when I really need a pick-me-up of hot, nasty, bad-ass speed.

The van I drove would cost a buyer $27,425 MSRP less rebates as of this writing. Frankly, it seems like a hell of a bargain and then some. It’s missing a lot of the goodies — heated seats, a moonroof, navigation, remote start, the super-duper Infinity sound system, leather interior, et al — but it has all the critical pieces of equipment for a middle-class family, from power doors to a rear-view camera. The stereo is pretty good, although the Caravan’s oddly hushed interior goes a long way towards flattering it.

My route was like so: from sunny Powell, Ohio, drive to Mt. Pico in Vermont, Mt. Kearsarge in New Hampshire, and then up the Maine coast so my partner in crime, Vodka McBigbra, could put on her favorite bikini and scandalize entire vacationing families while I played “Little Wing” on the hotel balcony. Follow a similar route, with less mountain-road driving and more freeway drone, on the way back.

I resolved to drive the entire trip in the Caravan’s “Econ” mode, which is selected by pressing a small button on the center console. That button is right next to the hazard button and it’s twice as big as said hazard button. I took this as a cheerful indicator that Chrysler didn’t expect the van to break down, and they didn’t expect me to misuse the hazard button for long-term parking in airport loading zones, but they did expect me to be economical and whatnot.

The dash readout doesn’t lie. Well, it may lie, but the (in)frequency of my fuel stops indicated that it wasn’t lying by much. That’s the overall readout for 1500 miles, much of it up and down some pretty curvy roads in Vermont. Yes, I did leave the transmission in “Econ” mode, which makes the Caravan a little sluggish in everyday driving, but when I needed to grab a gear or two I did it with the convenient dashboard tip-shifter, and once, during a particularly determined rush up an on-ramp, I looked down and realized I was doing a solid buck-oh-five. At that speed, the Caravan is quiet and controllable. Don’t give this to your teenaged son and think he’s going to slow down as a result. This is a quick vehicle and the engine absolutely encourages abuse in the same way that Ford’s Duratec really doesn’t.

Stow-N-Go: priceless if you have children and need quick space. Lame otherwise, although when I returned the vehicle to Enterprise I told the cutie behind the counter that “somebody stole the seats, I think” and then watched in complete satisfaction as she looked for them in the van.

The Grand Caravan is rated for 3600lbs towing capacity. That’s perilously close to what a Plymouth Neon race car weighs on a Featherlite trailer. I thought about that particular combination a lot during my trip. Why not enjoy a reasonably-sized vehicle with a massive amount of reconfigurable, weather-proofed interior space and outstanding fuel mileage for all the times when I’m not towing?

Let’s take a minute to talk about (in)famous auto writer LJK Setright and his “hundred-mile rule”. Setright said that legitimate automotive testing could consist of no more than one hundred miles. By the time the hundred-mile mark rolls around, you see, the faults of the vehicle would have receded in the tester’s consciousness, the same way a constant noise or smell tends to fade into the background of our awareness after some time has passed. I think he’s at least half-right, but it’s only well past the 100-mile mark that the fitness of the vehicle for long trips is truly apparent. Some minor faults in seating position or control effort aren’t too bothersome in a short trip, but they become all-conqueringly miserable while crossing a continent. Michael and I have already given you the 100-mile review.

Past one hundred miles, when the nine hundredth mile without any kind of meaningful rest stop appears, the Caravan reveals some unexpected strengths and weaknesses. Strength: unlike many vans, the seat position doesn’t put stress on the knees and ankles. Weakness: the seats need more back support, perhaps adjustable. Strength: it’s quiet, it tracks hands-off, and it’s relatively impervious to wind. Weakness: the armest on the right side is hard and the left side armrest is poorly positioned on the door. Strength: visibility is outstanding all the way around. Weakness: the center console makes it difficult to get into the back area for making out helping a child who needs help.

The bottom line? Over the course of some long, annoying drives, the Caravan is as good, or better, than any midsize sedan you can buy for this kind of money. Forget the space, forget the van-centric virtues. If you drive this vehicle a thousand miles out, all by your lonesome, and then drive a LaCrosse a thousand miles back, you’ll prefer the Caravan. I’m not kidding. Why buy a sedan? The Caravan matches most of them for economy, is priced within shouting distance of them, and then you turn around and OMFG FIVE MORE PEOPLE AND A BUNCH OF STUFF GOES BACK THERE TOO. Down a backroad, the G/C will bitchslap a lot of fairly recent mid-sizers, it will beat them up the ramp to the freeway, and you can just happen to PUT A ZILLION CUBIC FEET OF RARE CAGED BIRDS FROM MEXICO IN THE BACK.

