- Well-executed V-6
- A regular warehouse on wheels
- Seating flexibility par excellence
- Infotainment options without equal
- Great safety ratings and features
- Some chintzy textures remain
- Occasionally bouncy ride
- Unremarkable handling
- No all-wheel-drive option
Function reigns supreme in the Dodge Grand Caravan: it has the best seating system and infotainment features of any minivan, and gas mileage and safety scores are excellent.
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.
2013 Dodge Grand Caravan
Boxy is boring to some--to minivan buyers, the Grand Caravan's styling means business.
Respect the box.
That's what Dodge seemed to say with the return of the rectangular Grand Caravan, back in 2008. The prior generation of minivans were popular, egg-shaped vehicles with--dare we say it?--a dash of sex appeal. For reasons left unclear, Dodge reverted to squared-off form and only lightly reskinned the Grand Caravan when it was refreshed in the 2011 model year.
So while Toyota's tarted up the Sienna with a racy-low front end, and Honda's baked a lightning bolt into the side of the Odyssey, Dodge has stuck by the box as its minivan outline. If anything, it telegraphs what the Grand Caravan is all about--a functional masterpiece, with only a little varnish applied. It no longer looks downright cheap, which the 2008-2010 minivan did, but it also looks dated compared with the up-and-coming Japanese minivans.
That said, there are a handful of small touches faired in nicely on the one-box body. The headlights are rounded suggestively, while the Dodge crosshair grille has been plumped up. The R/T's few distinctive touches connect a little more directly to the usual Dodge buyer and their more brash tastes. The LED taillamps that ring the tailgate mimic the ones on the Charger sedan, where the comparison ends, definitively.
Moving inside through the front-hinged doors, the Caravan's dash and door panels have bailed on the grainy plastics of the 2008-2010 model years, for something more substantial. 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.
The detail that snags: the Caravan's chintzy base cloth upholstery, which feels a little fuzzy, and looks a bit like something out of a 1980s Korean car. Leather's worth the upgrade, but it's an option only on the top two trim packages.
2013 Dodge Grand Caravan
Quick acceleration and safe, predictable handling put the Grand Caravan about on par with other minivans.
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.
2013 Dodge Grand Caravan
Comfort & Quality
Chrysler's minivans offer the most flexible seating systems of all minivans, and excellent interior room.
Though its former Swivel 'N Go picnic-table option is gone--the table's no longer an option, at least--the Dodge Grand Caravan has one of the most inventive seating systems in all of minivan-dom, putting the emphasis on carrying up to eight passengers of all ages.
Utility is the key to the Grand Caravan and its three rows of seating, and adults will feel comfortable in the front five seats. In all models, the front bucket seats have ample space in every direction, though the cushions themselves could use a little more firmness in the place of their slightly spongy texture.
There's also excellent space in the second row of seats. On the base model, it's a bench with in-floor storage bins, but on all other versions, the second row of seats are fold-away units that tuck into those bins when not needed, leaving a flat load floor. It's a feature no other van offers, other than the Chrysler Town & Country, now that the Nissan Quest has abandoned its nearly identical arrangement. On these "Stow 'N Go" seats, the cushions are a little flatter than in some other vans, but these seats fold completely into the floor at the flip of a lever. When they're in use, their storage spaces are useful as covered, secure stowage for a vast amount of cargo, even before you get further back in the cabin.
The Grand Caravan's third-row seat is still useful for smaller adults, but it's primarily geared for kids. It also folds out of sight when needed--by power, if you pay for that option. We do lament the Swivel 'N Go back seats and the pop-up picnic table they brought with them, but the space and excellent use of it remains intact.
We'd also opt for the movable, and removable, "super console" that's on the Dodge's options list. It adds many cubic inches of covered space between the seats--it's a virtual Tupperware for music players, spare change, even the odd French fry gone rogue. On a meta level, it's a box within a box. What's not to love about that?
2013 Dodge Grand Caravan
The Grand Caravan is almost, but not quite, the safest minivan on the road, with a bundle of advanced safety options.
