Dodge Grand Caravan Review

Dodge Grand Caravan Review

The Dodge Grand Caravan traces its roots back to 1984, when Chrysler introduced American families to a new, extremely space-efficient vehicle: the minivan. The larger, "Grand" version of the Caravan debuted a few years later. It was a huge hit that has remained a strong seller through the years, even as newer rivals outdid it in various ways. Despite innovations like driver-side sliding doors and Stow 'n Go seats, a poor reputation for reliability, a lack of refinement and disappointing execution made it difficult to recommend.

In recent years, however, the Dodge Grand Caravan has been improved significantly. With a strong engine and improved cabin quality highlighting this renaissance, the Grand Caravan is the most competitive that it's been in years. While Toyota and Honda still offer more well-rounded minivans, this Dodge provides several attributes that could make it a good pick for consumers.

Current Dodge Grand Caravan
The Dodge Caravan minivan can seat up to seven passengers and is offered in four trim levels: American Value Package (AVP), SE, SXT and R/T. All of them are powered by a 3.6-liter V6 that produces a very strong 283 horsepower. Power is sent to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission. Despite the horsepower advantage, the Dodge Grand Caravan is still a half-second slower to 60 mph than the top-ranked Honda Odyssey or Toyota Sienna.

The AVP represents the entry-level model and feature highlights include full power accessories, dual-zone climate control and an auxiliary audio jack. However, it's the only trim that features a two-person second-row bench seat -- a minivan rarity nowadays -- in place of the upper trims' excellent Stow 'n Go seats that fold into the floor with one tug of a lever.

As you move up through the trim levels, you'll find more standard features like rear air-conditioning, a power-operated liftgate, power sliding doors, leather upholstery, a rearview camera and a blind-spot warning system. Electronic features are plentiful as well, including a navigation system, Bluetooth and a rear seat entertainment system that includes rare features like a Blu-Ray player, an HDMI port and two screens. Like other loaded minivans these days, a fully equipped Grand Caravan can seem like a full-fledged luxury car in terms of features.

As far as passenger comfort, the Grand Caravan comes up a bit short relative to its rivals. Taller drivers may run out of legroom, the second-row Stow 'n Go passenger seats are a little less comfortable than the fixed captain's chairs of other vans and the third row's seat cushion is tilted down in an effort to increase rear legroom. There also isn't an option for an eighth passenger. On the plus side, though, those Stow 'n' Go seats are a cinch to transform the Grand Caravan from people carrier to cargo hauler. The second-row seats of most other vans must be physically removed or you end up with less maximum cargo capacity. In this way, at least, the Grand Caravan is hard to beat.

Used Dodge Grand Caravan Models
The current van represents the fifth-generation Dodge Grand Caravan that debuted for 2008. However, it was substantially upgraded for 2011. Originally, there were two main trim levels available (SE and SXT) and three V6 engine choices. A 3.3-liter produced 175 hp, a midrange 3.8-liter made 197 hp and a 4.0-liter unit topped out at 251 hp. None were particularly appealing. The Grand Caravan from 2008-'10 was very disappointing for other reasons as well. The cabin featured subpar materials, uninspired design and haphazard construction. Handling was worse, especially in the first model year, and the ride was generally unsophisticated. Even the styling was less appealing.

Though we don't recommend the Grand Caravan from 2008-'10, potential buyers should nevertheless note that it featured different second-row seating configurations. The second-row bench was standard on the SE for '08, but it gave way to standard Stow 'n Go the following year. There was, however, an optional Swivel 'n Go system that included more comfortable second-row captain's chairs that rotated 180 degrees to face the third row. A removable table essentially created a tiny living room on wheels.

Since it was overhauled and much improved for 2011, changes to the Grand Caravan since have been minimal and mostly limited to trim level and equipment shuffling. Still, 2013 brought easier operation of the Stow 'n Go second-row seating system, as well as the Blu-Ray and HDMI port features for the DVD entertainment system.

Prior to all of this were four older generations of the Dodge Grand Caravan. The first spans 1987-'90; the second, 1991-'95; the third, 1996-2000; and the fourth, 2001-'07.

The fourth-generation Grand Caravan's engine lineup included a 180-hp 3.3-liter V6 and a more powerful 215-hp 3.8-liter V6. The top-of-the-line trim level offered Stow 'n Go fold-flat seating, dual power-sliding doors, a separate rear heating and air-conditioning system, a power driver seat, 16-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and powered accessories. As you consider trim levels, keep in mind that the naming system for the van's trims changed a few times during this generation.

A variety of stand-alone options were available, including automatic climate control, leather trim, an Infinity sound system, rear DVD entertainment and a navigation system. Early fourth-gen Grand Caravans were available with all-wheel drive, but AWD capability was discontinued in 2005 to make room for the versatile, under-floor Stow 'n Go fold-flat seating system in premium models.

In reviews, we noted that alongside top import-brand competitors, the fourth-gen Dodge Grand Caravan came up lacking. Its engines weren't as powerful or refined, its ride wasn't as smooth or quiet and its handling wasn't as tidy or sure-footed. Inside, the van's controls and displays were dated, and features like stability control, built-in sunshades or a back-up camera simply weren't available. Still, for used-car shoppers who demand maximum flexibility from their minivans, Stow 'n Go might be reason enough to consider a Grand Caravan from this era.

The third-generation Grand Caravan featured a then-rare driver-side sliding door and unique "Easy Out" rollers on the center and rear seats to aid removal. Dodge offered several Grand Caravan trim levels to suit different budgets and desires, and dual front airbags and antilock brakes were standard. For power, the van had a 3.0-liter 150-hp V6 as standard, with a 180-hp 3.8-liter V6 engine available -- the larger V6 now coupled with a more efficient and recommended four-speed automatic transmission. After a one-year hiatus, all-wheel-drive availability returned to the lineup in 1997 on certain models, and in 1999, top-level Grand Caravans received a more driver-oriented Autostick transmission, 17-inch wheels and steering-wheel-mounted radio controls.

Introduced in 1987 as a long-wheelbase complement to the original Caravan, the Dodge Grand Caravan received its first major overhaul in 1991. The second generation (which ran through 1995) included a restyled exterior, freshened interior and the addition of optional all-wheel-drive (AWD) capability. Its dimensions were unchanged, but the corners were rounded off on its breadbox-like silhouette and more glass was added. Safety was enhanced with the availability of antilock brakes and a driver-side airbag in 1991 and integrated child safety seats in 1992. The Grand Caravan's four earliest generations have all exhibited reliability problems, but the first and second generations were especially troublesome, due to issues related to the automatic transmission. For this reason, we'd advise used-car buyers to steer clear of these oldest Dodge minivans.