It turns out this is one California romance that holds up in the cold light of a Maine sunrise. The Grand Caravan is simply a great car. It isn’t a Great Little Car — the spiritual successor to that is a Mazda 2 — but it’s a Nice Big Van. Money well spent, as a rental, and I suspect it would be money well spent as a purchase, too. The word will spread. The Caravan wasn’t the original minivan — that was a bit of Iacocca marketing magic — but it’s one of the best.

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74 Comments on “One Half-Lap Of America: 60 Hours and 1,970 Miles In A Rental Caravan...”


  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Thanks for the informative review Jack. For the first time in a while it felt like YOU writing, not “Jack Baruth attempts to channel one of the greats whose book he just put down.” Cruising at 105, eh? Sounds like the Caravan might be a great “stealth” speeder, not lound enough or squirly enough at that speed to tip off the lady who gave birth to all the kids you could put in there. Make mine a light metalic color and make sure the radar detector is plug in.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    That’s actually a really nice van. I like the center console. It makes the driver’s compartment much more sedan-like.

    And with the Pentastar V6, it sounds like the Caravan is transformed from milquetoast family hauler into a boxy Q-ship.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Thank you for one of the most interesting and useful reviews I’ve seen in a long time. If we ever buy a minivan again, part of the reason will be to use it for things like driving 900 miles to Seattle, or even for a cross country adventure or three.

  • avatar

    i mentioned to my wife awhile back that there was only one vehicle that had “stow & go” seating and what that meant. for the first time, she seemed enthusiastic about my babbling on about cars.

    “you mean i could put multiple large canvasses (she’s a painter) inside the car instead of on the roof rack of our volvo?”

    “yup, and it’s cheaper, too.”

    “wow, let’s get it! what is it?”

    “a dodge minivan.”

    “your out of your mind.”

    end of conversation.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh women! Why do many of them fear practical vehicles? They seem to go more for “the look” than the practical side.

      • 0 avatar
        ClutchCarGo

        “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh women! Why do many of them fear practical vehicles? They seem to go more for “the look” than the practical side.”

        I believe that it all goes back to what women are most valued for: their fertility. All of the crazy things women do that we men don’t understand stem from a desire to at least appear to still be able to bear fruit since women are greatly depreciated past that point. Extensive makeup, uncomfortable clothes/shoes, boob jobs past age 40, all are aimed at maintaining an air of fertility. Minivans, and station wagons before them, suffer in a woman’s eyes as a symbol of complete motherhood that diminishes her reproductive availability.

      • 0 avatar
        Philosophil

        And men don’t do similar things? (Mid-aged crisis anyone?)

      • 0 avatar
        ClutchCarGo

        Men will do foolish things in the grips of a mid-life crisis, but even if they try to seem younger via their follies, they don’t have the motivations that women do. If women are valued for bearing children, men are valued for providing for children, i.e. wealth. A woman’s boob job actually works to keep her relevant in the public eye, even when the boobs aren’t relevant to what she does, e.g. selling real estate. A man’s efforts to seem younger, like hair plugs or a sports car, just make him laughable. The exception to this is when the effort (like an expensive vehicle) demonstrate wealth. This heightens his value in the eyes of society.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      I don’t understand the reluctance of many people to use and drive the vehicle which best fits their lifestyle. But then, I don’t understand high heeled shoes either. I don’t see “wow, she looks hot”, I see “wow, those look painful”.

      • 0 avatar
        Robert.Walter

        It is the power of advertising, which conspires to distort our perceptions, sew the seeds of dissatisfaction with our person and our reality, and to offer us the solutions to these dissatisfactions, and it is the weakness of the human condition that we accept the distortion, allow the dissatisfaction to grow, and gravitate toward the solutions offered to us.

        Re. the high-heeled shoes: Roger that.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        The sole (no pun intended) reason women wear high-heeled shoes is to make their legs look better – and that they were invented and marketed by men!

        The problem is, after years of wearing such things, what they do to a person’s foot is terrible. Not worth it if you ask me. My wife never fell for that nonsense and she doesn’t suffer any of the problems. My daughter – not so much.

        Plus, they’re dangerous for a women to wear and try to drive while wearing those.

    • 0 avatar

      Was it the “minivan” part she objected to… or the “Dodge?”

      • 0 avatar
        StatisticalDolphin

        If the problem is the Dodge label, the VW Routan variant is available at deep deep discounts from no haggle Fitzmall.

