Chrysler's minivans used to have an array of powertrains--everything from small four-cylinders to big-displacement V-6s. Now the lineup's been pared to a single engine, a single transmission, and a single drive configuration.
The result is confident acceleration and safe, predictable handling. It's not quite as composed as a Honda Odyssey or even the latest Toyota Sienna, but the Grand Caravan isn't too far off the mark, and it's well within the pleasant-to-drive range most minivan buyers are seeking.
All Grand Caravans sport Chrysler's latest V-6 engine, a 3.6-liter unit that produces 283 horsepower. Dubbed the Pentastar, after the company's brand mark, the engine feels responsive and torque at low and mid-range speeds. It's a bit less than purely smooth, and there's some exhaust and vibration on hard acceleration, but the power advantage over previous engines is unmistakable. The Pentastar makes 86 more horsepower than the most recent Chrysler 3.8-liter V-6, and 30 hp more than the 4.0-liter six that briefly was available in the Grand Caravan. Straight-line acceleration is brisk, and fuel economy is still above the class average, at 17/25 mpg, thanks to a relatively smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission.
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.) Ride quality is almost cushy compared to rival vans, but even with retuned shocks, the Caravan bounds more than it needs to over strings of low bumps. It's more content to smother, which makes its handling a neat metaphor for the kind of parenting minivans are built to support. There's an R/T version that comes closer to the buttoned-down feel of a Honda Odyssey, thanks to distinct suspension tuning, though the Odyssey's steering feel still gets more kudos from our editors, as does its overall road feel.