Thirty-four years and counting, that’s how long the Dodge Caravan has been a staple of American family life. How many thousands of hours of happy times have happened around and thanks to this vehicle? And it’s still most flexible minivan on the market, with its Stow ‘n Go seating system that’s superior to rivals. Family road trips are simply the best, in the Dodge Grand Caravan.
Now for the sad news. Chrysler is planning to retire the Grand Caravan. Production of the Chrysler Town & Country has already ended. So get your 2017 Dodge Grand Caravan while you still can. Or maybe instead, get your all-new re-launched 2017 Chrysler Pacifica. Then you won’t have an obsolete minivan.
The Grand Caravan competes with the well-mannered Honda Odyssey and all-weather Toyota Sienna, both formidable opponents. Also the Nissan Quest and Kia Sedona. We think the Grand Caravan wins on value, if not specific qualities.
The 3.6-liter V6 makes 283 horsepower and is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission, with front-wheel drive. All-wheel-drive has not been available on the Grand Caravan for a decade, sacrificed for the Stow n’ Go system, which takes up the space that another driveshaft would need.
Grand Caravan gets an EPA-rated 17 miles per gallon City, 25 Highway, and 20 mpg combined. That’s not as good as Odyssey, but about the same as Sienna and Quest.
The Grand Caravan would be the big loser in a demolition derby with those rivals. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives it four stars overall for crashworthiness, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety calls it Poor in the challenging small-overlap crash test.
It’s funny that Dodge calls its models Wagons. The most iconic minivan of all time doesn’t want to be seen as a minivan. There is the Grand Caravan Wagon SE and Wagon SE Plus ($24,995), the Wagon SXT ($30,395), and Wagon GT ($33,395).
Standard equipment on the SE includes side curtain airbags, and fold-down third-row seat, with the Stow ‘n Go fold-away system an option. The SE Plus adds Stow ‘n Go, and Bluetooth with audio streaming. The SXT gets a power eight-way driver seat, power sliding side doors, and power tailgate. The GT adds a rearview camera, leather interior, and remote start.
Blind-spot monitors are available.
There’s a cavalcade of available electronic equipment, including a media hard drive, navigation, satellite radio, Bluetooth, Blu-ray DVD entertainment system with USB ports for charging, and on-board data service via Chrysler’s UConnect Web. Never mind that the new Pacifica can do even more than that.
Compared to the lightning-bolted Odyssey and low-nosed Sienna, the Grand Caravan is plain and slab-sided. But it emphasizes glass over sheetmetal, so the outward visibility is very good. And the outline is functional and space-efficient, so the cabin is light and airy.
Chrysler’s fold-away second- and third-row seats are brilliant. The Stow ‘N Go seats fold flat into spaces in the floor, which are storage bins when the seats are up. The seat cushions are a bit thin and flat, but kids don’t complain about such things, and the tradeoff for Stow ‘n Go is worth it.
The Nissan Quest only has a fold-away third row, and its second row is fixed. The Odyssey and Sienna have fold-down second-row seats, and fold-away third row seats. So the Grand Caravan is the only one that can turn into a cargo van.
The interior textures give an impression of quality. The slim dash is low and uncluttered. The grainy plastic is saved for the back of the front seats, where it needs to be resistant to children bringing scuffmarks and sticky things.
The side door and tailgate can be power. The door will rebound if it hits something, for example a child’s arm, and it closes softly, as if they cared.
We’re not sure why, but the 3.6-liter V6 engine, with its 283 horsepower, is smoother in the Grand Caravan than it is in most other Chryslers. There’s just a touch of the V6 groans. Meanwhile there is an abundance of low- and mid-range power.
The steering and ride are not quite as good as the Honda Odyssey and leaner Nissan Quest, but the Grand Caravan feels composed enough at speed. However it bounds over small bumps in a series. The damping could and should be better.
Grab it while you can. Raise your family in it. Maintain it well and keep it until it dies of rust. That’s what a lot of people did 20 years ago, and it puts a smile on their faces to think about it.
Sam Moses contributed to this report.