        Quite the unholy alliance. I mean, how do Routan owners deal with the bitter irony of driving a fake Chrysler product that occupies the niche that by all rights should belong to the worthy successor to the original, iconic VW Bus?

        I’d be on anti-depressants.

      • 0 avatar

        The local Mazda/VW store uses a few unsold ’09 Routans for its courtesy shuttles. “The absolute very best from VW and Chrysler” is how one driver summed up the experience of driving one.

        He did not mean it as a compliment.

      • 0 avatar
        mikey

        Rob….Have a close look at a Mazda that has spent five years in rust country. It gives new meaning to the word “crap”

      • 0 avatar
        Sam P

        @Mikey:

        Mazdas carry on the tradition of 1980s Japanese cars. The body will die from rust before the mechanicals do. One of the few things Detroit seemed to get right in the 80′s was rustproofing, to their credit.

      • 0 avatar

        mikey, I’m fortunate enough to live somewhere far removed from rust country… but hey, thanks for your concern. :-)

        (Such as it is, I’m far more concerned with the ramifications from the 6′s fine union craftsmanship, than I am of any rust forming on it.)

  • avatar
    H Man

    “I resolved to drive the entire trip in the Caravan’s “Econ” mode, which is selected by pressing a small button on the center console.”

    I recently noticed that the Veyron has an ECON setting for the A/C. Quite possibly the funniest feature in any car ever.

    • 0 avatar
      Chicago Dude

      The ECON button is a VWAG thing. It is the only way to turn the A/C compressor off. Well, I guess you can turn the whole climate control system off…

      Even in the middle of winter with the heat cranked up, the A/C compressor is on unless you press the ECON button.

  • avatar
    Detroit-X

    I make it a point to rent these on vacations due to the comfort and versatility. My highway fuel economy is around 24MPG, not quite midsize/large sedan-level; in town, around 18MPG. The rear seats are for stowing, not sitting for sure, but it sure is handy.

    I’d never own one, though. All my rentals have had the same, dumb, problems: Power doors that don’t operate, brakes with severe shudder when hot, transmissions that feel like they are on the verge of death. All this at only 22k miles. These repeat defects do not in any way halt the poor Chrysler reputation (from the 95%+ of the retail buyers who look elsewhere).

    Still, a neighbor buys only Chrysler minivans, despite all the huge problems he has with each and every one. Quiet? Not his. Must be a 2011 feature.

    Another friend has had the usual brake problems, and his was at the dealer for TWO MONTHS to fix a ticking noise in the engine. He finally got it back, and the ticking noise is still there.

    • 0 avatar
      tedward

      Yeah, but there’s a new drivetrain here, and without Chrysler’s historic “boat anchor” (Chrysler mechanic quote) awd/auto transmission combo. I’ve driven it, and it can actually sound pretty mean from out back (dare I say VR6-ish) if quiet on the inside. What kills this car for me is the lack of a manual, as I still maintain that there’s no such thing as a truly reliable or servicable automatic for a vehicle this heavy. It will be the part that totals the car, the test is which owner it totals the car for.

      If you’ve been renting them on vacations plural you probably have been sampling their push-rod 3.8 or (doubtful) the 4.0. Neither of which was any good, and both of which were down on power and fuel economy to the new 3.6 IIRC.

      Props to Jack (I think) for sticking to the ECO mode. I hated it and with a passion I usually reserve for “real housewives” wannabes and abusive short men. Oh, and great review.

      • 0 avatar
        Detroit-X

        Ted… Yes, I had the 4.0 for sure, and probably the 3.8 in there too, but I’m less disappointed in the engine, so far. Another example: the dash-mounted shifter sounds like junk when it’s operated. Think of all the $250k+ Chrylser execs who said: “That crap sound is OK!!” Makes you wonder about the tiny parts somewhere else, more costly to fix.

        So… the 3.6 is more competitive, good. Several million pre-2011 drivers too late though, for that repuation-thing. And who is to say the 3.6 isn’t overpromised, or fragile? Too early to tell, right now.

      • 0 avatar

        +1 Detroit-x. I’m sure there are worse bets out there to take than putting money on a first-year Fiasler powertrain… though none seem to come to mind at the moment (except perhaps a rebadged Daewoo subcompact.)

      • 0 avatar
        Patrickj

        @Tedward
        I think there are reliable and serviceable RWD automatic transmissions for large vehicles, look at pickup trucks and body-on-frame SUVs.

