By on February 15, 2013

Chrysler’s Pentastar-powered minivan is, truly, madly, deeply, one of my favorite vehicles. My first meeting was with the high-buck Town and Country, followed by a very long drive in a Caravan SXT. Great vehicles, both of them, and worth the money.

Unfortunately for Chrysler’s profit margins, however, the economic outlook in this country for actual working people continues to nose-dive. The company’s fighting back with a $20,000 (after incentives and discounts) “America Value Package” Caravan. That’s right: for the price of a Honda Civic EX, there’s a 283-horsepower, seven-seater van with keyless entry available. To get a sense of whether such a proposition holds any interest for those of us without five children and a slim budget, I rented a 2012 Caravan with slightly less equipment than what you’d find in the 2013 Value Package, and took a little thousand-mile Tennessee excursion.

My long-time readers know that any mention of the Volunteer State in my writing is usually accompanied by some lurid tale regarding a highly dramatic hairdresser in her very early thirties, but I am pleased to announce that we are killing her character off. Let’s do that right now, and since you guys all think I make this stuff up anyway I’m going to make it up the way I wanted it to happen rather than the slightly annoying way it actually happened. Plus, you can skip it if you like.

It was near midnight in the Hyatt Place down the street from the Mercedes-Benz dealer. Drama lay across the ottoman in a physically improbable but very sexy position and twirled her hair in her left index finger as I strummed the final chord of “Heartbreak Warfare” on my Martin D-41.

“It’s never going to happen, is it?” she cried. “You don’t want me enough.”

“I’m a father,” I said, “I won’t leave my son to be with you in Nashville. Still, the thought of you letting that fedora-wearing douchebag of a deadbeat dad you’re currently dating move in with you makes me want to projectile-vomit the outstanding steak I just had all the way across this room.”

“It’s okay, Jack. You don’t have to worry about me. I’m dying of a rare blood disease. In fact, by tomorrow morning I’ll be dead and you’ll never have to think of me again.”

“That’s very convenient for me.”

“Just promise me you’ll visit my grave every December 7th, to commemorate our grand romantic adventure at the Omphoy Resort in Palm Beach.”

“How about I visit your old roommate instead?”


Whew! Glad that’s over. Let’s get back to the Caravan. As with the American Value Package version, my rental base model had power locks, power windows, air conditioning, a CD player with 1/8″ auxiliary input, cruise control, anti-lock brakes, traction control, all that stuff. What don’t you get? Well, there are no LCD screens to be found. The instrument panel won’t tell you how many miles per gallon you’re getting. There is no power assistance for the sliding doors or rear liftgate. The seats are finished in a hardy-looking but non-luxurious cloth and the only “memory” function they have will reside within your own cerebrum.

In other words, the equipment’s about what you would get on a top-of-the-line minivan from 1990. So no bitching allowed.

The central excellence of the Caravan in all its forms comes down to this: it’s easy, pleasant, and effective to drive. The Pentastar makes it fast enough to handle anything from short freeway merges to cut-and-slice traffic. The transmission likes to swap between fifth and sixth a lot on the freeway but the payback is real-world fuel mileage in the 26-30mpg range over longer trips. Visibility is excellent with just a slice of bonnet visible for parking confidence. The wind noise is acceptable and it’s no worse than what you get in the current crop of mid-size sedans despite the resonance effect of the big interior space.

Even with the cheapo tires fitted to non-R/T Caravans, it’s possible to double most on-ramp speed limits and fast lane changes happen without too much roll or difficulty. I suspect that most of the driving dynamics are considerably less pleasant with seven passengers on board, but guess what? The same thing can be said of a Gallardo Superleggera.

I’ve come to believe that most car companies have a core product where their experiences, customer clinics, and engineering ability are most effectively utilized. With Ford, it’s the trucks and the Mustang. With GM, it’s the Corvette. With Toyota, it’s the Prius. For Chrysler, it’s the minivan. Intellectually, I know that the Sienna and Odyssey are of equal utility and are possibly more durable, but when I actually sit in the things it’s obvious that the competition just doesn’t understand minivans as well as Chrysler does. Everything in the Caravan works. Everything makes sense. The sole quibble I have about this vehicle, really, is that the power outlets are located at the bottom of the console. That works for most people but for those of us who want to slap our navigation-capable smartphones on the windshield it makes for a long cable run and a resultant high load on the Micro-USB connector.

Finished in basic white, the Caravan was invisible to cops and in the raise-the-black-flag-and-start-slitting-throats mood which characterized my entire run from Nashville back to Ohio I skated by the highway patrol at least twice in excess of 90mph. When a couple of inbred lot-lizard-collectors decided to race their semi-trucks up a long Kentucky hill at fifty miles per hour and block most of the freeway, I forced the Caravan into the kind of highly offensive high-speed run down the far-right lane I used to pull in my Phaetons all the time. It responded with alacrity to both the request for acceleration and the full-tilt braking I needed to sneak back in line when the lane ran out.

Having made the same trip in an Altima just four days previously, I tried to determine which vehicle I’d rather make the run in should my client decide I needed to visit Nashville once a week for the rest of my life. Although the Altima was comfortable and competent, it literally didn’t do a single useful thing any better than the Caravan did.

Acceleration? The Caravan beats it.
Braking? Equal.
Handling? About the same in most circumstances.
Comfort? The Caravan is less fatiguing.
Economy? About the same.
Cargo capacity? Come on.
Features? They were equal, once you consider that the 2013 Caravan has keyless entry standard.

If you price out 2013 models, you’ll find that the Caravan has a slight advantage over the four-cylinder Altima, Accord, and even the Camry. For the same kind of money, you get a bigger engine and a bigger box to carry your stuff. While it’s hard to argue against the resale value of the Japanese-brand midsizers, nor would you be wise to discount what a family-carrying minivan will be worth used as the middle class continues its flyover-country vanishing act.

And yet, a lot of people will crunch all the numbers, do all the test drives, and still walk away from the Caravan. They’ll do it because they’ve been burned before by minivans foreign or domestic, particularly with regards to transmission durability. They’ll do it because they don’t need the extra capacity and it feels wasteful to have it even if there’s no penalty. But mostly they’ll do it because they don’t want to be seen in a minivan. Minivans are what station wagons used to be: deeply and terminally uncool. Driving a minivan feels like an abject surrender to all the things our increasingly schizophrenic society despises. Family. Commitment. Modest income. Church. Soccer teams. The old American dream, that stupid knuckle-dragging Ozzie and Harriet crap that was supposed to vanish in a single bright bicoastal flash of Chris Brown, Slow Food, and Hannah Horvath. Who wants to be associated with it?

And yet there’s freedom in that groove. Rolling up Interstate 65, listening to the Ronald Isley and Burt Bacharach album I bought ironically a few years ago and have been listening to with sincerity ever since, I saw some dumb-ass in a matte-white GT-R swerving through traffic in the most unnecessarily race-y way humanly possible. I studied his trajectory, made a few predictions, and managed to put the big white Dodge right in his windshield as he went for a fast-and-furious pass on a tractor-trailer. He backed off and tried a few lanes over, only to find me in front of him again. Five times he full-throttled his way back and forth across 65’s considerable girth, and each time somehow I just happened to be in his way. Took maybe twenty minutes. I judged the excellence of my ricer-retarding work by how much I could increase the gap between us and an Impala that had remained in the same lane for the whole time. When we started, the GT-R was about to pass the Impala; when I finished, we could barely see the Chevy’s generic chrome trunk strip ahead.

