Two years ago, your humble author had some very nice things to say about the revised, Pentastar-powered Dodge Grand Caravan. Since then, I’ve put a couple thousand more miles on Caravans, including a fairly harrowing trip to Nashville in a low-spec variant, and, to quote Sean Connery, “I haven’t changed my opinion.”.
I never deliberately rent a minivan. Until this past Friday, when I needed one to cover about 580 miles in a single night so I could play an impromptu gig with a hastily assembled group of people who didn’t quite know each other. So I paid Enterprise their rapacious $94/day rate for an on-purpose Friday-to-Saturday minivan rental, and the green “e” came through with a brand-spanking-new, 46-miles-on-the-odometer Chrysler T&C Touring. So. We know the Caravan is brilliant. Is the Chrysler worth the extra money?
When my brother and I failed to kill each other during and after an ad-hoc rooftop party gig in Charlotte, NC, we decided to try playing in a few more inconvenient venues. First up on the list was a coffee shop in London, KY owned by a friend of ours who mastered and recorded a couple of platinum records before leaving the music business to sleep on top of a massive pile of cash, or something like that. To make things more interesting, I added two members of my current band, The Original Dirigibles, and a jazz drummer from Cincinnati. Then we revised the set to cut the modal stuff a bit and significantly up the John Mayer content. (Yes, we’re playing “Wildfire” even though the album just came out.)
Those you who care about the gig itself (hi, Nena!) can read about it in mind-numbing, PRS-specific detail here, but the important part is that we had to drive 283 miles each way, starting at 2pm, taking the stage at 7pm, and leaving for home around J.J. Cale’s favorite time*. Our packing list was exhaustive but I’ll reproduce it in part here, just to give you an idea of the weight and space required:
- Patrick the bass player
- Pemm the rhythm guitarist
- Vodka McBigbra the photographer and official complainer regarding in-van volume
- A cooler full of, um, spring water
- My Roland TD-4KX electronic drum kit
- A Behringer bass wedge
- My Roland VGA-5 traveling guitar amp
- A Taylor T-5 acoustic/electric
- Patrick’s spalted-maple Carvin SB5000
- A Baby Taylor acoustic
- A Samson PA
- Two PRS guitars in their traveling (non-paisley) cases
- A dozen-plus cables
- Fakebooks, recording equipment, three Shure mikes, three mike stands
- Extra clothes for everybody
- Music stands
I’m not even sure that was all of it. But it all fit and the four leather captain’s chairs were fairly open for seating comfort. This being a T&C Touring with a net price after current rebates of $29,700 or so, it had some stuff the Value Package and base Caravans don’t have: power doors, overhead console with DVD player and extra plug-in places, power doors, power rear vents, a uConnect head unit that had no navigation but seemed to have everything else including a storage hard drive, bigger alloy wheels, serious window tinting, deep, sparkly paint, a leather steering wheel, and a few things I’m probably forgetting.
Every time I drive a $20,000 Caravan, I think that this is all I need. And then I drive the $30,000 Town and Country and realize that I also want this stuff. Start with the seats. They are a genuine improvement and all four of us had no back pain or discomfort during what ended up being, due to traffic, about nine and a half hours in the van over the course of a single day. The stereo is very good for a minivan and handles “The Love Below” and “Speakerboxx” as well as it does “Pursuance: The Music Of John Coltrane”. The upgraded instrument panel and center stack look like they’re worth some extra money, and the LCD screen between the dials on the IP has several additional features. There’s a separate temperature number for the rear air conditioning so certain females could be banned to the rear seats and enjoy the kind of tropical heat that chicks are known to dig year-round while I stayed frosty up front. Pemm enjoyed his window seat so much he Instagrammed it:
For the record, his wife is smoking and she makes a ton of money. It’s true what they say about holding a guitar, even the guitar is a Baby Taylor and not a PRS Private Stock. It’s also true that practice in the van on the way down, even with a super-tricky iPad holder, is no substitute for learning the songs the week before. Nevertheless, the T&C was quiet enough that we could work on a few vocal things that had eluded us in “rehearsal”, mostly because “rehearsal” is shorthand for “emptying bottles of Ketel One over the course of two hours and arguing about adding ‘Slow Dancing In A Burning Room’ to the set.” Is it quieter than the Caravan? I think so but I’m not willing to go on record there. There was a lot of biomass and plenty of sharp edges in the thing to absorb sound.
As a band, we all appreciated the looks of the Chrysler, particularly the paint quality. The visual difference between this and the Caravan is plainly apparent — but it also costs more. It should be apparent. After many years of the least convincing badge engineering known to man, the company’s finally cracked the code for creating separate and distinct variants of a vehicle. The downside is that the Chrysler and Dodge no longer share a ZIP code, pricing-wise. And it must be said that, hovering right in this same MSRP range, is the Caravan R/T “Man Van”. Do I want the sophistication of the T&C or the aggression of the R/T? How did I get to be old enough that I’m seriously considering the answer to that question?
Regardless of which variant you pick, you get the same powertrain. This was long overdue. It’s also the practice followed by Honda, Nissan, and Toyota (with the recent discontinuation of the no longer available four-cylinder sad-van LE 2.7.) The Pentastar continues to shine brightly (ooh! I’m ready to write for Autoblog with stuff like that!) in this application no matter what trim level you choose. It’s fast, it’s quiet, and it’s economical enough. We recorded 22.8 miles per gallon running a steady 85mph down to Kentucky and, after pressing the “Econ” leafy button on the way back, 24.8mpg with seemingly no difference in highway performance. The owners forums report that “Econ” significantly degrades in-town performance, however.
Bass player Patrick swore that the Chrysler had less room in it than his two-generations-back Sienna. This sounded ridiculous to me and when he proved unable to operate the rear Stow N’ Go seat I resolved to ignore everything he said from then on. That resulted in us accidentally playing “Impressions” three measures apart for a harrowing minute or two, during which I’m pretty sure two members of the audience injured themselves trying to get out the back door. For the record, Edmunds scores it 133 cubic feet to 123 in favor of the Chrysler.
I’ve devoted a lot of time to the idea that the Chrysler minivan makes sense at the $20,000 and $25,000 level. I think it’s safe to say that it makes sense at the $30,000 level as well. For the extra money, you get a verifiable and usable improvement in day-to-day functionality and comfort. It’s not 50% better than the Value Package Caravan but the IWC Big Pilot isn’t 100% better than the IWC Spitfire either. If you have the money, it’s worth the extra cash.
The ultimate question is: does the same platform make sense at $40K, at the loaded-Limited level? Is the “one with everything” a reasonable proposition? It’s hard to say, but this T&C Touring does the business and, as with its cheaper siblings, continues to be recommended without reservation.
* After midnight, duh.