        I don’t believe there is an FWD transmission in existence that will stand up to a heavily loaded 4500 pound, 250+ horsepower van in hilly terrain for 150K or more miles.

      • 0 avatar
        jpcavanaugh

        Tedward, I cannot speak to the more recent Daimler-designed units, but my 99 Town & Country is still driving nicely at 207K on the original engine and transmission. The 3.3 and 3.8 were not that strong, but were torquey down low and very durable. The transmissions would last a long time with some care. If the new 3.6 is anywhere near as durable as the old iron engine, it will be a heckuva unit. I hope so.

        This is my first Chrysler minivan, and after about 20K miles in it, I can see why so many people bought them.

  • avatar
    supremebrougham

    Even though I am single and have no kids, there are many times I wish I had a minivan as a second car, they’re just do darn practical!

    The updates given to the Dodge were certainly needed, though I sooo wish they would offer more interior color choices. I looked at a 1989 Grand Voyager LE the other day sitting at the cheap-o lot, and it had a very pleasant looking blue interior, still looks good.

    And lastly, here’s another reason for more colors…I am sitting here visiting with my mother, and as I was reading this, she came up to me and saw the picture of the rear cargo area and asked me…”Why are you looking an an x-ray of a colon?”

    I couldn’t make that up if I tried…

  • avatar
    BrendanMac

    A friend of mine had a 90′s Caravan Sport that did duty as a fishin’ rig. NuCanoe strapped to the top, assembled flyrods, camping gear, cooler and all manner of fishy accoutrements barely half-filled it. Went pretty good over washboard gravel and ate up the miles on the highway.

    We made him a “Free Candy” sign.

    • 0 avatar
      01100100

      After reading this glowing review, only a few clicks led me to a video about an upcoming “Ram C/V” model as a possible contender for my future canoe-y, bicycle-y, outdoors-y, home-owner-y uses.

      I immediately had that same “Free Candy” thought. Maybe the addition of the optional hatch window (so the cop could see in) or possibly a non-white paint job would alleviate that look a bit. Appears more handy than the HHR panel wagon.

      Wonder if these’ll be offered 4-sale to the non-fleet operating, non-business owning population?

  • avatar

    Needed more explosions, political intrigue, yeti sightings, and free-ranging paramilitary squads.

    +Also: the water near places like York Beach, Maine, etc. is surprisingly chilly, even in July.
    And given the local flavor my beloved paper-wasps, I would imagine the scandalizing was +/- noteworthy

    -or at least enough to make it to the pages of The York Weekly, or http://seacoastonline.com ! :D

  • avatar
    segfault

    The engine is only turning about 1800 rpm at 70 MPH. The gauges and the center stack look very luxurious. But, does this thing really ride better/smoother/quieter than a V6 LaCrosse?

    • 0 avatar

      Not sure about quieter, but the LaCrosse’s ride annoyed me. Too much bobbing about, a problem compounded by a headrest that juts uncomfortably far forward. The GC’s ride is much steadier, and it’s handling is also much more satisfying.

  • avatar
    segfault

    One more thing: I haven’t noticed any other review sites calling the new Caravan/T&C a revolutionary new vehicle, better than a midsize sedan even if you don’t need the extra space, etc., and I have a theory about Baruth’s fascination with it: His biological clock isn’t just ticking, the alarm function is going off, and he wants to fill the uncomfortable rear seats with Vodka McBigBra’s babies.

    (If you watch Weeds on Showtime, you may remember the plot line where Andy sells all of his worldly possessions and buys his intended a minivan, even though they have no kids together.)

    • 0 avatar
      Acd

      Other reviews may not have gone quite as far as Jack did but it’s done pretty well in the handling and ride departments.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      If you watch Weeds on Showtime, you may remember the plot line where Andy sells all of his worldly possessions and buys his intended a minivan, even though they have no kids together.

      I do. I was disappointed in the level of sissiness that Andy displayed in losing Ms. Morissette, though I suppose it suited his character well enough.

      But that’s not Baruth. He’s more like Dexter, appearing to enjoy a minivan for practical reasons when really he just wants to conveniently haul dead or soon-to-be dead bodies!

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Too late on both counts… I already have a two-year-old son and V. McB is forty-two years old. :)

  • avatar
    ajla

    If you drive this vehicle a thousand miles out, all by your lonesome, and then drive a LaCrosse a thousand miles back, you’ll prefer the Caravan. I’m not kidding. Why buy a sedan?