Finally I gave up the game and this time he sped up next to me, hit the brakes, and waved his heavily tattooed arms at me widly, swearing in a language I couldn’t hear but guessed to be Russian. I waved back and smiled in utterly guileless fashion. He threw his hands up. I could guess what he was thinking Stupid old bastard. All over the road. Doesn’t know what he’s doing. The big Nissan gathered speed and shrank to a distant dot ahead. I waved again. Not the brilliant hero of my own imagination. Not the cold-hearted, bloodlessly manipulative monster of Drama’s nightmares. Just a harmless guy in a minivan. Going nowhere fast. Like everyone else.

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125 Comments on “Trackday Diaries: You should buy a minivan....”

  • avatar
    thats one fast cat

    That’s one fantastic read, Jack.
    Thanks for the good laugh and something to think about as I load the three young ‘uns in the T&C for their trip to school

  • avatar
    Austin Greene

    Sorry to see Drama go…

    Loved reading about the quintuple frustrations you caused that Russian ricer. Wish I could learn to do that.

    • 0 avatar

      So the Russian in the Nissan is a dick for wanting to pass the semi in the right lane, but you’re not a dick earlier for using the far right lane to pass then slam and jam your way into the left? Bonus points to you for being your own self appointed rolling roadblock for 20 minutes.

      BTW, if the Russian has passed you on the right, the short stopped in front of you causing you to rear end him, would we have a different story? Most likely you would be writing this story with your jaw wired shut, or worse.

      I thought you had outgrown these antics; guess not. If you ever get sued for causing an accident your articles will be a trial lawyers dream come true.

      • 0 avatar

        Unless Jack writes specifically about an incident which results in an accident, his other account of previous road-escapades are not relevant, nor admissible in most cases… Just sayin’…

  • avatar

    Fun read Jack. I love to rent these often on trips; you just can’t beat them for the family cruising down the road. Due to problems I’ve had with Chryslers (on trips), I’d hesitate to put my own cash on one, though. And that’s unfortunate.

  • avatar

    Is the Caravan as good as a Honda Odyssey? Unlikely. But, a 20K Caravan would be approx. 4K cheaper the LX Odyssey. So, it the Caravan is a better value than the Honda. Smart move Chrysler. If I was in the market for a minivan, I would go for a 20K Caravan over a 24K Odyssey. As much as I prefer Honda and Toyota vehicles, I would buy Detroit vehicles if they were priced correctly.

    • 0 avatar

      What JB also isn’t accounting for is dealer specific incentives. A local Chrysler/Jeep/Dodge dealership routinely has these AVP Caravans with leather and DVD entertainment for $20k.

    • 0 avatar

      You know what Chrysler will sell you for less than 4K on that Caravan? Lifetime warranty policy.

    • 0 avatar

      The comparison is even more valid in Canada, where these is a base version of the caravan for $19,995 (before freight and taxes). This is not a fire sale either, as it has been at the same price for over a year.

      Compared to the inflated prices of an Ody at over $30,000Cdn for a base model, it is a steal.

      As a current owner of a used 2006 Odyssey, they are not all they are cracked up to be. The power tailgate mechanism and power door locks fail with a certain degree of regularity. The active engine mounts for the VCM (Variable Cylinder Management) V6 are prone to fail, and cost over $600 to replace (before labor!).

      If I was in the market today to buy an new minivan, the Caravan would top the list, particularly now with the seemingly more reliable 6-speed automatic.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s a minivan (latin for: no resale value). I would buy one that’s 2-3 model years old and save half, admittedly, in the case of the recently refreshed mopar twins, you’d have to wait a couple of years to get one of the decent ones with the pentastar/6speed combo.

      • 0 avatar

        I recently got a 1 year old 10k miles loaded GrandCaravan for the same price as a 5 year old stripped Honda or Seinna with 60k. Love the pentastar. And my wife loves the back up camera and hard drive radio. No more parallel parking issues and we dont have to listen to skippy CDs either. We got rid of a 06 Kia Sedona, hated that thing at the end, 100k and dead.

  • avatar

    Great read! It’s possible however think you picked the wrong villain in the GTR/Chevy side-drama. If the Chevy was toddling along in the passing lane, then they were the real villain. Left-Lane cruisers with wide-open road in front of them and increasing congestion behind them cause unnecessary backups that can go hundreds of cars deep. The left lane is the passing lane, it is not the “fast” lane. As fast is highly subjective, my “fast” of 80 might not be “fast” for others. My rule is, if someone wants to pass me, let them. If anything they’ll be the first to trigger instant-on or lidar.

    • 0 avatar

      The left lanes are not “fast lanes” they are passing lanes.
      Subtle but very important difference.
      I honestly wonder if people don’t have a supermarket checkout line paradigm in mind on the road. Lots of drivers don’t want to go faster than me, they just want to be ahead of me “in line”. Unlike a checkout line, on the road everyone is going to a different destination. Bottom line, these types discover soon enough that if they want to be ahead of me, they need to sustain a faster speed. I stick pretty stubbornly to my selected cruise control set speed.

      • 0 avatar
        Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

        “The left lanes are not “fast lanes” they are passing lanes.
        Subtle but very important difference.”

        I’d say that comes fairly close to ‘distinction without a difference’, at least in most situations. Slow folks have got no business in the left lane where the right lane is clear, unless someone is turning off or onto the right lane from perpendicular road or merge, they’re exiting on the left, or there’s some sort of road hazard or safety issue ahead. Keep right except to pass, that’s the way Germans do it.

      • 0 avatar
        Felix Hoenikker

        I see this every day on my long commute. If I am in the left lane that is moving the same speed as the middle lane, and I leave a resonable gap between my car and the one in front of me, someone behind me will work their way around me and jump into my gap. They move up one spot in the line, but still are going the same speed as me.
        Some people can’t stand open space.

      • 0 avatar

        I practice lane discipline with an almost OCD-ness!!

        The left lane is the ** passing lane **–not the lane in which to park with cruise set at the underposted numbers on some sign. If you don’t have a gun and badge (or nail marks in your hands from an Almighty), it’s not your job to enforce the speed limit!!! Get the f— out of others’ way–it’s their ticket when they get tagged by the aforesaid lidar! (One of my church’s pastors (who is a “set-the-cruise-at-the-speed-limit” even on surface streets–but she knows enough to stay out of the left lane on the freeway) had someone blow by her at 35 in a 35, crossing the double-yellow, then turned into the hospice a mile up the road! Ahhh..perhaps that person behind has a LEGITIMATE reason for pedal-to-metal, and isn’t being a d-bag! That whole discussion gets into “degrees of sin,” which I’ll leave out of this forum!)

        As for the minivan, it gets no love!!! In my mind, there ain’t nothing better for toting a family, SUVs and poseurs be damned! You get better fuel economy than aforesaid monster with the same elevated driving position, and if you’re concerned about tranny reliability, install a cooler–problem solved! I’ve been a Honda guy for almost twenty years, so I’d prefer the Ody, but Fiatsler did invent the segment, and as Jack said, they just know how to do it! (BTW, my brother & SIL have a 2009 Ody EX with a spotless service record, including the power doors and engine mounts! My SIL liked the “cockpit” feel versus the Sienna, and is happy as can be with it! Just a couple little paint scratches and stuff, which I plan to help them attack this summer, along with a nice Zaino treatment to finish!) Yes, Honda flopped with the transmissions some years ago, but I believe those problems have been addressed in the latest iterations (though, as I stated, I’d still put a cooler in, just to be sure, though again, my SIL has had only oil changes and routine maintenance on her Ody.)

