2015 Dodge Grand Caravan Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
June 16, 2015

The 2015 Dodge Grand Caravan is the evolved version of the original minivan, supplying the useful features and clever touches at a very good value.

It's the end of the road for the Dodge Grand Caravan. After being a fixture in the Dodge lineup ever since Chrysler invented the minivan in 1983, 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. The base price comes in around $20,000, and the most you can spend on a Grand Caravan is a little more than $30,000. At any price, 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. There are other competitors--Nissan's Quest, the smaller Mazda 5, and the recently returned Kia Sedona--although none of them pack the value found in the Dodge.

Changes are few for 2015, which is fine since not much needs improving here. A couple of new packages aim to bring more of the equipment buyers want at lower prices. The Grand Caravan remains one of the best choices for carrying up to eight passengers--and for keeping them entertained along the way.

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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 Stow 'N Go seating system is standard on all but the base trim, where it's available as an option. The seats fold flat into spaces in the floor, and when they're in use their homes double as storage bins. 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 it's tough to beat the flat load floor created when all of the chairs disappear. We've taken our turn in the Stow 'N Go seats without complaint. The Nissan Quest used to have a similar arrangement, but it 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. The Grand Caravan's third-row seat has a power-fold option, too, as do its side doors and tailgate, and converting the space to pure cargo hold takes just seconds, thanks to improvements made last year.

A single drivetrain configuration puts all Grand Caravans on an even playing field. The engine's a 3.6-liter V-6, with a class-leading 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 to make way for Stow 'N Go. 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 not quote at the level of the Honda and the leaner Nissan Quest, but the Grand Caravan feels composed enough at speed. Our main gripe is that the Dodge 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, space-efficient 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 emphasizes glass over sheetmetal, affording 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 years with much more appealing textures, giving it a real 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.

Safety is of course important in a family vehicle such as this, and the Grand Caravan doesn't disappoint. It gets a four-star rating from the NHTSA and top grades from IIHS tests as well, while 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.

7

2015 Dodge Grand Caravan

Styling

The Grand Caravan isn't the softest shape in the minivan world, but no-fuss shape is pleasant enough.

Style takes a back seat to back seats in the Grand Caravan. Instead of making a swoopy people carrier that doesn't fit people, Chrysler maximizes the interior space by keeping it tall and upright. We're okay with that.

While the Honda Odyssey has a racier profile courtesy of its love-it-or-hate-it lightning bolt design element, and Toyota's Sienna has found itself with a more aerodynamic nose, Dodge has stepped back to a more rectangular design. That's not to say it looks downright boring–though it might have between 2008-2010–but it doesn't look quite as modern as the Japanese competition.

There are a few small touches that work well with the boxy body, though. The crosshair grille has been beefed up and the headlights are suggestively rounded, while the R/T model looks a little more like the kind of car the typical Dodge shopper would want. There are also LED taillights, a la the Charger, but that's about the only similarity shared with Dodge's sportier cars.

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.

For those who want to add a little attitude back into their minivan, Dodge is again offering the Blacktop package, which appeared for the 2014 model year. It includes 17-inch silver-painted wheels with gloss-black pockets, a gloss-black grille, black headlight housings, and an all-black interior, including the headliner and unique seat cloth, as well as silver stitching on the door panels and leather-wrapped steering wheel.

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2015 Dodge Grand Caravan

Performance

Handling is minivan-grade, but the Grand Caravan has quick steering and gutsy acceleration.

Chrysler makes it easy to choose an engine in its minivans–the current Grand Caravan (as well as its Town & Country sibling) has only one engine, one drive configuration, and one transmission available.

All Grand Caravans are powered by Chrysler's 3.6-liter "Pentastar" V-6, which produces 283 horsepower, the most in the class. This engine feels torquey and responsive at low and mid-range speeds, and while it's not necessarily the smoothest engine on the market–there's a little bit of exhaust and vibration on hard acceleration–it's notably better than any engine that's come before it. It's 86 horsepower up on the the old 3.8-liter V-6, and it produces 30 hp more than the 4.0-liter that was once an option on these vans. The Grand Caravan is quick in a straight line, and fuel economy is still better than average at 17/25 mpg, thanks to its six-speed automatic transmission.

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. 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 hasn't been an option since 2008, when Stow 'N Go took over the space where the extra driveshaft would live.)

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9

2015 Dodge Grand Caravan

Comfort & Quality

Some finishes still are plasticky, but the Grand Caravan has the most flexible seating arrangement of any minivan.

The Dodge Grand Caravan is hard to beat for seating flexibility and cargo ability. The Stow 'N Go system is one of the most inventive seating setups in the business.

There's seating for up to eight in the Grand Caravan, and adults will feel comfortable in the front five seats without complaint. The front bucket seats provide plenty of space in every direction, though the seat cushions could use a little more support underneath their very soft and spongy texture.

