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2011 Dodge Grand Caravan: First Drive

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Along with most of the Chrysler lineup for 2011, this year's Grand Caravan pitches headlong into the rejuvenation fad. Not that it didn't need a tightening here, a mini-lift there, a spa weekend most everywhere (and mostly for its plasticky, creaky cabin), but the Grand Caravan's always been a fundamentally sound package.

It's only recently--since the new version arrived in 2008--that it's undercut itself with a cost-cutting interior. That's been gutted this year, and with a new drivetrain plan that includes the new Pentastar V-6, the massaged minivan greets a slew of new competitors nose-on. It's an interesting footnote: for 2011, every new minivan for sale in the U.S. gets a moderate to complete makeover, from the Kia Sedona's light updates to the complete overhaul of the new Nissan Quest, Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey.

Let's start with how it looks, because with the Odyssey's new lightning-bolt sideview and the Sienna's tarted-up swagger--not to mention the Quest's overt Flex cues--the Grand Caravan suddenly seems more boxy than ever. There's an honesty about its shape that didn't play as well three years ago, when this Grand Caravan replaced the old egg-shaped one. Going from truly handsome to truly, er, space-efficient still doesn't give the Grand Caravan the gorgeousness that no driver expects from a minivan--but the new, small touches are nicely faired into the one-box canvas. The headlights round down into suggestiveness, the crosshairs grow on the grille to military grade, and the re-faired skirts and bumpers drum up a little curiosity, especially on the new R/T version. The taillamps are LED sprays dubbed the "ring of fire" by Dodge; they mimic those in the new Charger, and sound a little unfair to Johnny Cash.

Moving inside through the front hinged doors, the Caravan's playspaces have ditched the gross-grain plastics for something more suitably adult. From the sliding side doors back, not much has changed--it's still crayon-and-vomit-proof--but facing the senior family members is an uncluttered, upgraded dash with better materials all around. That's with the exception of the cloth upholstery: the Grand Caravan will be Chrysler's sub-$30,000 minivan, and the "premium" cloth interior isn't the top-grade equal of the plastics and metallic trim surrounding it. It's a little fuzzy, a little vintage-80s Korean--and leather's only an option on the top two trim packages.

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Comments (7)
  1. Great interior!

  2. Chrysler is about to be the leader again among the competition, and if we speak about the Honda or toyota minivans, I can tell you that they are CRAP, yes, plain crap. Why don't you say something about the interior materials, quality fit and finish of the interior on those RICE minivans? Haven't you see them? Chrysler RULES remember it, just wait and see it.

  3. I can't say enough good things about our 2008 Chrysler Town & Country (near twin to the Grand Caravan). If some misfortune befell that van today, I'd buy another 2010 or 2011 just like it tomorrow... well, in this case, Friday.

  4. Hi had a Chrysler rental van a couple of weeks ago. If the interior is scuh high quality J.Mervich, tell me why it rattled more and felt more plasticy than my 2002 Odyessey. The Chrylser vans are disposable assets. Sadly still POS as they always have been.

  5. I like the van and was excited to see that someone drove it. Reading the name of this article, "2011 Dodge Grand Caravan: First Drive", leads one to believe that the authors did. However, all the pictures and content are just press release rehash. Bad job guys.

  6. Alex, not sure what you're missing -- I drove it, I wrote about it. The driving impressions are on page 2. Out of seven vehicles, it's the one I couldn't spare time to shoot.

  7. J.Mervich must be one of the few Americans left working for Chrysler. My wife and I bought a 08 Grand Caravan several years ago and kept is for a little over a year. We had to replace the brakes (rotors and all) 3 times, a broken tie rod, had major electrial repairs (days and days in service) to name a few of the problems. The guy at the dealer actually told us that Dodge put undersized brakes on it to save money which is why we had to keep replacing them. It also drove like a beast, that's what my wife and I described it as, and the interior rattled louder than you'd want your stereo up with kids in the car to drown it out. We traded it in for an 07 Honda Odyssey and thousands and thousands of miles late we still couldn't be more happier with it! It feels like you're driving a car and the fit and finish is 10 times what the Dodge was. I don't know who you're trying to kid J. the Dodge is crap. We wanted to buy American (found out it was actually made in Mexico) but where burned. I'll still give Ford a look and the new Buick Regals are sweet but I wouldn't touch a Chrysler vehicle with a 100 foot pole.

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