        As Jack said, finally, it is a shame that our society is getting away from all the “stuff” associated with the minivan!! Let’s work, as we can, to get it back!

  • avatar

    “…you be wise to discount what a family-carrying minivan will be worth used as the middle class continues its flyover-country vanishing act.”

    Very disconcerting, but absolutely true. Sad, but things really are getting worse every day as the system goes down.

    With that out of the way, I still believe Chrysler makes the best minivan and you confirm that. One would be my choice, hands-down, if I still needed one, and apparently they have become reliable. Even if a Chrysler would require a repair or two, is that a reason to spend at least 4K more for a Toyota or Honda? Not me.

    • 0 avatar

      Not to mention the Honda Odyssey is butt-ugly, and the refreshed Toyota Sienna isn’t much better. It’s sad, given the previous Sienna is mighty attractive.

      The Caravan might not be the most attractive car in the world, but given the proportions needed to be dealt with it’s not bad, either.

      • 0 avatar

        The boxy Caravan and T&C are much better looking than the Honda and you are right, the Toyota isnt much better. All of these things suffer the same bloat problem as other modern vehicles. 283hp? If it didnt weigh over two tons, empty, that would be ridiculous.

  • avatar

    Nice work Jack. I like how you handled the jackass in the GTR. Goes to show that money can buy horsepower but not driving skills. I drove my grandfather’s Buick Lacrosse for a while after he could no longer use it and surprised a few ricers myself. The GM 3.8 is also a good engine :)

  • avatar

    I cannot decide if your style reminds me more of Oscar Wilde or Norman Mailer. Both entertain, but the filling methods vary wildly.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    “but I am pleased to announce that we are killing her character off.”

    THANK YOU!!!!111!!!! I almost quit when I read “road trip to Tennessee”. OTOH I guessed in the previous article what happened with the other lady called after the Russian spirit.

  • avatar
    johnny ringo

    I enjoyed your post on the Chrysler minivan, Jack. I may consider one when my Odyssey LX gives up the ghost, but I still have reservations about their long term reliability, especially after 100K. Until I am absolutely certain Chrysler’s products are up to Honda’s quality level I’ll remain a Honda driver.

    • 0 avatar

      Luckily the Pentastar is an excellent engine, and I believe Chrysler’s transmissions are much nicer these days than they were 10-15 years ago, when you were gauranteed to have a failure at 60,000 miles.

      • 0 avatar

        Isn’t the Pentastar the complete opposite of an excellent engine? Haven’t careers at Chrysler been ruined by failure to bring it to market without porosity issues in its castings? Chrysler once issued a statement predicting that 7,500 Pentastars would require new heads based on fuel type, usage, and driving style. That’s quite a crystal ball Fiat uses, knowing how many of their customers would all buy bad gas and drive in a manner incompatible with their engine.

    • 0 avatar

      My brother in law owns a transmission shop. The last time I was in there, there were 2 Odysseys and a Pilot on the hoists. In the last 10 years, he’s rebuilt more transmissions in Odysseys than in Caravans. The gearboxes in them tend to fail with alarming frequency.

      • 0 avatar

        Dito Ringo:

        Honda 5-speeds are problematic. Chrysler sorted out the transmission problems in the Minivans in ’96. I had ’99 Caravan I put 132k, a ’04 that I put 154k, and have a ’08 with 69k. Never had one trans issue. The cars cars have been reliable save a few electronic gremlins.

      • 0 avatar

        Possibly disagree on year of supposed transmission fix, my mothers ’96 Caravan grenaded in 2005 with 80K on the clock. Don’t know when exactly in 1996 this one was built or if later 96s and 97s had a different transmission.

    • 0 avatar

      Just drove my daughter’s 97 model–it was mine but now not, with 145k miles. Transmission and engine are still perfect. It needs front end work now; it’s with original struts. It’s only had a couple of very minor part failures (water pump 0-ring & drivers door switch), both non-critical so no side of road fixes or tows.

      I couldn’t agree more with Jack, the Chrysler minivan is a hidden in plain sight gem.

    • 0 avatar

      As I stated above, I believe Honda’s finally sorted out the transmission issues–the new six-speed slushers seem good. The four-and-five speeds, less so, especially earlier on. (My 2000 Accord V6 a case-in-point.)

  • avatar

    Ha! An ending I can finally believe! Nice. I will vouch for the minivan as well. Fifteen plus years ago I was driving an 87 Chrysler Diplomat with the 318 engine and was trying to merge. A Chrysler minivan was, let’s say, not allowing me to merge. I yielded, she went ahead and then when I went to pass her in the middle lane, she abruptly swerved into that lane as well. Now I was miffed and I would show her!! I switched to the right lane and thought, “I’ll catch her and give her a piece of my mind!!!”. No such luck. She simply took off leaving me with only a shrinking view of the V6 badge on the back.. I could not catch her. Ya, I showed her.

    Looks like the current minivans are nimble and quick as well.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    Jack’s got a soft spot for the average guy trying to get by. That’s a good thing. This country used to belong to that fellow, but the 1% have got it now, with just the crumbs left behind to fight over. Isn’t it obvious?

    • 0 avatar

      Isn’t JB from Janesville, WI?

      You couldn’t find a better example of middle-American work-ethic and community prosperity being destroyed by globalization.

      In Wisconsin we geezers still believe in the Gemeinschaft of our immigrant founders. Naturally, we’re all kinda pissed-off nowadays.

      • 0 avatar

        What you call “globalization” is just the developing world wanting a nice life like the good folks of Janesville have enjoyed. This site has contributors (and readers) in India and Brazil. Should they not take part in the global industrial economy? Even if the auto industry was not a global one, because of automation and productivity gains, it takes about 2,500 people to staff a car assembly plant, compared to about 10,000 people a couple of generations ago.

        If you want to use Janesville as a metaphor for America’s deindustrialization because of imports and globalization, I’ve lived in the Detroit area for my entire life. Since I’ve been writing about cars I’ve been trying to convince my neighbors that looking at this region as the home of the domestic US car industry is a bit shortsighted, that instead they should see the reality that southeast Michigan is the global center of a global industry. All the major international suppliers like Bosch and Denso have operations here. So do most of the international car companies, one way or another. Toyota has a billion dollar R&D center in Ann Arbor, I drive by Hyundai-Kia’s technical center when I go to car events in Ypsilanti, Tata has an engineering shop here and even with startups you’ll find activity – for most of its existence Tesla has had a team of engineers in the Detroit area.

        Those “foreign” companies employ tens of thousands of people around here. They are now part of our community, our gemeinschaft, if you will.

      • 0 avatar


        And when Detroit becomes disadvantageous to those global suppliers they’ll move on and let the locals hang.

        There’s a healthy reason for nationalism and it will always be diametrically opposed to the needs of global capitalism.

        This discussion is making me smell beer. I’m going to take a shower.

      • 0 avatar

        The companies Ronnie mentioned located operations in the area for the resource of engineering talent in this industry that’s concentrated in the region. Unlike unskilled labor, you can’t find it wherever there are warm bodies.