    Three reasons:

    1. I like the exterior of the Lacrosse much more. And I’m vain.

    2. Owning a van (or truck) means all my friends and family will want me to haul stuff/people all the freaking time- especially if I put a hitch on it and brag about a 3600lb towing capacity. You seem to have enough attractive female friends that this might not be a big deal though.

    3. I have a bigger emotional attachment to the trishield than to whatever Dodge calls the two red line logo. All things being (un)equal I would really rather have a Buick. Plus, it’s possible that the Lacrosse is going to be the last large-ish Buick sedan for a long time.

    _______________

    Also, they have beaches in Maine now?

    • 0 avatar
      jpcavanaugh

      I have been driving my mother’s 06 Lacrosse recently. Jack is right. I seriously prefer my 207K mile 99 Town & Country in virtually all kinds of driving.

      • 0 avatar
        pdieten

        This is true, our ’05 Grand Caravan was a much nicer car to drive than many sedans. It’s really unfortunate that the assembly quality and reliability just haven’t been there, which is why we traded ours in. I’ll go back to a Caravan if Chrysler ever fixes their reliability issues.

      • 0 avatar
        MrGreenMan

        Was the ’06 Lacrosse the one that was infamous for its one star safety rating? I remember one of those had these crazy side panels that they claimed would lead to pelvic separation in a side impact. The Grand Prix didn’t turn out quite that bad that year, but the final Grand Prix models were just unfortunate.

        That old Lacrosse was a W body; the Epsilon platform one is considerably nicer all around. The W body never seemed as nice as when the three sisters LeSabre/88/Bonneville shared a platform — now that was a Buick, even if it was an Oldsmobile.

      • 0 avatar
        lumixguru

        Our family has had 4 Chrysler minivans 1994 1997 2000 and 2005. The 1997 Van as 180K plus the 1994 and 2000 got to about 130K each before being retired the 05 with 62K has been bullet proof except for an 800.00 oxygen sensor. whatever has been thrown at these vans from band to gardening crap has been handled with great efficiency. The jump seats are not great for long trips. Our dealer is excellent. that is the experience we have had. A lot of Chrysler’s here in Western North Carolina.
        My 05 Camry with 53K ate a catalytic converter which was replaced under warranty,at 50K. An 07 Toyota Camry saved my life in a bad accident 4 years ago which is why I still drive a Toyota. Waiting to see what a 2012 Camry looks like. I would like a 2012 VW passat TDI but refuse to pay 30K for it.
        I have driven my ex’s 07 Buick Lucerne and was not impressed with its handing, the 300 pound wheelchair lift on the roof still delivers about 16 mpg around town and 20 something on the highway. It does with its designed to do.

  • avatar
    Acd

    Damn it Jack you’ve done it to me again. My wife’s 2008 T&C will be paid off in a little under two and a half years and instead of being able to look foward to no more van payment but having to drive something that rides, handles and gets the same gas mileage as a medium size office building, now I’ve got to either pony up for a 2011 new one or wait a few months for the right used one to come along.

    It really does look like Chrysler has fixed the majority of my complaints with the 2008: a complete lack of power that causes the driver to keep the gas pedal floored driving up any incline steeper than a cigarette butt which then keeps the six speed transmission hunting back and forth for the proper gear to let the agricultural V6 scream and guzzle gas like an Hummer H2, a suspension that combines a complete lack of handling ability with no corresponding gain in ride comfort, a crappy looking interior with leather that looks more like vinyl than a cheap office chair and various assorted rattles from indifferent design or build quality.

    As far as Chrysler reliability goes maybe the four I’ve had over the past ten years are the exception but they’ve all been relatively trouble free (yes, even the 2001 Concorde with the 2.7). The 2008 T&C has been the biggest disappointment not because of lack of reliability but because it drives like such a pig.

    • 0 avatar
      JREwing

      You could also go with option C: Source the springs and shocks/struts from a 2011 model to replace the ones in your 2008. It’s likely due for new dampers anyway, and that might fix 50% of your irritation with your 2008.

      • 0 avatar
        Acd

        JR, that’s actually a pretty good idea. I wish there was as simple of a way to get the extra 83 horsepower from the new engine. With those two things resolved I could probably live with the Fisher-Price quality interior.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    Jack,

    I find you to be the best automotive journalist of my generation.

    Your wit, astute observations, detailed technical knowledge, sarcastic/dry humor edge, all presented in a manner that demonstrates humility, make your columns a must read for me.

    You are accurate in what you claim, well versed in how you explain things, add humor to the mix to break up what can sometimes be dry material, yet you are never stuffy, haughty or condescending.

    Plus, it doesn’t hurt that you have serious hoonage skills.

