By Lorne Drury
Metroland Media/WheelsTalk.com –
Every time I get behind the wheel of a minivan, I am left wondering why their popularity has fallen off the proverbial cliff.
I guess it’s probably the “soccer mom” image that has turned people off or perhaps many have just moved on from the boxy styling to the more curvaceous look of today’s crossovers.
For me, though, I would have no hesitation parking a minivan in my driveway if I had a growing family.
As I have said before in this space, minivans are just so practical and easy to use.
When you have lots of passengers and cargo to transport, the minivan is the way to go.
And while there are far fewer choices in this segment than there used to be, the old reliable Dodge Grand Caravan continues to lead the way in minivan sales in Canada as it has done for 28 straight years. It is the biggest selling minivan of all time and again a top-five best-selling vehicle in Canada during 2012.
So for 2013, the Grand Caravan has only minor changes and is offered in five models, starting at $19,895.
Our tester was the Crew Plus model that sits near the top of the Grand Caravan hierarchy. It was heavily optioned with more than $10,000 in add-ons, bringing the window sticker price as tested with destination charges ($1,500) to $46,120.
The Grand Caravan seats seven and offers Chrysler’s versatile and functional second-row seats that fold flat into the floor.
They are now called Super Stow ’n Go because they have been refined even further and can be folded flat in less than five seconds with one hand and a simple pull on a lever. This is offered on all trim levels except the base SE Canada Value Package model.
Our tester also had the optional power third-row seats ($650) that folded flat at the touch of a switch just inside the power liftgate. A very handy touch, I found when we needed the extra cargo space in back.
All Grand Caravans come with a 3.6-litre 24-valve DOHC Pentastar V6 engine, combined with a six-speed automatic transmission. The engine makes a respectable 283 hp and 260 lb/ft of torque. Fuel economy is rated at 12.2 L/100 km city (23 mpg) and 7.9 L/100 km highway (36 mpg).
The base SE Canada Value Package offers 16-inch wheels, air conditioning, second row bench seat with third-row Stow ’n Go, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, seven airbags, power windows/locks/ mirrors, remote keyless entry, steering wheel mounted cruise and audio controls, stability control and more.
SXT adds second row Super Stow ’n Go seats and storage, third-row Stow ’n Go with tailgate seats, and black side roof rails with integrated crossbars among other features.
With the Grand Caravan Crew you move up to 17-inch aluminum wheels, power adjustable pedals, automatic temperature control, eight-way power driver’s seat, second row power windows and third row quarter-vented windows. The Crew Plus offers dual sliding power doors, power liftgate, heated leather seats, 6.5-inch touch screen media centre with rear view backup camera, Sirius satellite radio and ambient interior lighting.
The top-shelf R/T features a distinctive exterior look, 17-inch satin carbon aluminum wheels, special premium leather seats with red accent stitching, an upgraded nine-speaker audio system, a unique suspension, heated steering wheel and U-connect hands-free communications with Bluetooth streaming audio.
The Grand Caravan has certainly come a long way from its beginnings back in 1984 and nowhere is that more evident than in the interior that is much more plush and upscale than ever before.
One of the best features of the Grand Caravan is its versatility as a people and/or cargo hauler. It is so easy now to fold the second- and third-row seats into the floor to create to create 4,072 litres (143.8 cu ft) of cargo room or 2,359 litres (83.3 cu ft) behind the second-row seats. Behind the third-row seats alone there is 934 litres (33 cu ft) of cargo space.
The seats are supportive and the heating function on the leather seats was appreciated on a couple of chilly mornings during our test period.
Our vehicle had the Entertainment Group #2 option ($1,750) that included both second- and third-row overhead nine-inch video screens with a single disc DVD player and wireless headphones.
On the road, the Grand Caravan eats up the kilometers easily and smoothly. With 283 hp, the V6 engine provides a good combination of power and fuel economy.
This is not a vehicle that provides an inspired driving experience, but it is certainly comfortable and easy to drive for long-distance road trips.
The steering column has both tilt and telescopic features so it is easy to get a comfortable driving position, although I would prefer that the seat had more fore and aft travel.
There just wasn’t quite enough legroom for my liking; shorter drivers would have no such problem.
To sum it up, the Grand Caravan is a versatile, comfortable family vehicle.
Price-wise it is hard to beat if you don’t load it up with expensive optional equipment.
With its steady sales again this year, the Grand Caravan demonstrates that the minivan concept may have lost some of its luster, but still provides a solid option for busy families on the go.
Dodge Grand Caravan Crew Plus 2013 at a glance
- BODY STYLE: full-size minivan.
- DRIVE METHOD: front-engine, front-wheel drive.
- ENGINE: 3.6-litre DOHC Pentastar V6 (283 hp, 260 lb/ft of torque) with six-speed automatic.
- CARGO CAPACITY: 4,072 litres (143.8 cu ft); 2,359 litres (83.3 cu ft) behind second-row seats and 934 litres (33 cu ft) behind third-row seats.
- TOWING CAPACITY: 1,632 kg. (3,600 lb) with trailer-tow prep package.
- FUEL ECONOMY: 12.2 L/100 km city (23 mpg) and 7.9 L/100 km highway (36 mpg).
- PRICE: As tested $46,120 including $1,500 destination charge.