It's not quite the safest minivan in the segment, but the Dodge Grand Caravan earns excellent scores from both reporting crash-test agencies.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says the Grand Caravan's a Top Safety Pick, since it earns "good" scores for front, side, and roof-strength tests. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), meanwhile, rates the Dodge minivan at four stars overall, with a four-star score for front-impact protection and rollover resistance, and a five-star rating for side-impact protection.
The Grand Caravan is outdone only by the Honda Odyssey, which earns five stars from the NHTSA.
Standard equipment includes the mandatory dual front airbags and stability control; the Caravan's curtain airbags extend protection to all three rows of seats. The stability control system now includes trailer sway control, which applies anti-lock braking to selected wheels to correct against motions induced by towed vehicles.
A bundle of safety options includes parking sensors, a rearview camera, blind-spot monitors and automatic headlights. And thanks to the boxy design and vast greenhouse, outward visibility in the Grand Caravan is very good.
2013 Dodge Grand Caravan
No minivan offers more infotainment and safety features than the Dodge--except the Chrysler Town & Country.
The Grand Caravan name is one of the veterans in the minivan business, but it's one of the most technically advanced of its kind, thanks to regular additions of infotainment features over the past decade. Some of those features simply aren't available in other minivans, even at premium prices.
The least expensive Grand Caravan is the AVP, a special $19,995 "American Value Package" with power windows, locks, and mirrors; a removable second-row bench seat and in-floor storage bins, but no fold-away second-row seats; a fold-away third-row seat; cruise control; air conditioning; and keyless entry. At that price, it underprices almost every seven-passenger crossover, not to mention a slew of five-passenger utes.
Mid-grade minivans contain more standard features, including a power tailgate and power side doors, and upgrades for audio systems. The Crew edition gains satellite radio, a power driver seat, and ambient interior lighting. There's a vaguely sporty R/T model with monochromatic trim and black leather seating; it gets its own suspension tuning and sound system.
On the options list, the Grand Caravan lists some truly useful features that will be a boon for connected families. There's a USB port for 3G dongles, that transforms the Grand Caravan into a WiFi hotspot. It's a no-brainer versus the more expensive DVD entertainment system, even if you spend for a couple of iPads. However, high-definition families might be swayed by a new Blu-Ray DVD entertainment system for 2013, offered on Crew and R/T models. It includes an HDMI input, a 115-volt outlet and two USB ports for gaming and recharging electronics.
Other features to check out are navigation; Bluetooth (either bundled with an upgraded radio, or an auto-dimming rearview mirror, or heated seats and steering wheel); the DVD entertainment system; and a power package for the side doors, tailgate and pedals on models where they're not included. Remote start and a 115-volt outlet wouldn't be left off either, not on such a high-functioning machine.
It sounds utilitarian, but think twice about ordering the new Stow 'N Place roof rails. It's possible, with all this interior room, that all of your stuff will fit inside the Grand Caravan. Rooftop storage bins cut into the coefficient of drag anyway, right?
2013 Dodge Grand Caravan
The Grand Caravan earns solid gas mileage numbers for the minivan class, though it lags the more expensive Odyssey.
Solid performance in the minivan realm means many different things. For an eight-passenger vehicle, the Grand Caravan accelerates strongly and corners well enough--and it delivers gas mileage on par with its class, too.
Dodge's minivan isn't the fuel-economy leader, but it does well enough to cluster with the most commonly seen versions of its chief competitors, the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey.
There's just a single powertrain configuration--the Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 and six-speed automatic--so the figures apply to the entire model range. The Grand Caravan also has an "economizer" switch, which isn't the Doctor Who feature it sounds like. It's an electronically controlled mode that fiddles with shift timing to let the minivan sip a little less fuel.
The end result? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rates the 2013 Grand Caravan at 17 miles per gallon city, 25 miles per gallon highway. That's on par with the numbers generated by the Sienna, which loses its four-cylinder option for the 2013 model year, and for base versions of the Odyssey. The Honda minivan leads the pack, but only with its most expensive version, which gets a six-speed automatic and gas mileage of up to 28 mpg highway.