Although its glory days are gone, thanks to smaller SUVs and crossover vehicles, the minivan is still much alive. And Chrysler’s Dodge Grand Caravan was the top-selling such vehicle in America in 2012.
Moreover, the base Grand Caravan—the APV (American Value Package) model gets a $1,000 price cut for 2013. That makes it the most affordable seven-passenger vehicle in the United States.
Introduced in 1983 as a 1984 model and as simply the Dodge Caravan, this minivan met the needs of many baby boomers who were starting families. It has been continually improved to keep up with the times—and to stay ahead of competitors. It soon was joined by the more upscale Chrysler Town & Country, which also is offered for 2013.
The Grand Caravan captured 141,648 buyers in 2012, and the Town & Country got 111,744 customers. The 253,392 total was almost one-half of minivan sales in the United States. Rivals include minivans from Toyota, Honda and Nissan.
The AVP has the same smooth, strong 3.6-liter, 283-horsepower V-6 and efficient six-speed automatic transmission as other Grand Caravan models and a decent amount of standard equipment. Upper trim levels have more standard features.
However, the Grand Caravan comes only as a front-drive model. Where’s the all-wheel drive?
Introduced in the early 1990s, the Dodge minivan went a long way in getting the old Chrysler Corp. back on its feet. A higher-line version—the Chrysler Town & Country—eventually followed.
Dodge protected its minvan territory in 2011 with the 283-horsepower V-6, upgraded the interior and added the R/T model. Those letters often mean a higher-performance (“Road & Track”) version. The R/T has a performance-tuned suspension and brakes, but no additional horsepower. It also provides standard leather-covered seats and new 17-inch aluminum wheels, also put on the SXT.
Most minivan buyers are family folks who are more interested in the Grand Caravan’s 45 safety and security features than a fast 0-60 mph time. Although the Grand Caravan is heavy, my test model’s V-6 provided plenty of punch, even during 65-75 mph passing.
All Grand Caravans drive like a decent medium- or large-size car, and thus are reasonably enjoyable—although they are nearly 17 feet long and weigh approximately 4,500 pounds.
EPA estimated fuel economy is an unimpressive 17 miles per gallon in the city, but 25 on highways. Only regular-grade fuel is needed, and the Dodge-estimated cruising range is 500 miles with the minivan’s 20-gallon fuel tank.
The steering is firm, but nicely geared and handling is good if you don’t try to drive as if you’re in a sports sedan. The ride is supple, and helping keep things stable are traction and stability control systems. The pedal for the anti-lock brakes, which feel more than adequate, has a progressive feel.
I tested the $28,595 Grand Caravan Crew model. It’s at the upper end of the lineup, which begins with the base APV and progresses to the SE, SXT, Crew and top-line $29,995 R/T.
The Crew and R/T are offered with new Blu-Ray players with screens in the back of the driver and front-passenger headrests—a segment first. The Blu-Ray player includes HDMI inputs for video game systems and can play DVDs, besides Blu-Ray discs.
Also new is a new second-row bench seat for AVP models that reclines, folds and is removable. Hopefully, it isn’t as stiff as the two center bucket seats in my Crew test model. Like all Grand Caravans, there isn’t much room for tall adults in its 60/40 split/folding stiff third-row. The Grand Caravan is offered with “Stow ‘n Go” seating, which lets second-row bucket seats and the split third-row seat fold into the floor.
Another new standard feature is Trailer Sway Damping, which keeps things stable when towing up to 3,600 pounds.
New colors include Maximum Steel, Billet Silver and Blue Streak. The vehicle’s “True Blue Pearl Coat” paint is lighter, compared to the “Blue Streak” color.
The Grand Caravan has dual sliding doors, and my test model had sliding doors with a power open/shut feature. It also had power adjustable pedals, keyless entry, cruise control, rear air conditioning and heating, tilt/telescopic steering column and a power driver’s seat.
Options included an easily read touch-screen display, heated front and second-row seats and a heated steering wheel. The rear back-up camera and blind spot and cross-path detection were handy, especially when backing out of limited-visibility parking areas.
It takes a little extra effort to step in or out of the quiet interior, and occupants sit high for good visibility. The short transmission shifter juts from the dashboard area to keep it out of the way.
The Grand Caravan’s driver’s seat should move back more for long-legged motorists, but front seats provide fairly good lateral support and controls can be easily used. Deep front cupholders are nicely located on the console, and there are plenty of storage areas for smaller items.
The cargo area opening is somewhat high, but cargo space behind the third-row seats is good even when they’re in their normal position. And the optional power liftgate was handy when I had my hands full of stuff.
The Grand Caravan has a 5-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. That’s good because this vehicle doubtlessly will be used a lot. It’s built to be a workhorse.
Pros: Carlike. Good utility. Strong engine. Lower base price.
Cons: No all-wheel drive. Rather high cargo opening. Stiff rear seats.
Bottom Line: Almost an iconic vehicle.