There's also ample room in the second row, either with the base model's bench or the optional captain's chairs that are included with the Stow 'N Go arrangement. That's the system that lets them tuck into those bins when they're not needed at the flip of a lever, leaving a flat load floor. Only the Grand Caravan's Chrysler sibling offers the same level of practicality. These Stow 'N Go seats have flatter cushions than many other vans on the market, which allows them to fit into their hiding places, but they're still pretty comfortable. When the captain's chairs are in use, the storage bins are useful as covered stowage for large amounts of cargo, before you even open the liftgate. (If you don't get Stow 'N Go, the in-floor storage is still included.) The Grand Caravan also boasts the most cargo space in the segment, with a seatless bay designed to accommodate 4x8 sheets of building materials.

The third row in the Grand Caravan is best suited for kids, but smaller adults can fit in a pinch. It also folds away–either manually or with the optional power-folding system–to create more cargo space when needed. We miss the pop-up picnic table and Swivel 'N Go second-row seats, but the rest of the excellent space 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?

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 trim level. A new leatherette (vinyl) seat option is bundled in the SXT Plus package, itself new for 2015.

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2015 Dodge Grand Caravan

Safety

The Grand Caravan has lots of innovative safety gear, but its latest crash-test results are poor.

The Dodge Grand Caravan receives good crash ratings from both national testing agencies, although it's still outdone by some of its contemporaries.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the Grand Caravan top 'good' scores for front, side, and roof-strength tests, as well as for its head restraints & seats. It's also put the van through its new small-overlap test, and the result is a Poor rating in that test, which simulates a 40-mph crash into a tall, narrow object such as a telephone pole. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the Grand Caravan four stars overall, with four-star scores 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.

Safety-system options include parking sensors, a rearview camera, blind-spot monitors, rear cross-path detection, and automatic headlights. And thanks to the boxy design and vast greenhouse, outward visibility in the Grand Caravan is very good.

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10

2015 Dodge Grand Caravan

Features

The Grand Caravan has the widest range of features available in any minivan; base versions are a steal.

The Grand Caravan lineup runs the gamut from well-equipped and value conscious to loaded with conveniences and some of the best tech in the segment. Four trim levels are available--AVP, SE, SXT, and R/T--and for 2015, there are new Plus packages available on the middle two trims to try and bridge the gaps for the value-minded folks who want just a few more niceties.

The most affordable Grand Caravan is the "American Value Package" (AVP), priced from right around $20,000, with power mirrors, locks, and front windows; air conditioning; cruise control; a removable second-row bench seat; fold-away third-row seating; and keyless entry. At that price, the eight-seater is less expensive than virtually every seven-seat crossover on the market, and it's more affordable than more than a handful of the five-passenger SUVs out there, too. Options include Stow 'N Go seats for the second row, satellite radio, and the Uconnect Handsfree group, which bundles satellite radio with Bluetooth audio, voice control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and leather for the steering wheel and shift knob.

The Grand Caravan SE adds items like three-zone climate control, a front floor console, and six speakers. The SE Plus has that, as well as power for the second-row windows and third-row vent windows; a black interior with silver accents; and 17-inch aluminum wheels.

Above that is the SXT, which adds power sliding doors, a power liftgate, and most of the equipment mentioned above. SXT Plus has a leatherette interior and equipment similar, Uconnect Handsfree, automatic headlights, and some exterior and interior dress-up items.

At the top is the sporty R/T, with color-cued trim, black leather seats, and a special suspension and audio system.

On the options list, the Grand Caravan lists some truly useful features that will be a boon for connected families. There's navigation; Bluetooth (either bundled with an upgraded radio, or an auto-dimming rearview mirror, or heated seats and steering wheel); the second-row 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. There's also an available 3G USB dongle 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 Blu-Ray DVD entertainment system, offered on SXT and R/T models. It includes an HDMI input, a screen above each of the second and third rows, a 115-volt outlet, and two USB ports for gaming and recharging electronics.

It sounds utilitarian, but think twice about ordering the Stow 'N Place roof rail system. 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?

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6

2015 Dodge Grand Caravan

Fuel Economy

The Grand Caravan's gas mileage is good, if not up to the Odyssey's excellent highway ratings.

With the most powerful engine in its class, it's not a huge shock that the Grand Caravan is only average among minivans in fuel economy.

There's no hybrid or diesel edition of the Grand Caravan, and with a replacement coming soon, no other powertrains are expected before that major model change. There's just one powertrain configuration available–the Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 with six-speed automatic–and there's an Eco button that adjusts shift timing to optimize gas mileage.

The end result? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rates the 2015 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 lost its four-cylinder option for the 2014 model year. The Honda minivan leads the pack, with a six-speed automatic and gas mileage of 28 mpg highway.

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Performance 7
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Features 10
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