2011 Dodge Grand Caravan Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
December 8, 2010

The 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan is a high-functioning box on wheels—with the old penalty-box trim neatly excised, and a new powertrain spliced into place.

For 2011, Chrysler has rehabbed the Dodge Grand Caravan with a mini-facelift. While not much has changed on the outside, its plasticky, creaky cabin is much-improved, and a more powerful and refined engine together give this family hauler a fresher feel.

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.

In a class of minivan designs that includes 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. Moving inside through the front-hinged doors, the Caravan's playspaces have ditched the gross-grain plastics for something more suitably adult and upscale. 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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Chrysler's hacked the list of available drivetrains down to one. Each and every Grand Caravan powers along the road to middle school with a 283-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6, reined in by a six-speed automatic transmission. The Pentastar is to Chrysler now, what the VQ V-6 is to Nissan—only in the new domestics, the Pentastar sounds smoother and more tame, while Nissan's V-6 has gotten more grouchy over time.

Minivans are about utility—passengers and cargo—first and foremost, and the Grand Caravan is comfortable to the max. The fold-away second-row seats are a great idea. We've never heard a kid beef about the trade-off of skinny seat cushions, though admittedly the harder-to-remove business-class seats in the Sienna and Odyssey would be the preferred choice for touring adults. The base van has seven-spot, three-row seating; add on Stow 'N Go for fold-away second- and third-row seats, and you'll get a new twist for 2011 in the form of a one-touch fold-down mechanism, and power folding for the third-row bench.

The Caravan carries on with a cavalcade of electronic goodies that's second only to the Ford Flex—with the bonus of in-car television on the intangible list. On the exotic edge, we're sold on the latest, cheapest, high-tech piece: a USB port for 3G dongles that turns the Grand Caravan into a WiFi hotspot, missing only its own barista and a host of funemployed table-squatters. We'd opt for Sirius' BackseatTV and its SpongeBob marathons, and top models can be equipped with a media hard drive, navigation, satellite radio, and Bluetooth.

7

2011 Dodge Grand Caravan

Styling

The 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan is very functional, but even with an upgraded interior it's far from gorgeous.

In a class of minivan designs that includes 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.

7

2011 Dodge Grand Caravan

Performance

The 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan gets a stronger, more refined powertrain, but there's no driving excitement to speak of.

Chrysler's hacked the list of available drivetrains down to one. Each and every Grand Caravan powers along the road to middle school with a 283-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6, reined in by a six-speed automatic transmission. The Pentastar is to Chrysler now, what the VQ V-6 is to Nissan—only in the new domestics, the Pentastar sounds smoother and more tame, while Nissan's V-6 has gotten more grouchy over time.

The Pentastar generates a huge boost in spec-sheet power figures, with 86 more horsepower accounted for over the old Chrysler 3.8-liter V-6, or 30 hp more than the limited-run 4.0-liter Caravan. There's something more substantial going on underfoot this time around, but the bulky minivan really disguises any dramatic improvements in straight-line acceleration.

The off-line impulse of power doesn't exactly follow through in long passes. And the Pentastar doles out its power through a six-speed automatic that's been staged for gas mileage above all else. Handling is nothing remarkable, but for a nearly 300-horsepower vehicle, there's very little scrambling going on through the Caravan's front wheels. (All-wheel drive? It's been gone from the lineup since 2008.)

8

2011 Dodge Grand Caravan

Comfort & Quality

The 2011 Dodge Caravan has fewer seating possibilities than before, but its easy-folding second- and third-row seating is still among the best in the business.

Say your blessings now: the idea of having a light civilized brunch inside the Grand Caravan is gone, now that the "Swivel 'N Go" picnic-table package has been sent packing. We covet the marvelous new movable, and removable, "super console" with its many cubic inches of covered space, so perfect for expensive music players, spare change and the odd French fry gone rogue. It's a box within a box.

Elsewhere inside, the Grand Caravan is comfortable to the max. Minivans are about utility—passengers and cargo—first and foremost, and the fold-away second-row seats are a better idea. We've never heard a kid beef about the trade-off of skinny seat cushions, though admittedly the harder-to-remove business-class seats in the Sienna and Odyssey would be the preferred choice for touring adults. The base van has seven-spot, three-row seating; add on Stow 'N Go for fold-away second- and third-row seats, and you'll get a new twist for 2011 in the form of a one-touch fold-down mechanism, and power folding for the third-row bench.