        Protectionism breeds complacency (or is it the other way around?). Innovation is bred through competition.

      • 0 avatar

        The rumors of Janesville’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

      • 0 avatar

        Hey, Ronnie, while I’ll agree with you that there are more people aspiring to western living standards than ever, I’d propose that what’s different now is that there have never been fewer American politicians & regulators genuinely concerned with, let alone doing anything to preserve, the plight of average Americans.

        I may be just a really cynical critic of what I perceive as systemic, institutional failure, but then again, I could be factually right in stating that it’s more likely than not our politicians and institutions of government have failed us/sold out (listen to the sounds of that revolving door as it churns…churns…churns), and I may be proper in asking “[w]here has the captain gone?,” just as many sane (and prominent) people have asked in very recent years (and for the very same reasons).

      • 0 avatar


        That;’s only a part of the picture. The standard of living for the average person , taking into account healthcare, education, social mobility, family services etc, are much higher than †˙e US in most industrialized countries. Yet they live in the same global economy.

        Before the tin hats scream socialism, tale into account that these social democracies produce the luxury cars, luxury kitchen utensils, luxury whatevers , that provide many with the glowing affirmation of the “free market.”

        There are choices we can make to change the quality of our lives but, in this country, we don’t seem to make them. The richest country the world has ever seen and 25% of its children live below the poverty level. And the chances of them ever getting out of poverty are less than in some of the developing nations you refer to.

        It’s a shameful disgrace, not an inevitable outcome of the global economy.

      • 0 avatar

        Yet sadly, one of the worst-of-the-worst of the men who would sell out what’s left of the american middle class to the globalists also hails from Janesville.

      • 0 avatar

        Probert: Your claim that the average standard of living is higher than in the US in “most industrialized countries” sounds like a gross overstatement.

  • avatar

    Great read, although I skipped the fictional part (no interest).

    When my wife & I needed a 7 seater, I _really_ (37 year old male with a sports car daily driver) wanted to look at minivans. I got my wife to look at the Mazda 5, but ultimately ended up with a Sorento/v6 with abysmal, ABYSMAL gas mileage (AWD + V6 means many tanks in a somewhat rural suburb of chicago = < 20mpg mixed).

    I guess that is par for the course as the STi is pretty abysmal for a 4 cyl car as well (22-24 mixed).

    I know there is a local dodge place around here that sells caravans for sub $20k regularly….great bargain as long as they can hold up to 150k+ miles with minimal expenses and no stupid stuff breaking.

    I just looked at their site & they have _90_ 2013 grand caravans available with MSRPS of $23,990 selling for $16,990…

    • 0 avatar

      Dodge remains the hidden gem of the automotive world in terms of treasure. Only with Dodge can you get a 5-7 passenger small SUV (Journey) with the same powertrain and nearly the same interior as a $28,000+ entry level luxury sedan (300) starting at $20k, and a minivan that costs $10,000 less than it’s competition when equipped similarly (those $17k Caravans probably offer some good features tacked on to them, aside from just the big discount). The Avenger isn’t a great car, but you can get one for low 20’s with nearly 300 horse power, a really nice updated interior and….. as long as you wear sunglasses at night you can very nearly ignore the ugly exterior.

      No other company offers this kind of value.

      Unfortunately we live in “car racism” filled America, where the majority of the “old school” in this country think American is garbage and truely believe that if you aren’t buying something made in Japan, you aren’t getting the best car in the segment, regardless of reality. ;)

      • 0 avatar

        As much as I like the Journey, it’s tow rating needs to increase. They’re pulling a Ford move here by making the tow rating intentionally low (on paper) so that dales of the Durango and Ram benefit.

      • 0 avatar

        Price alone doesn’t get it done, Americans like new/fresh product. All those vehicles that are “hidden gems” are not resonating with the buyers, that is why the prices are low.

        Now from a practical standpoint, I forgot Dodge even makes the Journey. But I am going to check them out I didn’t know they shared the 300 interior and I hope you don’t mean the last gen because those weren’t known for nice interiors! Could be quite a bargain.

      • 0 avatar

        Huh, nope Journey interior does not look the same as the 300. Neither looks as good as my ancient poverty spec Lexus.

        Guess we know who the “car racist” is eh?

    • 0 avatar

      Selling for $16990? Are you sure these are new cars? Wow!

  • avatar

    By noon on Tuesday I will be hustling a Journey SXT that belongs to my school district over a roughly 5 hour route from Gallup, NM to Phoenix, AZ. I’m fairly certain it is new enough to have the Penstar V6. This prospect has me excited because it will give me my first chance to test drive the Penstar + 6 speed combo over difficult terrain consiting of interstate and state highway while watching out for the *(&%ing speed cameras.

  • avatar

    Oh My!

    What a treat, to wake up to some of JB’s best prose in at least 2 or 3 weeks, unexpectedly, on a Friday morning.

    Incredibly insightful article on all things Grand Caravan, minivan, automotive, utilitarian, culturally cool, swaggering ethos (of an in-denial society) & socioeconomic hot mess, Jack!

    Nobody does this style with more resonance, IMO.

    And I agree with the core conclusion: There are few if any vehicles that will provide the driver with this much cruising comfort at even 2x the price (not to mention practical/utilitarian goodness), such is the current epic social stigma of those slab sides and lift gate.

  • avatar

    Much love for this article and for minvans as a whole. I don’t have kids, have a business or hang out at parks, but I still think vans and minivans are excellent forms of box transportation.

    They’re also excellent for road tripping, mostly due to their captain chairs, which allows you to move your legs around all over the cabin, which as Jack mentioned, reduced fatigue greatly.

    I rocked one of these from Atlanta, to Florida to a flyover state in one haul in 30 something hours, way more comfortably than the similar trip I had performed a few years prior in a decked out Subaru Forester.

  • avatar
    Jean-Pierre Sarti

    A lot of cars are up to the task when they are new or almost new but as many have pointed out it is the long term reliability and low maintenance fuss that many minivan owners want and many times pay extra to get.

    I mean, wouldn’t YOU pay a few grand more to know you wife is hauling the kids around in a minivan made by a company that at least seem to have more reliable products. Let’s face it Odyssey’s have not done well in the transmission department either and I know many folks who have not gotten another one for that reason.

    I am not saying this Dodge is not a very good value. But you know what, good value only goes so far if the minivan is not built right. Dodge needs to prove to all the naysayers that their new cars will hold together more than 50-60k miles before falling apart.

    I’m willing to listen but give me something more than: “it is good value”

    • 0 avatar

      Who’s to judge the reliability on a brand new in the past 1-2 years product, from *any* manufacturer?

      I don’t care what happened 10-15 years ago, this stuff is brand new.

    • 0 avatar

      No, actually I would NOT pay a few grand more for the perception of reliability. And it isn’t just a few grand, the model Jack is discussing is $10k or so less than the import options. It is not as if these cars are ticking time bombs, even the older ones had a few more percentage points of risk with bad transmissions, but those trans were also half the price of a Honda trans that was just as risky. The Dodge is built right, it has always been. For a car that is essentially going to be used for pack mule duty and beat up by kids and hauling for 5-7 yrs, I would like to get the best value possible.

  • avatar

    Hey Jack,

    Chrysler Town and Country
    the late Lincoln Town Car (not the current crossover)
    2012 Chevy Impala LT
    2010 Ford Fusion SE 6-Speed

    You’ve spoken highly about these cars as highway cruisers. How would you rank them?

