Dodge Grand Caravan Review

dodge grand caravan review

My initial reaction to the 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan: “What were you guys thinking?” The new minivan’s boxy, big-nosed exterior flies in the face of two decades of design evolution. The equally artless interior is awash in plastic that looks as hard as it feels and feels as hard as it looks. But then, while driving one, it hit me: Chrysler is targeting men. Not metrosexuals. Not pistonheads. They’re looking to lure manly men: the kind of guys who buy pickup trucks (real pickups, not the ones with fancy trimmings). Aesthetically as well as functionally, the new Grand Caravan is the work truck of minivans.

To the human subconscious, the oval shape of the old Grand Caravan suggested the profile of a woman with child, the archetype of motherhood. Well, that’s what a Chrysler market research exec once told me. Suffice it to say, the new model is without child. The sides are much more upright. A large, distinctly separate front clip steps outside of the minivan monobox. Not that the new profile is truly new. Full-size vans have always been boxy. And consider who drives them: blue collar workmen, guys who labor with their hands for a living. And yes, the new Grand Caravan is available in white.

Inside, the Grand Caravan has all the style of a pre-urban cowboy pickup cab. Do the interior trim panels fill the gaps between the various control panels? Do they hold up when whacked with your gear? Mission accomplished. By the same logic (plus cost-cutting), you’ll find none of that soft-touch polymer business inside the Grand Caravan. That kind of plastic is more susceptible to wear and tear (i.e. it’s for wussies). Real Men (RM) go for the hard stuff. They’ll find acres of it here, resisting child and climate-related decomposition through the next ice age.

RM will also appreciate the new Grand Caravan’s driving position; the instrument panel is much higher than in other minivans, keeping the relatively horizontal hood within view. The forward vista suggests “truck” not “minivan.”

The new Grand Caravan provides three second-row seating solutions. (All trim levels have the stowable third-row split bench and commodious underfloor storage bins.) Cheapskates get a two-person bench. Next up the ladder: the “Stow ‘n Go” buckets introduced on the 2005 model. RM may appreciate how these quickly stow beneath the floor for spur of the moment mission changes, but they remain undersized for adults.

Manly men amongst manly men doing manly things must opt for the new “Swivel ‘n Go” seats. While great for kids, the rotating chairs put the second and third row too close for adults who don’t care to rub inner thighs with other adults. It’s a shame, as the stowable table packaged with these seats make a passable poker table. And the swiveling seats’ provide much larger backrests and cushions.

Unfortunately, turnabout isn’t fair play. The swivelers don’t stow. For big hauls—which usually require a completely flat floor– these seats must be removed; even Jack Bauer wouldn’t find them easy to lift. RM will have to decide what’s more important: Home Depot runs on the fly or protecting their buds’ personal space.

The new Grand Caravan isn’t what anyone would call exciting to drive. While the segment-exclusive six-speed manually-shiftable automatic extracts gutsier low-speed acceleration from the OHV 3.8-liter V6 than previous, at highway speeds, the old workhorse’s performance is merely adequate.

For high-speed pursuits, the SOHC 24-valve 4.0-liter V6 is the engine of choice. Neither powerplant makes sophisticated noises when pushed, but RM enjoy a little low-tech NASCAR-style engine roar. The moderately firm steering serves to accurately point the van in the intended direction. Though the rear axle remains a live one, the rear suspension does a much more passable job of absorbing bumps and dips than the last model’s set-up.

A few other minivans (e.g. Honda Odyssey) feel sportier. But the difference is one of degree, not kind. None can serve as a substitute for a sport wagon, much less a sports car. Some do a decent job of imitating a luxury car. But if that’s your mission, you want the faux-wooded (but no softer to the touch), faux-sueded Chrysler Town & Country Limited.

As a machine for getting a van-load of people or cargo from Point A to Point B, the new Grand Caravan performs to MIL-SPEC, even with the 3.8. And it contains as many gadgets as any car 007 ever drove. So when you see those slab sides, that boxy nose and all that hard plastic, don’t think, “Mommy on Bored.” Instead, consider that the men who hunt Jack Bauer drive vans. Why not you, Mr. Father of Three in an SUV?

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  • Ekulwyo Ekulwyo on Jun 15, 2008

    Its strange, but the new minivan for excellence looks like its getting back to the shape of the origional 1984 model. The more things change the more they stay the same I guess.

  • Ponchoman49 Ponchoman49 on Jan 02, 2009

    This is the best minivan out there bar none. Ok so the interior may not have the best materials but those stow and go seats are awesome. The 4.0 liter for 2009 also matches Hondas stuttering stammering rough variable displacement 3.5 liter V6 without that ludicrous feature and with close tothe same power and more torque. I also applaud Chrysler for retaining bodyside moldings with chrome as an option compared to today oh so plain slab sided look that Toyota and Honda are shoving down our throats. When it comes to to trade in those Honda and Toyotas with 50 door dings and dents because of the omitted strip I will be laughing all the way to the bank and folding down my seats in the floor when it's time to carry sheet rock home.