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The Dodge Grand Caravan is a mainstream minivan that's shares most of its components with the Chrysler Town & Country, with just a few minor styling changes and features of its own. A mainstay in Dodge's lineup since the 1980s, the Grand Caravan starts below $20,000 and caps around $30,000. It competes with the well-mannered Honda Odyssey and the big, all-weather-capable Toyota Sienna, though the Nissan Quest and Mazda 5 qualify.With a round of running changes under its hood and on its nose since the 2011 model year, the Dodge Grand Caravan returns for 2013 with only a few new features. It's enough to keep the family hauler in its place as one of the best choices for carrying up to eight passengers--and to keeping them entertained along the way.
The Grand Caravan stays true to the boxy styling theme that it's worn for most of its life, save for the 1996-2007 model years. We liked those egg-shaped vans, but the functional look of today's Dodge minivan plays out in some important ways that go a little deeper than sex appeal. Yes, it's slab-sided, and relatively plain compared to the lightning-bolted Odyssey and the low-nosed Sienna, but the Grand Caravan has a very airy interior as a result of its upright styling, and very good outward visibility. The interior's now up to grade, too--in 2011, Dodge replaced the plasticky cabin trim from the 2008-2010 model year with much more appealing textures, for a much better impression of quality.
A single drivetrain configuration puts all Grand Caravans on performance par. The engine's a 3.6-liter V-6, with 283 horsepower, coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission, with power shipped to the front wheels only--all-wheel drive left the lineup after the 2007 model year. Smoother here than in most other Chrysler vehicles, the powertrain has just a touch of the V-6 groans, and an abundance of strong low- and mid-range power. Steering and ride aren't too far off the mark set by the Honda and the leaner Nissan Quest, but the Grand Caravan feels mostly composed at speed, with an occasional bounce to its ride.
Chrysler's minivans are the most useful of all, and that's a big factor in their high scores here at The Car Connection. Minivans are all about utility, and carrying the maximum cargo and number of people, which makes Chrysler's fold-away second- and third-row seats a brilliant idea. The Nissan Quest used to have the same arrangement, but it's abandoned the setup for a fold-away third-row seat and fixed second-row seats, while the Odyssey and Sienna have sliding, fold-down second-row seats and fold-away third row seats. In the Grand Caravan, the seats fold flat into the floor, or stay in position, with in-floor storage bins holding their place. To accommodate the disappearing act, the Chrysler seats are thinner and flatter--but we've never heard a kid complain about the seat comfort, and Costco boxes don't exactly complain, either. The Grand Caravan's third-row seat has a power-fold option, too, as do its side doors and its tailgate.
Very good safety scores are the Grand Caravan's calling card. The IIHS calls it a Top Safety Pick, and every one comes with curtain airbags and stability control. A rearview camera, Bluetooth, and blind-spot monitors are available, and the power sliding doors have gentle closure that rebounds if obstruction is detected.
A new value edition puts this year's Grand Caravan base price at about $20,000, an incredible bargain for the class. For a well-equipped version with satellite radio and other luxuries, the price is still less than $30,000. The Caravan carries on into the pricing stratosphere with a cavalcade of electronic goodies that's second only to the Ford Flex. Top models can be equipped with a media hard drive, navigation, satellite radio, and Bluetooth—even a Blu-Ray DVD entertainment system with USB ports for charging. On the exotic edge, we're sold on the latest, cheapest, high-tech piece: another USB port for 3G dongles that turns the Grand Caravan into a WiFi hotspot.