  • avatar

    So, Jack, you’re saying that minivans are the new hipster-mobile?

    If minivans are cool, then consider me Miles Davis.

  • avatar
    Byron Hurd

    I inherited my parents’ ’94 Caravan as my college car. It had maybe 110,000 miles when I first drove it down to school and had close to 140k when I was done with it. It leaked (and subsequently cooked) oil from its three-liter, Mitsubishi-sourced V6. The air conditioning didn’t work. Odd metallic rattling noises escaped intermittently from the undercarriage. The fuel gauge didn’t work.

    But it started every morning, endured unthinkable abuse from myself and the colorful cast of designated drivers it hosted over the years, and never once left us stranded.

    Of all the cars I’ve owned, driven, borrowed or begged over the years, the Caravan is the one my friends all remember.

  • avatar

    I just can’t do it. You made a great case for this van but at the end of the day its still a van. I would def love to keep one in the stable- they’re convenient as hell- but I couldn’t do one day in and day out.

  • avatar

    “The instrument panel won’t tell you how many miles per gallon you’re getting.”

    A $20 OBDII module with Bluetooth output and a $5 Android app will solve that. The bigger issue is that in the Caravan you don’t want to know the mileage you are getting (20 combined, 25 highway).

    For someone with a family that does not drive a lot this is a GREAT deal. Definitely THE thing to buy. At least unless the family fits in a Mazda CX-5.

    For an auto enthusiast there are much better choices. A number of small hatches with stickshift and great mileage for around ~$14,000, or, for $20K, the Mustang V6 (22 MPG combined, 29 highway).

    For someone that wants to be hipster ironic and still have a fast car the Caravan is both half-assed and overpriced compared to a Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon with faux wood paneling.

  • avatar

    You entertained me (again) in a way no other writer, new or old, on TTAC
    has (or ever will). Plus you made me feel good about driving my 95 supercharged!! Previa. Thanks.

    • 0 avatar
      Patrick Smith

      Registered just to comment on this. Loved my Previa – that thing could do ANYTHING except tow. Toyota needs to bring an updated Previa with 4 cyl turbo diesel and AWD. I’d be first in line.

  • avatar

    “Finally I gave up the game and this time he sped up next to me, hit the brakes, and waved his heavily tattooed arms at me widly, swearing in a language I couldn’t hear but guessed to be Russian. I waved back and smiled in utterly guileless fashion.”

    Next time blow him a kiss.

  • avatar

    “That works for most people but for those of us who want to slap our navigation-capable smartphones on the windshield it makes for a long cable run and a resultant high load on the Micro-USB connector.”

    If the windshield is too far from the non-cigarette ligher equipped cigarette lighter hole (BTW even non-integrated cars should start offering USB power oulets so that we can move past the cigarette lighter standard) for a standard length USB cable that is an issue. But if it is not then whether the USB cable is stretched out or coiled up with a twist tie around it is not going to affect the load on it.

  • avatar

    Jack, Chrysler owes you a commission check on a very nice dark gray 2012 T&C Touring. Based on your two articles last year, I convinced my wife to drive one of these, and we both were impressed. These things really do handle and drive far better than a big cargo container on wheels has any right to do.

    I drove all three vehicles in the class: the Toyota handled like a big, heavy Prius, and the visibility was horrendous. The Honda was a big “meh”. It helped that the Chrysler is better looking than either, although it is still a van.

  • avatar

    I rented a Grand Caravan a couple of weeks ago while on a family trip to Orlando and I was impressed. We have owned a 1999 Caravan and a 2002 MPV in the past, but we have not owned a minivan for a couple of years now.

    The engine was impressive and it had no trouble swallowing 4 people and their luggage. It was comfortable, quiet, and the kids loved the rear A/C and power doors.

    It would most likely keep up with my Ecoboost F150, and it still averaged 27 MPG over the 400+ miles I drove it in a typical non-economical way. The transmission seemed to be hunting for gears quite often and got downright confused in a couple of cases.

    My ’99 Caravan was the least reliable vehicle I have ever owned (SWB 3.0L) and the Mazda simply rusted away to nothing after a few years. Despite this, the rental honestly has me considering one of these when the time comes to trade in. They’ve come a long way in 15 years.

  • avatar

    Great read.

    I’m planning a family and expect to be married with a kid in the next couple of years so the family truckster debate has been going on in my head. I see minivans as the ultimate people haulers when money matters, but for a wife and a single kid it really does seem like excess and that a Camcord for the wife would be the most efficient option.

    But then again, nobody needs the excess of that GT-R, so why not enjoy the excesses that a minivan brings to a small family? …especially when you can get that excess for less money?

    Even if you’re not hauling around five kids there are still uses for all that extra space. Like not having worry about packing lean for road trips, or a giant hole to fit small furniture or large electronics (so *my* personal vehicle can be a sports car, rather than a truck).

    I understand that the image of a minivan is not desireable, but when I set out to buy the best possible vehicle for a certain use “image” doesn’t really factor in (unless image is the specific reason, which it probably is not).

    • 0 avatar

      For what it’s worth, I am an only child and my parents had a sweet minivan (1990 Town & Country – first and only year of that body style!) while I was growing up. At first, even six-year-old me thought it was a bit excessive to get a seven-passenger vehicle for three people, but as it turned out, we made full use of the minivan’s functionality. Shuttling around friends, other small families, family members who came to visit, countless Home Depot runs, etc. etc. It was great, and it took even my small family a while to adapt to a much less functional vehicle when it was traded in on a sedan.

  • avatar

    The value proposition is unbeatable. it’s still a tough pill to swallow to think you’ll be driving that for years. I think better styling could go a long way here…keep the value the same, just make the damn thing look a bit cooler. It’s not impossible, they’ve done it before, like back in 96′.

    Recently returning from the auto show, my wife and I (and our growing family) really liked the Nissan Quest. It’s at least got a semblance of style to it, even if in the offbeat JDM manner. But fully loaded I think it stickered north of $40k. Of course my wife would want all the luxuries. But when it came time to put my own money down, paying double would just be insane in comparison to this. Plus, anyone hauling multiple kids around has cars full of french fries, old chicken hidden in cracks, toys, boogers, puke, and worse. I agree this is Chrysler’s best product, historically, and they know that value matters in this segment…a nice car won’t be nice for long!

  • avatar

    It’s true the new Chrysler vans drive really well. My dad, a Chrysler minivan owner of 20+ years has always good reliability out of them. He picked up a 2012 R/T over the summer, and I must say, I really like driving it.

    The seats in the R/T are superbly comfortable and the ride is nice. But the hotrodder in me likes that it scoots and handles well. He says he’s going to bring it out to one of our track days this summer and see what other cars’ lap times the Man Van can beat.

  • avatar

    Bring back the AWD as I had in my ’91 Dodge Caravan, and I’d be driving one today instead of our 2004 Highlander.The spaciousness and winter capability were perfect.

  • avatar

    I suppose its my station wagon upbringing but I can find no love for a minivan (or any SUV or CUV for that matter) no matter how competent they might be.

  • avatar

    Jack, you should promote a spec Caravan series. Since 2011 they all have the same powertrain, can be had cheap, are certainly plentiful and are fairly sporting.

    I bet they handle and drive even better with all the seats removed. I’d be down for that. Of course an entirely new sanctioning body might be needed to support this. SVCA, NAVA anyone?

