The current, fifth-generation Dodge Grand Caravan has been around since the 2008 model year, freshened for 2011, with Stow ‘n’ Go seats improved for 2013. For the 2018 model year, little has changed.
Threatened with extinction, especially after Chrysler launched its far more modern Pacifica minivan for 2017, the Grand Caravan continues to hang onto a tradition-minded corner of the minivan market. While undeniably an old-timer, first launched for 1984, the minivan is helped by a strong V6 engine, spacious interior, and versatile Stow ‘n Go seating.
Value-focused pricing also helps it appeal to budget-minded families. Dodge offers four trim levels: SE, SE Plus, SXT, and GT.
Beneath its stubby hood, the familiar 3.6-liter V6 engine develops 283 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. A 6-speed automatic transmission sends power to the front wheels. All-wheel drive is not available.
Minivans are well-known for their flexibility, and the Grand Caravan is no exception. In addition to standard seven-passenger seating, it provides an appealing array of storage possibilities.
Weighed against its strong points are a couple of notable demerits. Interior materials, for one, look and feel cheap compared to more contemporary minivans. More important, safety testing has yielded some troubling results. Advanced safety technology is in short supply, too. Safety is typically a prominent selling point for family-focused buyers, and the Grand Caravan falls well short of the competition.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the 2017 Grand Caravan a four-star overall score, with four stars for frontal impact and five stars in the side-impact test. In crash-testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Grand Caravan earned Good scores in each test except one. The small-overlap frontal crash yielded a Poor rating.
Seven airbags and a rearview camera are standard, but not much more in terms of safety. Such advanced features as adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, and lane-departure warnings are not available at all. A Safety Sphere group includes blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-path detection, as well as rear parking assist, but it’s optional only on the GT trim level.
Grand Caravan continues to be popular, based on familiarity, pricing and the deal. Grand Caravan offers a lot of utility, but it’s a dated product, and the Chrysler Pacifica, launched as a 2017 model, is a far more appealing choice.
Grand Caravan SE ($25,995) comes with seven-passenger seating, three-row power windows, keyless entry, heated power mirrors, Stow ‘n Go third-row seat, a rearview camera, a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system, and 17-inch steel wheels. Bluetooth connectivity is part of a Uconnect Handsfree option package. All Grand Caravans can get rear-seat DVD entertainment with a 9.0-inch screen. SE Plus ($28,695) includes the Handsfree package, premium cloth upholstery, second-row Stow ‘n Go seating, alloy wheels, and a Blacktop appearance package. Captain’s chairs substitute for a bench in the second row.
Grand Caravan SXT ($31,395) adds leather upholstery, a power driver’s seat, automatic headlights, foglamps, power sliding doors, remote start, a roof rack, and gray alloy wheels. Options include heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and Garmin in-dash navigation.
Grand Caravan GT ($34,395) features heated leather seats in the first and second rows, nine-speaker audio, three-zone automatic temperature control, navigation, a performance suspension, and monochromatic exterior. Optional only for the GT, a Safety Sphere package includes blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
A relic, the Grand Caravan has been around in its current form for a decade. Only a glanced is needed to realize that basic fact. Rounded corners and mild curves cannot conceal the basic slab-sided design.
Although Dodge’s elder minivan looks somewhat narrow, it’s almost 79 inches wide. As a result, it doesn’t exactly qualify as lithe in urban driving. Steel wheels on the base SE trim level look especially dreary. On other trim levels, aluminum wheels come in a trio of possible colors.
Not only does the cabin appear humdrum, lacking in imaginative design, its materials tend to look and feel cheap, if not tawdry. Soft-touch plastic elements are fitted onto door tops and the dashboard. Just about everywhere else, the interior comes across as thoroughly low-budget.
Most controls are grouped within a tall center stack, which includes several pockets. From the front seat, outward visibility is good, and occupants can choose from a variety of seat-adjustment positions.
The Stow ‘n Go seats are a standout feature, available for the second and third rows. As their name suggests, they stow away neatly when not needed, providing impressively flexible space.
Both second- and third-row seats are overly firm. Only SE trim level comes equipped with a second-row bench. The otherwise-standard captain’s chairs are thinly padded, not ideal for long journeys.
In the third row, a three-place bench can be tumbled right into the cargo floor, which is admirably flat, long, and wide. The tracks from the third row can poke and damage some cargoes, but this can be addressed by putting floor mats on tope of them.
Acceleration from the strong V6 engine is admirable, sufficient to propel the Grand Caravan with a sense of authority. The 6-speed automatic shifts promptly, not often impeded by annoying gear-hunting. The engine is well-muted, as if it’s actually some distance away from the minivan occupants. At times, hard acceleration can cause the steering wheel to pull toward one side.
Unfortunately, that impressive powertrain cannot overcome the Grand Caravan’s lumpy ride quality, stemming from its firm suspension and a weak overall structure.
The firm ride seems to transmit pavement flaws right into the cabin’s trim pieces. Don’t be surprised to hear a periodic rattle from interior fittings. On the other hand, even when traversing rough terrain, sounds from the outside world are commendably subdued.
Grand Caravan fuel economy is beaten by newer designs such as the Chrysler Pacifica and Honda Odyssey. Grand Caravan is EPA-rated at 17/25 mpg City/Highway, or 20 mpg Combined.
Despite its demerits, including weak safety scores, the Grand Caravan does offer quite a bit for its value-focused price. Discounted prices shouldn’t be hard to find. Still, topping the Grand Caravan in spaciousness, the far more modern Pacifica also earns greater safety scores and is substantially better-equipped. Especially in base trim, the Grand Caravan has quite a meager standard-equipment list.
Driving impressions by Andrew Ganz, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.