    You’re the opposite of some writers whom I won’t name writing for fancy and glossy magazines that I won’t name, and that’s all good; they wear driving gloves and take jaunts down Napa Valley roads wearing crisp oxfords and ‘driving’ gloves, while I envision you blasting down I-75 listening to Motorhead with a well worn leather jacket and grubby tshirt (Ramones or something similar emblazoned on the front) – and fast food wrappers strewn about the interior.

    But out of that mild chaos and from that wellspring of the common man common sense that is your comfort with who you are (rather than what other poseurs try to ‘be’), your prose on all things automotive puts theirs to shame.

    Keep on keepin’ on, Jack.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      THIS is why we should implement a “star” rating for comments :)

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        No, Jack, no!

        That will only encourage post whoring.

        On a serious note, I *almost* convinced my wife to buy this vehicle (2011), partly based on your review.

        We have one toddler as of now, and I’m of the opinion that this is way more practical and comfortable (and apparently quite a bit more fuel efficient) than many of the SUVs/CUVs she seems to have her mind (or heart) set on.

        The SUV/CUV space is filled with vehicles having rear seats not much larger (and often smaller) than midsized sedans, are more fuel hungry, and offer no real advantage over most decent midsized sedans other than all-weather capability (in AWD config) and a pop up tailgate with more cargo space.

        But she tried to extort me into having an additional child and getting a dog, too, using a Jedi mind trick, in order to follow through.

        She’s had her heart set on an Acadia (no way, I said, due to reliability issues) or a 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee (fine by me, as I do like it, even if it’s not as practical as the Grand Caravan).

        But you wrote a great review, on a minivan of all things, when ‘real automotive’ journalists only focus on the Veyrons and Aston Martin V12 Vantages that the bulk of the population are interested in, and can afford, so cheers to that alone.

        And I was almost able to close the deal on a new minivan with wife in no small part based on your review, but will have to now likely settle for a Jeep Grand Cherokee.

        It could be worse I suppose, in a Country Squire sort of way, which was a part of my childhood experience.

  • avatar
    highdesertcat

    Great review, Jack. Thanks. We always rent for our vacation trips rather than wear out our own cars and trucks.

    My last experience was renting a new 2008 T&C (with 6308 miles on it when we got it) for six adults to travel to Denver for a relative’s wedding and then on to Cheyenne to spend five days there with friends and family.

    On the way home we diverted to Grand Junction from I-25 at Denver, going west from Denver on I-70, and then home to Southcentral New Mexico by way of Moab, the four corners, Cuba, Socorro, Las Cruces, etc, with all six aboard.

    Quite honestly, I was not at all impressed with the performance of that T&C, although the comfort factor was nice and the ride was quiet and smooth for everyone with all the windows rolled up. Roll them down or crack them to vent to the outside and it was another story; more like a howling banshee.

    Maybe it was the gas, maybe it was the terrain, maybe it was the winds, whatever, but I had to keep the gas pedal pressed to the metal just to keep this gutless wonder going at 65mph, and on cruise the transmission shifted and jerked even on flat terrain, blowing a huge cloud of light blue smoke after each downshift.

    I vowed never to rent another Chrysler minivan. Chances are we will rent a minivan the next time we travel with a group and your review certainly has influenced my dismal opinion of Chrysler’s minivans. I’m unsure if I’ll give them another chance though.

    • 0 avatar
      Patrickj

      Very few cars today ride comfortably with the windows open above 45 mph or so. The wind buffeting is just terrible.

      I was on the Skyline Drive in Virginia yesterday, and enjoyed the windows-open driving greatly. OTOH, it has a 35 mph speed limit.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Patrick, that brings up the need as to why the windows needed to be cracked to vent to the outside. The venting system of the Dual-Zone AC unit does not effectively vent to the outside on the NORMAL AC setting, and not at all on the MAX AC setting when all it does is recirculate the air inside the cabin. Design fault?

        With six people traveling together all enjoying great Mexican food on the road, with beans as the common staple, there was an imminent and pressingly great need to vent to the outside.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Max AC is a synonym for AC with recirculation. The idea is that once the air in the car is cooler than the outside air, running it through the AC again will result in a cooler interior than air from the exterior would. For this reason, when you hop in a car that has been cooking in the sun, it is best not to turn the AC to max until after the interior is no longer ovenous.

    • 0 avatar
      Patrickj

      @Highdesert
      Minivans and 7 passenger CUVs don’t really have the stones to carry 6 adults and stuff.