  • avatar

    I heard of a guy who was killed in an otherwise survivable crash. He listened to music in flight and threw used batteries on the glareshield, and one of those battereies went into his brain somewhere in the eye area. I know that statistically it’s rather unlikely, but I avoid putting anything on the dashboard. Jack does actual racing and considering that club racers die more often than NASCAR drivers, his calculus may be different, but still, why. The micro-USB connector would thank you too :-)

  • avatar

    You can thank Reid Bigland for this model. It has been available in Canada for several years as the Canadian Value Package, which is probably one reason Caravan is the best selling vehicle in Canada. @ $20,000 it’s a great buy, and well enough equipped for the average driver. For those of you naysayers, I suggest you drive one before you discount it as a purchase.

  • avatar

    But how does it compare to the Jetta GLI?

    • 0 avatar

      Jetta GLI?

      How does it compare to the Toybaru FR-S?

      • 0 avatar

        Probably faster in a straight line. The Pentastar powered vans flat out haul ass.

        To me, if you have any need of hauling 4-5 full-size humans a van is the only way to fly. Though I do think the current generation are just too damned big. The Mazda5 is just a touch too small. Seems like as usual the Europeans make them in the perfect size, but don’t sell them here.

  • avatar

    Our 2000 318 equipped 2wd Durango has 171k miles on it now. Runs great and has had few issues. Needs new O2 sensors now nad has had the evaporator for the A/C replaced at around 120k because of some corrosion when we lived in Imperial Vally but that was not an uncommon repair for any brand there since the A/C is used all year. I was told Honda was the worst since they tended to burst when they plugged up internally.

    My parents hav had Mopar minivans since they came out and had two with transmission issues. One went bad early (85k miles) and ran to over 223k with the replacement transmision when he traded it in.

    Point is, take care of them and they will last.

  • avatar

    I can’t show this article to my sister, she will be so depressed. My 27 year old single childless fashion design teacher always stylish Miata driving sister came back from a road trip in which she rented one and surprised many with her declaration that she wanted a minivan, and specifically the Grand Caravan. She loved it. She really was not interested in the competition (the stow n go seating was what really sold her). She’s in the market for a car now, and we all assumed this was what she would be getting. Instead, she’s now looking at Honda Fits. Why? She did the math and despite it’s impressive highway performance, she does mostly city driving and it would cost her around $1k a year more in fuel than the Fit, and that’s assuming prices don’t go up. Needless to say, she’s been very mopey about this whole process because she really wanted that minivan. If they made a hybrid version she’d have bought it already (I can’t tell you how many times she’s asked why they don’t make one).

    • 0 avatar

      “If they made a hybrid version she’d have bought it already (I can’t tell you how many times she’s asked why they don’t make one).”

      You can tell her it’s because in order to design and manufacture a minivan that gets the same mileage as the Fit, added initial cost would be many times more than the $1000 difference a year in fuel. Not many would go for it.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, it’s tragic that nobody makes a hybrid (or diesel) minivan. Toyota has a hybrid minivan in their home market, and has had it for quite a few years now. It’s mystifying why they never bring it into the US.

    • 0 avatar

      I have explained the costliness of hybrid technology to her. She considered the Prius V, but it wasn’t big enough to justify the purchase price. On a less rational level, she think’s they’re hideously ugly and hates the way they drive. She has a Great Dane, and ideally would’ve wanted a vehicle that could have fit the dog’s crate inside, or allowed the dog enough room to stand up and walk around without crawling all over the interior and everything in it and a minivan was her best option for that. She would’ve been willing to pay some extra for it, so even if the hybrid option didn’t pay for itself vs the Fits fuel bill, if it at least narrowed the gap, the extra convenience of the van would’ve been fine. But $1000+ a year is too big of a difference for her to justify along with the vans much higher price of entry.

      If she couldn’t have that, she wanted the least expensive cost of ownership car that still had enough vertical space inside for the dog to stand (which we verified on the Fit with a tape measure). I didn’t go with her to look at the Prius V, but I don’t think it was much taller inside than the Fit. What won her over on the Fit was not just how tall the interior was, but the magic fold up second row seats that provided a nice tall area in the second row where the dog could stand, lay down, and at least turn around while keeping her off the seats and still having seperate cargo area (behind the seats) where the dog couldn’t get into things.

  • avatar

    I for one am sad to see the V. McB character go, fictional or otherwise. I can only hope the next one will be as compelling. (fictional or otherwise)

    The real life fuel economy you’re seeing is impressive. Being a long time minivan owner (but never a Chrysler product), those numbers make an excellent case for that van and I’m sure I’ll be looking at them for my next purchase. Currently driving a Mazda 5, which is a blast, and would certainly take a Caravan on an autocross course, but the hoped-for highway fuel mileage isn’t there. City mileage is good though.

    • 0 avatar

      I believe Vodka McBigbra still lives. It was Tennessee Drama who exited, stage right.

      I had the same problem with Les Miserables. With all those French names, I never did figure out which one was Les, the title character.

  • avatar

    not many people can write a really entertaining, interesting article about a base model minivan. This is why I keep coming back, for the Baruth.

    • 0 avatar

      J. Baruth (dear brother of a certain Bark M.) does a great service to the “real world” of all things automotive by writing such gems about vehicles rarely discussed elsewhere, especially in this context.

      In the real world, given the real economic stresses that the majority of Americans (and others elsewhere) are experiencing, entertaining and well-rounded reviews of vehicles that are generally affordable is currently a vacuum born of denial that shouldn’t be.

      Nearly everyone would like the keys to the Ferrari 458 Italia or Bentley Continental GT, but very, very, very few can afford them.

      • 0 avatar

        Not everyone would like the keys to a 458 Italia or a Bentlaudi Continental GT. Many would prefer the infinitely more affordable S Class or 7 Series—cars for the people. I test drove a Continental a couple of years ago and it was a most unsatisfying experience. The W-12 produces none of the music of a Benz or BMW 12 pot. It went like stink in a straight line, but otherwise had the driving characteristics of an Abrams tank. Martin Winterkorn makes fools of Bentlaudi buyers—right down to the instrument cluster cribbed from the A8. Happily for VW shareholders, his confidence game appears to be working.

      • 0 avatar

        I would like the keys to the Italia 458 on select perfect days with perfect roads (and no traffic), but as you have noted, am in agreement that the Bentlaudi doesn’t do anything to remotely interest me (I was speaking more to the people of means or access to deep credit types who wanna’ be perceived as the ballers they are now or want to be).

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Here, here Jack. I drive the same way – looking to prevent other people from being assholes. I consider it etiquette lessons….

    Glad to hear the Chryslers are so attractive as a family hauler. They are the best looking, no doubt…personally the VW is quite a looker. Based on my brother’s experience with a 2002, I continue to remain cautiously optimistic about their continuing improvements in reliability…coming from a Japanese model, it’s been a little tough on my brother.

    A cheap C&P from my post yesterday in the Cool Car comments:

    I lol everytime a friend or acquaintance says they wouldn’t get caught dead in a minivan.

    Get an Odyssey. At least its a little fun. And savor the 12-15 years you get to schlep them around in your adventuremobile. When it’s due to get sold or go to the crusher, every stain will bring a memory, every Jurassic french fry a smile.

    Don’t buy a rolling museum piece with kids. Everyone had the Grandma with the plastic covers on the couches, and the other Grandma with the threadbare comfortable couch. It’s called a living room for a reason.