While the interior of the 2011 Grand Caravan is refined and quiet, ride quality is mediocre at best compared to rival vans. Even with retuned shocks, the Caravan bounds more than it needs to over strings of low bumps. It's resolute, conservative to any response, with a smothering instinct that will shame lots of the moms and dads who actually will drive it, pretty much the polar opposite of the taut, tightly-sprung (well, for a van) Honda Odyssey.

8

2011 Dodge Grand Caravan

Safety

The 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan looks to continue its reputation for top-notch safety, though with a lack of updated crash-test results it's too early to declare it a top pick.

On the safety front, the Grand Caravan has all the perquisites. A new bundle of safety options includes parking sensors, a rearview camera, blind-spot monitors and automatic headlights, together at last.

Both agencies have changed their scoring standards, so we'll have to wait for more information before pronouncing the Chrysler vans' grades. Last year's Grand Caravan earned top 'good' models from the frontal offset The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) hasn't yet specified whether those test results extend to the 2011 model, which has a significantly altered interior compared to the 2010. Federal NHTSA safety ratings have been restructured for 2011, too, so the previous year's results surely don't carry over; overall, the 2010 Grand Caravan earned top five-star results in frontal and side impacts.

Thanks to the boxy design and vast greenhouse, outward visibility in the 2011 Dodge Caravan is impressive.

9

2011 Dodge Grand Caravan

Features

The 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan is the most entertaining when in Park—just like a minivan should be.

Offered in four trim levels, the Grand Caravan Express, Mainstreet, Crew and R/T may throw you, so we'll translate the somewhat goofy subheads into "base, popularly equipped, the real deal, and sporty." All have the same drivetrain, and all have power front windows, locks and mirrors as standard equipment, along with three-zone climate control; cruise control; a telescoping/tilting steering wheel; and an AM/FM/CD player with an auxiliary audio jack.

The Caravan carries on with a cavalcade of electronic goodies that's second only to the Ford Flex—with the bonus of in-car television on the intangible list. On the exotic edge, we're sold on the latest, cheapest, high-tech piece: a USB port for 3G dongles that turns the Grand Caravan into a WiFi hotspot, missing only its own barista and a host of funemployed table-squatters. We'd opt for Sirius' BackseatTV and its SpongeBob marathons, but the short-lived FloTV option for live video streaming is gone--due to FloTV's exit from the business.

Other features we'd choose—either in packages or as included in the upper trim levels—are a media hard drive; navigation; satellite radio; Bluetooth (either bundled with an upgraded radio, or an auto-dimming rearview mirror, or heated seats and steering wheel); a DVD entertainment system; and a power package for the side doors, tailgate and pedals. Remote start and a 115-volt outlet wouldn't be left off either, not on such a high-functioning machine.

As for the new Stow 'N Place roof rails, which have fold-away crossmembers—a feature only previously seen in the Subaru Outback—you'll have to be the judge: just about all of our stuff fits inside the Grand Caravan, and rooftop storage bins cut into the coefficient of drag. We can't have that.

6

2011 Dodge Grand Caravan

Fuel Economy

The 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan is likely toward the middle of the pack in fuel economy, not impressive but not a severe guzzler either.

Fuel economy was 17/25 mpg in the best Grand Caravan last year; the EPA's sitting on the 2011 van's ratings as of this writing, but it's probably a safe bet the numbers won't go down at all—or up significantly.

If the mild signs of life are too much to handle, click the Caravan's Economizer switch. It fiddles with shift timing to sip a little less fuel.

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July 23, 2016
2011 Dodge Grand Caravan 4-Door Wagon Express

With dealer support it would be acceptable

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The brakes went out at 25 and 50 thousand miles. The dealer said it was my fault and told me the fronts were down to 10% and the rear was completely shot. They quoted me an unbelievable cost to repair. I... + More »
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April 28, 2015
2011 Dodge Grand Caravan 4-Door Wagon Crew

versitle minivan!

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Overall, we love our van. We have tons of cargo room-even more than our old SUV- the mpg is better than expected (25 or better hwy). It also looks better than the other vans that look like space shuttles. The... + More »
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