      I’ve tried it a couple of times in my CUV just with the 6 adults, and don’t think it would be wise to make a habit of it.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Patrick, I think it may depend on the SUV/CUV, its engine and the gearing. My wife routinely carries seven adults, yes, seven adults, in her 2008 Highlander V6 AWD, up US82 from an altitude of around 4800ft to where she works at an altitude of 9300+ft.

        The system decides which gear it uses going uphill based on a number of inputs, but we have noticed that it likes the fourth gear the best for much of the climb. Of course this blows mpg out of the tail pipe, usually in the form of black smoke. But she makes it up going downhill, idling all the way for 16 miles.

        My experience with that T&C was that its engine was pretty anemic and the transmission wasn’t all that sure what gear it wanted to use, sometimes downshifting two at a time, thereby causing high revving and a huge cloud of blue smoke. It was scary. Cruise fared no better. On long climbs like that between Las Vegas, NM and Raton, NM, going North, that tranny was pretty iffy at best. They could only improve on what they had then. And maybe they did. But I don’t think I want to risk it again, even though it is only a rental.

  • avatar
    obruni

    great review.

    my mom regretted not getting a minivan when she was looking for a new car back in 1986, it would mave made hauling around the 2.5 kids and family dog a whole lot easier, especially on long road trips to Florida.

    her car of choice? a Camaro 2.8

    yes, the whole family piled into the Camaro more than once for a road trip to Florida from New York.

    i still have nightmares about them!

  • avatar

    Thanks, Jack for a great review. Although when I need one of these, I typically rent one, I’ve wondered why people who want the space put up with the ponderous SUV or crossover when there are such great minivans around which offer the same space in a far more driver-friendly vehicle. Possibly you’ve made some converts with your excellent piece.

    • 0 avatar
      HoldenSSVSE

      Because a minivan has ZERO street cred and buying a vehicle is for 99% of Americans an emotional decision.

      My daily drive/weather beater is a minivan because of Jack’s observation, they ride like cars in general and you can carry six when you need to (or massive Home Depot/Costco runs). Resale value is very thin because of the lack of street cred so I was able to pick one up on the super cheap.

      • 0 avatar
        Sam P

        @Holden: Absolutely.

        A friend’s girlfriend wants to get a GMC Terrain very badly once she finishes paying the note on her Passat. My wife and I pointed out that if that vehicle had sliding doors, it’d be a minivan.

        She wasn’t very amused.

      • 0 avatar
        Ubermensch

        Not to mention that the GMC Terrain has to be one of the ugliest vehicles on the road today.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    You love it now, but will you love it 5 yrs from now with close to 100k miles of use? when things start to go bad and repair bills start piling up.

  • avatar
    Jimal

    I had one of these as a rental back in March at the 12 Hours of Sebring. Because of a snafu with my hotel I ended up sleeping in the back of it one night. There was enough room but the “flat” floor isn’t quite flat enough. I wish I had an air mattress. For the nights I stayed at the hotel, the van was great for the runs down and back up US-27 from Sebring to Haines City, where my hotel was. Plenty of power, the ride was really good. I rented a Chrysler minivan for the Sebring week last year; it was the same design but before the Cerberus interior improvements and Volkswagen suspension tweaks. The difference was like night and day.

  • avatar
    blppt

    “Why buy a sedan? The Caravan matches most of them for economy, is priced within shouting distance of them, and then you turn around and OMFG FIVE MORE PEOPLE AND A BUNCH OF STUFF GOES BACK THERE TOO. ”

    LMAO….greatest. observational. transition. ever.

  • avatar
    JREwing

    In late 2003, my parents bought a brand new 2004 Toyota Sienna, and with about 1000 miles on the clock I had the opportunity to chauffeur them to New Orleans to visit relatives. I also had my sister and elderly aunt, and all their luggage.

    30 years ago, a drive like this would’ve demanded a large V8 van from one of the big 3. It would’ve rode and handled like garbage, ate fuel like OPEC offered a blue-light special, and left you exhausted at the end of the trip.

    In contrast, much like the new Caravan, that Sienna was every bit as good or better than contemporary sedans. Plenty of room to stretch out. Solid handling. Smooth ride. Epic fuel economy (28.9 mpg). Quiet as a tomb – even at full song on an on-ramp, that V6 couldn’t drown out mom’s bitching to quit “abusing” her new car.

    It was the first Japanese-brand vehicle (built in Indiana) they’ve ever purchased, and 7 years later it still drives like new. Even though they live in deep UAW territory, you’ll never get them to touch a Detroit 3 vehicle again (aside from Dad’s next large truck).