  • avatar

    I thought Jack and the other posters were imagining things talking about new Dodge Grand Caravans at 20k, but I looked at, and they are listing the average price paid at $20,720. For the Chrysler Town & Country, they are showing average price paid of $28,985. It appears that Chrysler is successfully targeting two different markets with these vans, and it would seem unnecessary to drop one of them.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    And now it’s time to hand the keys to the Dodge Caravan over to TTAC’s tame racing driver. Some say…

    His rental cars smell of pheromones and musk for weeks afterwards, and that your wife’s fertility will double if she sits where Drama rode, commando and shotgun, to her final farewell dinner of outstanding steak. And right this moment, because of him, the Russian mafia has a hit out on every Martin Dreadnought owner in the world. All we know is, he’s called the Jack.

  • avatar

    Thank you for this article! I have sent a link to all my co-workers who still make fun of me for really enjoying the 2012 Grand Caravan rental I had recently. I still get ribbed for it.

    My previous car had died after 13 years (I actually shed tears over its passing), and I located my dream car replacement in north county San Diego. Being that I live in Los Angeles, I needed to get down to the dealer in San Diego before 6:30pm on a Friday to snag the car before they sold it to someone else. So I needed a one-way rental. I ended up going with Hertz, can’t remember why, and could only get a one-way rental if I rented out of LAX. Have you ever rented a car from one of the LAX rental car locations at the peak of summer?

    I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was not expecting a complete and utter shit show that involved tourists from all over the globe all mixed together into a hawaiian shirt mob. I still can’t believe tourists even come to LA. I felt like I was in a movie.

    Anyway, I had requested a midsize sedan online and didn’t really care what it would be as long as it got me down there. After waiting an hour in tourist hell, I walked out to my assigned stall as 747s flew overhead to find a black Grand Caravan SXT waiting for me. At first I thought there was some mistake, but whatever, I was in a rush. I’m pretty sure I got the wrong car as the gate agent at the exit seemed uneasy to let me out, but like I said I was in a rush, F it. I sent a pic of my ride (nicknamed “Hot Box”) to my co-workers and could almost hear them laughing as I got the hell outta LA.

    It took me three hours to get to San Diego from LAX, most of it parked along the 405 freeway. It gave me plenty of time to get to know my accidental minivan. And boy, I was impressed. The Pentastar was smooth and powerful. The steering impressed me most — nicely weighted with no dead zone in the center like the Jetta I had rented earlier in the week. In fact, I much preferred driving the minivan to the Jetta. The high perch gave me a great view of gridlock traffic. Fit and finish was good, the instrument cluster looked cool, and it even had a touchscreen infotainment system (my only complaint; glad to hear Chrysler has improved their system lately). There was even a DVD player in the back with two screens, one for each row! Too bad I couldn’t bring anyone along for the ride.

    I got to the dealer just in time to do the deal on my new car. It was very exciting getting a new car, but I still remember just how impressed I was with the Grand Caravan for my ride down to get it. The dealer I got my new car from was just two doors down from the Chrysler dealer my parents bought their 1990 Town & Country from more than 20 years before. So somehow, that Grand Caravan was the perfect vehicle to drive down there. From that day forward, I have a new soft spot and respect for the Chrysler minivan twins. I can’t believe they are selling them for under $20k — that is truly a steal.

  • avatar

    Ended up with the T&C version of the van when I rented a car for burning man a few years ago. I was very surprised at how it managed to schlep four people, several bikes, tents, several hundred pounds of food and water, for a couple hundred miles at highway speeds. It even got about 23 mpg.

  • avatar

    How very timely. I was just at the Chicago Auto Show, and the GC was a standout for the value it delivers.

    I’ve rented two of these on two separate occasions, and I really liked them. My only concern is that both had very clunky transmissions. But if the warranty is good…I guess it’s Chrysler’s problem?

    As for the left lane – IT’S FOR PASSING, NOT DRIVING. That’s it. Pass, and move over. Watch your mirror. If someone is behind you, even if you’re doing 10 over the limit, move over. It’s amazing how many people either don’t understand this or just don’t care.

  • avatar

    Interesting read. The more I think about it this thing is a very viable alternative to a pickup truck. The only shortcoming is a a towing capacity of 3600lbs, which honestly isn’t that bad. Otherwise the interior volume is huge. You can turn it into a people hauler. Front wheel drive. Decent mileage. Overall compares pretty favorably to my short bed 2WD F-150 supercab. Not as Manly of course :)

  • avatar

    Last year we tried to buy locally one of these $18,995 Dodge Value Vans but no dealer would stock, saying that without Bluetooth and Rear Seat Heater, the Van would not be resellable. Options cost $2200 extra. thanks billchrest

  • avatar

    Total cost value van was $18,999 plus $1500 freight, $450 registration, $100 air tax, $40 tire Tax, $2530 Sales Tax = $23620.00 Canadian Funds – plus $2200 for bluetooth and 3rd row heater – Toal Approx $26000.00 – billchrest

  • avatar

    One drawback to the newest Caravan and Odysey is that they make the roofs too low now for the sake of styling. Nowadays when you get into one of these newer minivans, it almost feel like an SUV- because they are making SUV’s taller and taller, and minivans shorter and shorter. Basically minivans and SUV’s are converging in styling. Which is too bad. I think minivans should stay tall and practical.

    • 0 avatar

      I replaced a 1999 short wheelbase Dodge CargoVan with a 2012 Ford Transit Connect – Some obsevations: 1)The Dodge could carry more freight than Ford, extra height makes very unstable freight.2) Ford takes too long for heat to come out of vents, very cold. 3) Electric steering gives no feedback and will not self center around slow turns. 4) Dodge was much quieter and responsive engine to drive. 5) Ford gets approx 4 mpg more on highway. 6) Doors are very heavy to open. thanks billchrest

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    Probably more than 60 or 70 percentage of the Chrysler minivan transmission “failures” were caused by having something other than the recommended transmission fluid idiotically installed by quick lube places. More often than not, if you find a steal on a chrysler minivan with a “bad transmission”, it can be “fixed” with a transmission flush and the recommended fluid installed.

    The fact that TTAC gives this urban legend legs, based on its fervently anti-american editorial policy, just reeks of lazy, dishonest journalism.

    The all-time worst automatic transmissions today are installed in Volkswagens, so of course, the VW-centric TTAC is silent on that scandal.

    • 0 avatar

      TTAC should run an article on the most unreliable transmission of any (relatively) modern series light passenger vehicle.

      I used to be a fan of Honda/Acura before they threw their “let’s not add shit we don’t need to and which the consumer will not benefit from while making the product less reliable and more expensive just for the sake of adding useless shit” philosophy out the window, and in contemplation of that abandoned fanboisism, I wouldn’t be surprised to see plenty of Honda/Acura transmissions on the PRONE TO FAIL list.

  • avatar

    comment on Diesel Vans: Diesel engine give very poor service in short stop and go use in urban family needs – no heat and high maintance cost of stop go style driving – 20% better mileage but fuel cast 10% more in Canada and price an oil/filter change – Best return on highway driving. I would like to see a Hybrid Van, where electric would show saving in town on heavy Vans – billchrest

  • avatar

    Jack wrote:
    I suspect that most of the driving dynamics are considerably less pleasant with seven passengers on board, but guess what? The same thing can be said of a Gallardo Superleggera.

