Minivans, once a staple of family life, have been overshadowed in recent years by six- and seven-passenger SUVs. That once-ubiquitous vehicle is now thought of somewhat derisively as a boring mom-mobile, and kids who grew up riding in one are less likely to buy one for their own families.
By TOM STRONGMAN
The fact that I still think the minivan may be the single most versatile vehicle on the planet says a lot about my age, but my opinion still holds.
Unfortunately, the market speaks and several manufacturers no longer build minivans. The Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan are the only two domestic ones. The first Dodge Caravan was built in 1984, and through 2008, more than 12 million were sold in Dodge, Plymouth and Chrysler versions.
While the Dodge Grand Caravan’s exterior has not changed for a few years, its interior was updated substantially two years ago, and that makes sense since minivans are
best viewed from the inside out.
The most obvious change is to the instrument panel. Its one-piece design and soft textures make it look and feel more luxurious. The new gauges are not only more stylish, but also easier to read. Brushed aluminum accents are a tasteful touch. Consequently, this van is still competitive with vans from Honda, Toyota, Kia and Nissan.
Hauling children is a key reason for a minivan, and this year the Grand Caravan is available with a Blu-ray video system with nine-inch, high-resolution screens for the second and third row, and it can play two different DVDs at one time. It also has input for video games.
There are five trim levels, and prices start at $19,995 and range to $29,995. The test vehicle was a well-optioned Crew model with a sticker price of $32,480.
The center console is large enough to hold a laptop, while there’s a pass-through space near the floor that can accommodate a purse. Trim rings on the console glow blue-green at night to make it easy for passengers to find things.
The second-row seats now have a one-touch, fold-down feature that lets them sink into the floor easily when you need maximum storage space.
Other clever items include roof-rack crossbars that store in the side rails when not in use. That cuts down on wind noise and aids fuel economy.
Another big plus for the new Grand Caravan is the 3.6-liter V-6 that develops 283 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Both numbers exceed that of the previous 3.8-liter engine, and drivability is superior as well. A six-speed automatic transmission is the perfect mate.
Drivers can flip a switch to select a “fuel economizer” mode that changes the way the transmission shifts, resulting in better fuel economy. The Environmental Protection Agency gives the Grand Caravan mileage ratings of 17 miles per gallon in the city and 25 on the highway.
Safety items include vehicle stability control, anti-lock brakes, traction control and side-curtain airbags.
The test vehicle’s base price was $28,595. Options included heated front and second-row seats, power liftgate, Bluetooth telephone and audio streaming, 40-gigabyte hard disc, rain-sensing wipers, blind-spot monitor, heated steering wheel and rear park assist. The sticker price was $32,480.
Three years or 36,000 miles with a five-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
Tom Strongman’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.