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The Dodge Grand Caravan has been a fixture in the Chrysler brand's lineup since the whole idea of the minivan took to the streets. Now, a few decades later, it's nearing the end of the road. The twin to the Chrysler Town & Country will be dropped from the Dodge lineup after 2015, as the company clarifies its product lineup.
The latest Grand Caravan still is one of the most functional vehicles you can buy. With a base price of about $20,000, the most you can spend on a Grand Caravan is a little more than $30,000, for which you get the most useful cabin and the best-executed infotainment features in the segment. That's saying a lot, since the Caravan competes with the well-mannered Honda Odyssey and the big, all-weather-capable Toyota Sienna. The Nissan Quest and Mazda 5 and reborn Kia Sedona should also be on shopping lists, though none come as well-equipped at the Dodge's bargain prices.
With a round of running changes under its hood and on its nose since the 2011 model year, the Dodge Grand Caravan returns for 2014 with its essential goodness intact. It's still one of the best choices for carrying up to eight passengers--and for keeping them entertained along the way.
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; 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. We've taken our turn in the Stow 'N Go seats without complaint. The Grand Caravan's third-row seat has a power-fold option, too, as do its side doors and its tailgate, and converting the space to pure cargo hold takes just seconds.
Minivans also must be safe, and excellent crash-test 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 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 are off the mark set by the Honda and the leaner Nissan Quest, but the Grand Caravan feels composed enough at speed. The Grand Caravan bounds over any series of small bumps; the damping really should and could be better.
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 outline of today's minivan pays dividends in its light, airy interior. It's slab-sided and relatively plain compared to the lightning-bolted Odyssey and the low-nosed Sienna, but the Grand Caravan has a glassy cabin 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 new value edition introduced last year brought the Grand Caravan base price down to 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. If you choose, the Grand Caravan can be ushered into the pricing stratosphere with a cavalcade of electronic goodies that's second only to those in 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, or on-board data service via Chrysler's UConnect Web.