    That depends on which seven passengers you have aboard the Gallardo Superleggera, and whether Pia Zadora in her prime wearing only seven yards of saran wrap is one of them.

  • avatar

    Can’t agree Jack, I just had the rental Caravan out of Dulles couple weeks ago. Good thing since I had to haul a bunch of guys around, the remote doors are nice.

    The rest of this vehicle is junk, pure junk. The interior quality makes the 2012 Impala look like an old school Bentley.

    The deal killer for me, this huge vehicle with all that space you extol the virtues of…the driver’s seat doesn’t go back far enough to comfortable fit my 6’2″ frame (36 inseam) and size 13 hoofs. So for me it is a non-starter I am “too big” for a Caravan but yet a Civic (or Altima) seat slides back far enough for me to drive it comfortably. In fairness the Caravan is not the only car with this issue but it is awfully dumb in such a spacious vehicle.

  • avatar

    This is why I read TTAC. Great job on the article Jack, it was a delight to read!

    When people ask me what a great inexpensive sleeper vehicle would be, they are surprised when I recommend a V6 minivan and a bottle of nitrous. Who would ever expect a minivan with over 300hp for under $10k? Perfect for the local 1/4 mile track

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    Do a google for “drag racing” and “turbo mini van.” You will find legions of stories of wood-sided mopar minivans being cruelly-abused on the drag strip with nitrous and upgraded Garrett turbos, beating V8 camaros and vettes and occasionally dipping into the 12 second 1/4 mile times. Usually the only transmission mod is a limited slip differential. The transmissions hold up under this constant brutal abuse.

    An acquaintance, who I consider to be an unethical bottom feeder for what I am about to disclose, constantly scans Craigslist for Mopar minivans with “bad” transmissions. He gets them for a song, or less. I have seen him getting a good-running van for as little as 200 bucks. He takes them home, carefully flushes all of the old transmission fluid, which comically was almost always installed 2,000 miles ago or less, according to the sticker from Jiffy Lube. He then installs the Chrysler-recommended transmission fluid and PRESTO, “fixes” the transmission. He then resells the van (with a “rebuilt transmission”, helpfully giving the phone number of the prior owner for reference) for around 2,000 bucks. This is how he makes his living.

    In the rare cases where the tranny actually needs a rebuild, the local tranny shop does them for less than a thousand bucks. He still makes money on the deal.

    Another very talented friend whom I admire very much both for his brilliance and his blunt honesty owns and operates a European car repair shop. Strangely, he thinks out-of-warranty Audis are one of the most superb values in used cars, provided you NEVER, EVER take them to the stealership for service. People are scared of them unnecessarily he argues by the ignorance spouted by websites like this one, coupled with horrific stealership experiences. On the other hand, he argues that the 4-speed Volkswagen automatic transmission that was installed in millions of jettas, new beatles and golfs is an incredible disaster, often granading in as little as 30,000 to 50,000 miles. And when that POS goes, it is a minimum of a 5,000 repair bill, which almost always exceeds the market value of the car. These are transmissions that are sometimes driven by the proverbial little old lady that never drives over 55 mph. It is truly a scandalous situation that VW has placed its buyers in.

    VW gets a pass on this scandal from TTAC, because of their beautiful european-flavored interiors. Were journalists interested in the “truth” about this situation and wrote an appropriate story, VW would be quickly banished from the American market.

    You will never, ever see a TTAC article discussing the above facts.

  • avatar

    I have to disagree with most of this review (well, the part that actually refers to a vehicle).

    I have had 4 different of Hertz/Enterprise/National’s finest Caravans in the past year, and they all exhibited the same characteristics:
    1. Transmission slammed into gear and hunted frequently
    2. Pathetic gas mileage (22MPG on the freeway driven fairly nicely and 14 MPG city)
    3. Cheap, uncomfortable seats
    4. Terrible visibility
    5. Bouncy ride
    6. Crappy tires (easy to spin the inside tire)
    7. GREAT engine
    8. Confusing 3rd row straps to lower flat
    9. Power sliding doors that threaten to chop a child’s arm off (I experimented – it pressed closed pretty firm on my arm before reversing – left a deep mark)

  • avatar

    Are the Chrysler vans really that much more entertaining to drive than the current Honda Odyssey Touring?

    It’s difficult to find actual comparative track statistics for these vehicles, but C&D did one in 2011 that can be found online, and it has the T&C getting slightly better handling numbers, pulling .80g on the skidpad vs. .79g for the Oddy, and a lane change maneuver had the T&C at 54.1 mph vs. 53.2 mph for the oddy. Pretty close, but, the T&C wins.

    In a straight line, the Honda makes less HP, but with the 6-speed in the Touring and “Elite” level vans, they accelerate faster than the Chrysler offerings (7.3 vs 7.6 0-60), stop faster (70-0 in 179 versus 190) and the Odyssey gets slightly better gas mileage too. The Honda also does better in crash tests (all 5 star versus all 4 star).(1)

    The Honda has more comfortable seats & more legroom, but you have to take out the 2nd row if you want to shelp big stuff. The rear windows also don’t vent on the Honda, but they do on the T&C, possibly an important factor for dog farts.

    At this point, someone looking to get a minivan as a big safe powerful car that also has ridiculous utility, and hoping to score a 30,000 mile or less pre-owned pimped out version of a 2011 or newer Chrysler or Honda offering, will find the Touring Oddy going for $5k-$6k more than a Touring or Limited T&C. (Low $30’s versus Mid to High $20’s).

    Mr. Baruth’s several persuasive pro-Chrysler van articles have had tremendous sway with me, and I’m on the cusp of checking out my local “imported from Detroit” dealer (2) and getting serious.

    It seems one could likely get a “Limited” (top of the line) T&C with a Chrysler comprehensive warranty for the price of an Odyssey Touring sans warranty. That kind of “already depreciated, and Baruth LOVES IT!” reasoning is quite exciting, BUT….the Honda pretty much wins every single minivan comparison you can find on the net (3) has better safety, better MPG, faster 0-60 and 1/4 mile, and most likely retains value better too. The C&D test ultimately rates the Honda #1 (T&C was #2) and said the Honda had better performance, and was more fun to drive.

    Why do Jack (& Michael Karesh also writing on TTAC) find the T&C so much better to drive?

    And ultimately, which to buy– T&C or Odyssey?

    (1) Interesting to note that the current Toyota Sienna actually gets a 3 star crash rating for the front passenger side, which is well nigh unacceptable, but oddly rarely referred to in minivan comparison tests.

    (2) I know the T&C is made in Canada, and the Honda in Alabama.

    (3) many of the articles/”reviews” seem quite braindead/biased towards Honda, and say things like the Honda has better handling when this appears to be objectively, and in the opinion of none other than TTAC’s JB, subjectively not true…

    • 0 avatar

      As an Odyssey owner (nearly 2 years) and having driven 4 different copies of the current gen ChryCo vans, I have a pretty good feel for the differences. Yes, the Honda has about zero steering feel – might as well be a tiller. The suspension on the ChryCo is slightly more tuned to handling. After that, unless you really will use the disappearing 2nd row seats (most won’t b/c you have to take car seats and everything else out first before stowing the 2nd row), there is little contest between the two – the price difference represents the real-world difference between the two products.

      Most people buy vans for their utility, not their handling / steering feel. The Honda thrashes ChryCo unless you only care about cost.

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