Pity the image of the Caravan Man. Constantly derided and stigmatized, minivan ownership of late has nearly become a punch line, as if being in their presence or being forced to *gasp* drive one is something to be looked down upon. Hopefully that tide will start flowing the other way in short order – after all, the social arguments usually made against minivans can also be leveraged at the somewhat trendier crossovers that moved in to fill their territory. Let’s go down the list – mostly owned and driven by females, check. Often populated with hordes of kids and all their detritus, check and check. Styled like a box, check. Based on a mid-to-full size sedan platform, check. Am I describing a minivan or a crossover? Exactly.
Short of being out of fashion, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the Grand Caravan SXT pictured here. There is plenty right with it – a powerful engine, stable and car-like handling, scads of room, storage bins, cubbyholes and seating configurations, a decent stereo and a smooth, quiet ride with a commanding view of the road ahead. And, of course, the price- $32,505 as tested. That’s decent coin for any middle-class family, but it’s still a whole lot cheaper than a similarly equipped Grand Cherokee, Durango, Explorer or Traverse.
After all, the $32 grand spent toward this particular Caravan will get you touchscreen navigation through Chrysler’s 430N headunit (although, it must be said, this particular unit is getting a bit long in the tooth – the excellent 8.4” touchscreen found elsewhere in Chrysler’s lineup can’t come soon enough), a Blu-Ray system with two screens, power sliding side doors and rear liftgate, Stow & Go seating, remote start and other niceties.
The PentaStar 3.6-liter V6 and 6-speed auto pull double duty here, smoothly wringing out 283 horsepower and 260 lb-ft with nary a hint of torque steer. It’ll be interesting to see if one of the 8- or 9-speed automatics that Chrysler has started dropping into some of its models makes its way to the Caravan in the future, since the 6-speed, while capable of delivering a 25 mpg rating on the highway, can get tripped up from time to time and ends up delivering your gear change with an unceremonious clunk.
While its style cred may be dubious to some and nonexistent to others, the Grand Caravan’s functional capabilities are unquestioned. The disappearing-act Stow & Go seating is still the best in the business, providing a space big enough to live in when all seats are under floor (which I actually attempted a couple years back, there’s a write-up on this site for those interested). Perhaps if the crossover trend ever starts to wane, people will realize that Dodge has been building the better mousetrap all along.
2014 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT
Base price: $27,690
Price as tested: $32,505
Options on test car: Blacktop Package ($595), UConnect Hands-Free Group ($540), Security Group ($395), Dual Rear Screen DVD/Blu-Ray Player ($2,490), UConnect 430N Navigation System ($795)
Powertrain: 3.6-liter V6 engine, 6-speed automatic transmission – 283 hp / 260 lb-ft torque
S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 22.0 mpg
Dodge provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the manufacturer.