Review: 2007 Dodge Caravan
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Minivans became the new American "station wagon" soon after being introduced by the old Chrysler Corp. for the 1984 model year. However, they got a domesticated "soccer mom" image disliked by many young women with children.
For years, no automaker could come up with a minivan as competitive as Chrysler's Dodge and virtually identical Plymouth Caravan—not even General Motors, which has always been a flop with minivans. Chrysler killed the Plymouth nameplate some years ago, but introduced the Chrysler Town & Country—an upscale version of the Caravan.
The minivan remained a popular family vehicle despite the arrival of trendy sport-utility vehicles with car-like features in the mid-1990s. Some industry observers felt the truck-based SUV would nearly bury the minivan, partly because it lacked the dreaded soccer mom image.
Hanging in There
Many young families began considering the car-based minivan again when gasoline hit $3 per gallon during the summers of 2005 and 2006—and when there was no certainty that gas prices wouldn't go that high again—if not higher. And, after all, minivans remained the most utilitarian, car-like family vehicle and delivered decent fuel economy.
Car-based "crossover" vehicles, which combine attributes of autos and SUVs, have become popular, but there still is a solid market for minivans.
Takes Half the Market
Popular Japanese minivans such as the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna had appreciably lower sales in 2006 than the Caravan and were far behind combined Caravan/Town & Country sales. However, the Odyssey and Sienna outpower the Grand Caravan, are more refined and have newer designs.
Stow 'n Go Seats
A few easy flips and folds make those seats vanish, leaving a flat floor and lots of cargo room. Owners thus can quickly convert the minivan from a 7-seat family hauler to a 2-seat cargo vehicle. Those seats are standard on the top-line Grand Caravan SXT and a $795 option for the Grand Caravan SE trim level.
The Caravan is nicely designed, but sound system controls are too small for easy use by a driver. And there is too much hard plastic, which gives the interior an overly utilitarian appearance.
Revamped DaimlerChrysler minivans arrive this fall with features including swiveling second-row seats and a table for rear occupants. They look much like current models because most minivan owners prefer conventional styling. Nissan learned that when it saw disappointing sales of its adventuresome looking Quest minivan a few years ago.
Various Trim Levels
One advantage of the Grand versions is more cargo space behind the third-row seats when they are in their normal position. Such room is tight with the regular-length trim levels.
Most Potent Engine
The regular-length SE is offered because it puts a minivan within reach of those who might not otherwise be able to afford 7-passenger seating. The 4-cylinder also delivers the best fuel economy: an estimated 20 mpg in the city and 26 on highways.
The regular length SE also is available with a 3.3-liter 170-horsepower V6, which costs $970. It provides 19 mpg in the city and 26 on the highway. The 3.8 V6, though, is no fuel hog, at an estimated 18 and 25.
The regular length SXT has the 3.3 V6 as standard and adds a cassette, heated power mirrors, power windows and power locks with remote keyless entry.
Besides the 3.8 V6, the top dog Grand SXT adds tri-zone climate controls (including rear controls), rear air conditioning and heater, power driver seat and power sliding rear doors. It's also got traction control, which isn't available on other Caravans.
None have an anti-skid system, but all have a driver-knee airbag and optional side-curtain airbags for all seating rows. Also, anti-lock brakes are optional on regular-length Caravans.
You can get the Grand SXT with leather upholstery, heated power front seats, upscale sound system, power adjustable pedals and a rear-obstacle detection system, which should come in handy to prevent backing over, say, a child's bike in a driveway.
DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler unit long has been determined to retain its minivan market lead. The current versions are pretty good, and the upcoming models may allow it to remain in first place.