    Their previous vehicle? A 1992 Grand Caravan. Despite purchasing it with low miles from an elderly couple who doted on it, it was every bit the garbage that Chrysler was known for making. The interior was chintzy, the ride was absurdly soft, and well south of 100,000 miles, it ate its transmission. Their “great deal” turned quite sour after a $2000 transmission replacement.

    My folks have one, possibly two vehicle purchases ahead of them before they pass on. If Fiat can get Chrysler’s durability and reliability up to the lofty levels of their Sienna or my sister’s 2005 Corolla, Dodge could very well win back their business. The 2011 Sienna is a considerable step back from their 2004, but this 2011 Grand Caravan looks like a worthy replacement.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    Nice review there Jack.

    This DOES sound like a MUCH improved vehicle that should breath new life into this long lived model, after all, it was first released to the public in 1984 and has been largely kept updated and refreshed over the years which is why it still sells decently even today.

    29.6 miles per gallon at 70, wow, that’s better than my ’92 Ford Ranger truck with the venerable pushrod 4.0L V6 and a 5spd manual although at 70, it’s still at roughly 2800rpm in 5th gear. I have to get it up to around 80-85 before it reaches 3000rpm and yet, I STILL get perhaps 27mpg on a good day on the highway when driven at a more modest speed, of say, 65-70 tops with the cruise on.

    To that end, it looks like Chrysler pulled out all the stops in this update/refresh and it shows well and I agree that once you get over 100 miles or even a 1000 miles any shortcomings will show and it can then make or break the car over the long haul but even in a modest test drive can reveal how you may feel about the car to a certain extent over the longer haul.

  • avatar
    HoldenSSVSE

    Jack:

    One of the best, informative, and entertaining review I’ve every read. Big kudos!

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Dang, the thing gets the same mileage as my Element on it’s best day, hauls more stuff and people, and will blow it into the weeds. Can I get mine with 3 pedals?

    Hopefully the white interior is optional. Who wants white in a kid hauler?

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    According to Hal Sperlich and Iacocca, the formula for minivan was “Minivan = One-box-construction + fits-into-garage + fwd”. If the Caravan was not the original incarnation of this, than what was?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      If you add FWD in there, the Chrysler was the first, but if you look strictly at dimensions and packaging, Volkswagen made two generations of “minivan” before Chrysler did, and the original unibody vans from the Big 3 would all quality.

      The 1965 Econoline was slightly SMALLER than the 1984 Chrysler van.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    A lot of the prejudice against minivans comes from the first generation of minivans that were even more underpowered than their contemporary sedans. The current crop of minivans have almost three times the horsepower of the early vans. Of course, they are also carrying almost twice the weight. Still, the 2011 Dodge Caravan and most of its competitors can do 0-60 in the low 8s. That matches the better 4 cylinder sedans of today and the sporty cars of 20 years ago.

  • avatar
    PenguinBoy

    Chrysler always had the basic design right on these, IMHO. Good space utilization, comfort, safety, visibility, etc. The recent vans were let down by the general lack of quality and refinement. It sounds like the perceived quality and refinement have been kicked up several notches, if no durability issues surface this van may well be the best in class.

    To me, these have a lot more “street cred” than a crossover. I prefer a utilitarian vehicle like this to be honest about its intentions, rather than putting on airs and pretending to be something that it is not. Then again, the Grand Caravan is currently the number two selling vehicle in Canada, so maybe we aren’t as fussed about crossover “street cred” up here…

  • avatar
    Guzzi

    90000 on my 2001 T&C and there have been some issues, notably the BCM went out. That has been the most expensive repair. Currently the passenger slider track cable has a short and it doesn’t close with the button push. That’s a known issue. It’s my daily driver and I don’t hate it, the Patriot blue color has help up surprisingly well…in fact I’d like a new van. The T&C, GC and Oddy are the only vans I like, maybe the Kia Sedona. The new Sienna looks like a sausage and the Quest is just…a little off.

    I would probably have a new GC in orange, except that Dodge doesn’t offer the non-stowing passenger captain’s seats that the T&C does. That’s what has me looking at the Kia and Oddy. I have to give up leather to afford the Oddy though. Kia is deeply discounted. Haven’t looked at the Routan…not fond of VW dealers for some reason. Oh there is a transmission intercooler added to the towing package, I believe.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Is the front-seat console really fixed in place? That’s a shame. Toyota does that, too, in their higher trims and it’s a significant oversight in an otherwise-utilitarian vehicle.


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