Since its inception in 1984, the Dodge Caravan has been at or near the forefront of the minivan market both in terms of actual sales and innovation. With the introduction of Stow’n Go seating in the 2005 Grand Caravan, DaimlerChrysler hopes to fend off an assault on their sales from the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey.
Aside from some minor exterior tweaks, the Stow’n Go seating arrangement was the main change for the Grand Caravan for 2005. DaimlerChrysler have stated that the cost to engineer the folding seat arrangement topped out at $500 million dollars.
The Caravan has a simple yet stylish appearance that still screams Minivan. However I have asked others who have criticized Minivan styling in general, what do you expect, it is a small van, that carries passengers, essentially a box on wheels and that is what its should be designed to do, thus art following function.
There are 2 basic platforms for the Caravan, a regular wheelbase model (3030mm) and the Grand Caravan, which adds an extra 152mm to the wheelbase and 290mm to the overall length. Each model comes in various trim levels ranging from the base model to the Special Edition on up to the top of the line SXT model.
The base Caravan is the model most frequently advertised with the sub $20,000 price tag after the incredible incentives of late. The Caravan model comes with a standard 3.3 litre V6 engine that produces 180 HP and 210 LB-FT of torque. These figures are sufficiently less than most other motors found in current Minivans, however the power plant does an effective job and returns reasonable fuel economy. In the US, a 2.4L 4 cylinder engine is available on the base Caravan; I cannot imagine how anemic that driving experience would be.
The larger Grand Caravan comes with a larger 3.8 litre V6 in its SXT trim level, which produces 210 HP and 240 LB-Ft of torque, figures that translate into more than enough power to get the job done whether its highway passing, towing or motivating a fully loaded Grand Caravan around town.
The interior of the Caravan and Grand Caravan is well thought out with a number of practical storage areas. The back of the rear seat in the regular wheel base Caravan has a novel shopping bag hook system, to prevent the inevitable spillage of your groceries on the way home. On the Grand Caravan with Stow’n Go, the deep well behind the back row of seats was a welcome storage area to keep bags and parcels from floating around.
The Stow’n Go differs from most other manufacturers in that the middle seats fold into the floor as opposed to up against the backs of the front row of seats; therefore with the seats folded flat the storage area was a cavernous 4200 litres or 146.7 cu. ft. The regular wheel base Caravan offers removable seats that are cumbersome to deal with if you need the added cargo capacity. The Grand Caravan is also available with the option of single or dual row Stow’n Go seats. In real world use the Stow’n Go seats were relatively easy to deploy and fold away. The split seat arrangement of the folding seats provided countless options to keep our 2 kids separated in the back seats.
The dual sliding side doors are available as optional power sliding doors on the Grand Caravan and the rear passenger door can be ordered with the power sliding option on the regular Caravan model. A rear power lift tailgate is an option on the Grand Caravan.
Behind the wheel the Caravan does not disappoint the Minivan faithful, outward vision is excellent with acres of glass for unobstructed vistas. The driver and front passenger seats are excellent with suitable lumbar and lateral support.
The vehicle handles as you would expect a Minivan to, without too much body roll and delivers a comfortable ride. Braking has been an issue for some Minivans especially when fully loaded, however the Chrysler products provided excellent pedal feel and sure stopping distances. Four Wheel disc ABS is standard on Grand Caravan, while ABS is a $570 option on the front discs/rear drums configuration of the Caravan.
Safety is one of the key selling points in the Minivan segment and the Caravan/ Grand Caravan does not disappoint, the Caravan received 5 Star frontal and rear seat side impact ratings, from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tests. In roll over tests, the Caravan, rated 4 stars, which was the same figure given to passenger cars rated in the test. Caravans come standard with driver and front seat frontal smart airbags and optional side impact curtains for all 3 rows of seats at a cost of $600. Also available are an adjustable pedal height controls for $190 and a rear proximity warning system included in a premium group package.
From a standpoint of comfort and convenience the Caravan offers many optional features such as; overhead storage bins that slide on rails fixed to the ceiling, built in DVD system and a removable center console between the front seats.
From having this van for a week it became clear how handy a passenger van could be. The step up for our children was much less than SUV’s we had driven, thus less assistance for the kids if carrying items. The cargo capacity was substantially more than any SUV we had tested, however fuel economy at 11-12 L per 100 km’s (combined city and highway), which was much better than a comparable SUV. This experience made me wonder if the term Sport Utility vehicle had been incorrectly slapped on the wrong class of vehicle.
Caravan lists for $28,330 in base trim and $30,105 for the SXT.
Grand Caravan lists for $30,865 in base trim and $35,530 for the SXT.