Review: 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Dodge intends to retain its large share of the minivan market with its redesigned fifth-generation Grand Caravan, which it calls a "family room on wheels."
The 2008 Grand Caravan is offered with an available dual rear DVD system with dual screens that can play different media at the same time and swiveling second-row seats and a table.
Those features are unique in the minivan market, allowing Chrysler to continue calling the Grand Caravan and similar Chrysler Town & Country minivans innovators in their market.
The shorter Caravan version has been dropped, leaving the long-wheelbase 2008 Grand Caravan. Most buyers wanted the longer version, anyway. The new model is two inches longer in both wheelbase and overall length, with a roomier interior.
More Athletic Look
The new minivan looks more like an SUV or crossover vehicle in hopes of preventing adult occupants from being called "soccer moms" or "soccer dads."
The Grand Caravan is offered in SE and higher-line SXT trim levels. Base prices range from $21,740, to $26,805. The SXT costs $27,435 if it has the optional ($630) new 4.0-liter 251-horsepower overhead camshaft V6, which is the best engine for the Grand Caravan because this vehicle is quite heavy at 4,335 to 4,621 pounds.
The new V6 comes with a sport suspension, but must be ordered with a $3,785 option package that contains such items as a rear-obstacle detection system or $7,290 package containing many items, including the unique DVD entertainment system.
Questionable Extra Costs
The 3.3-liter V6 works with a rather dated 4-speed automatic transmission, but the other two V6s are hooked with a modern 6-speed automatic transmission.
Estimated fuel economy is 17 mpg in the city and 24 on highways with the 3.3-liter V6 and 16 and 23 with the other V6s. Only regular-grade gasoline is required.
Dodge says the 2008 prices are lower than those of similarly equipped predecessors, partly because it can build its new minivan in fewer configurations, compared to the outgoing minivans.
Swivel 'n Go Feature
The Swivel 'n Go feature is reminiscent of "Car of the Future" articles in 1950s national magazines for mechanically and futuristic-minded readers that showed a family playing cards on a table in the center of their car, which often was pictured with a transparent bubble roof and drove itself on highways.
The Swivel 'n Go feature has second-row bucket seats that swivel 180 degrees to face the third row with a removable table that installs between the two rows, covered storage bins in the floor of the second row, third-row uncovered storage and fold-in-the-floor third-row seating.
One drawback is that the heavy Swivel 'n Go seats can't be folded into the floor and are difficult to remove if more cargo room is needed.
Moderately Sized Table
To further entice prospective Grand Caravan buyers—and enhance dealer profits—there's an optional sliding front console with multiple storage areas, 12-volt power outlet and four cupholders.
The console's design lets it slide rearward in two different sections. One section can remain forward to serve front-row passengers, while the other can slide rearward to service second-row occupants.
Cupholders in the top of the console can be loaded and then slid back to second-row passengers. The upper and lower console sections can slide rearward independently or together. A total of 21 inches of rear travel occurs when the upper and lower sections are moved rearward. The console is removable for easy pass-through.
Stow 'n Go Remains
Also newly offered are three kids' channels of SIRIUS satellite television. Audio can be carried through wireless headphones as rear occupants simultaneously play two different DVDs on two separate overhead LCD screens. The headphones allow front occupants to enjoy SIRIUS Satellite Radio, CDs or standard radio.
I found an SXT with the 3.8-liter V6 to have precise steering with a somewhat heavy, but confidence-inspiring feel. The ride was supple and the brake pedal's linear action allowed smooth stops.
A low floor and wide door openings make it easy to enter or leave the Grand Caravan. The quieter interior has been substantially upgraded. Seats are comfortable, and there's a new dashboard-mounted shift lever.
First and second rows are roomy. The third row can be fairly easily reached, but has tight legroom for tall occupants. Gauges can be easily read, and major controls are simple to reach and use.
Impressive Cargo Room
Chrysler came out with the first modern minivan for 1994, although Volkswagen sold its first minivan, called the Transporter, in 1950 and was selling its third-generation minivan when Chrysler unveiled its first minivans.
Chrysler dominated the minivan market for years. But, although General Motors and Ford finally have given up on that market, Chrysler has stiff competition from foreign minivans such as the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna.