All-time Minivan Staying Power — Dodge Grand Caravan

December 26, 2009/Steve Tackett


Two major events swept the nation back in 1984. Ronald Reagan was re-elected as President of the United States, carrying 49 of the 50 states. And — don’t laugh — the minivan swept the country, carrying millions of moms, dads and kids for more than 25 years now.
Many automakers have ventured into the minivan market — and gotten out. But guess who is still standing? Chrysler. It was Chrysler who back in 1984 created the minivan by introducing America to the Dodge Caravan and the Plymouth Voyager.
Along the way Chrysler has developed countless “minivans firsts,” toppled countless competitors who imitated them — and they remain just about the last one standing. Some of the names that have come and gone include the Windstar, Venture, Villager, Monterey, Freestar, Astro, Montana, and the Entourage. All are gone.
As Chrysler now passes its 25th anniversary in the minivan market it enters 2010 with assurance of its domination in this market class.
I recently drove the Dodge Grand Caravan SXT with the 4.0-liter V-6 engine. This is the top model in the lineup. Base pricing for the 2010 Grand Caravan starts at $23,175 for the SE trim equipped with the 175-horsepower 3.3-liter V-6 engine. The Grand Caravan is also offered with the 197-horsepower 3.8-liter V-6 engine.
My tester with the 4.0L V-6 started at $28,660. It comes with a six-speed automatic transmission (a minivan first) and generates what Chrysler says is the minivan segment’s best combination of power with 251 horsepower and 259 lb.-ft. of torque. The EPA rates the fuel economy at 17 miles per gallon city and 25 mpg highway.
My SXT tester has a towing capacity of 3,800 pounds, compared to the SE trim’s 1,800-pound tow rating.

The Dodge Grand Caravan even dares to be a bit adventurous with an optional package of 17-inch aluminum wheels with a sport-tuned suspension, so that minivan owners can get a “spirited driving experience.” But who could possibly have that much confidence in a minivan? Chrysler claims some bragging rights because it dominates the segment so soundly. But we all know who is driving the minivan — mom.
My sister with her three sons and my sister-in-law with her five wee ones are the primary drivers of their family minivans. Guess what brand they drive — Chrysler. They cross-shopped the Toyota Sienna, but went with Chrysler due to size, flexibility and price.
One of the big appeals of the Dodge Grand Caravan is the flexibility of cargo storage, people room and versatility of usage with the minivan industry first of the Stow ‘n Go and Swivel ‘n Go seating and storage system.
With the swivel chairs and hide-away table, families can take long trips dining or playing table games in a kind of RVing atmosphere. Dodge calls it a “family room on wheels” with the nine-inch dual DVD backseat TV and a host of rear entertainment system features.
Another minivan first is the Blind-Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Path safety accident avoidance devices. BSM monitors the blind spots behind the driver when lane changing, signaling danger with a chime and flashing icon display in the sideview mirrors. When backing out from a parking space the RCP alerts the driver to cross traffic that might be ready to smack into the side fender. This is a terrific system because minivans have a wide lower girth, making it hard to see smaller cars in the cross when backing up.
Yes, the minivan market is filled with vibrancy — notably when carrying your loved ones. — Connie Keane, Motor Matters.

Next New On Wheels: 2010 Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon
Next New On Wheels (Bonus Wheels): 2010 Subaru Forester 2.5X Limited

VEHICLE TYPE_________________ 7-passenger FWD minivan
BASE PRICE___________________ $28,660 (as tested: $37,005)
ENGINE TYPE__________________ 24-valve V-6 w/SMPFI
DISPLACEMENT_________________ 4.0-liter
HORSEPOWER (net)_____________ 251 at 6000 rpm
TORQUE (lb.-ft.)_____________ 259 at 4100 rpm
TRANSMISSION_________________ 6-speed automatic
WHEELBASE____________________ 121.2 in.
OVERALL LENGTH_______________ 202.5 in.
CURB WEIGHT__________________ 4,514 lbs.
FUEL CAPACITY________________ 20 gal.
EPA MILEAGE RATING___________ 17 mpg city, 25 mpg highway

Spare Parts
SMALL IS THE NEW BIG: The big news for 2010 is small. While their price, size and fuel consumption are dwarfed in comparison to bigger cars, small cars, too, come with giant leaps in safety, design, handling, performance and creature comforts. Five cars — new to North America — all have proven track records already in the European market. The Ford Fiesta is Europe’s number two best-selling car, and Ford is finally bringing it to the U.S. as a five-door hatchback and four-door sedan. (Source: FreeWheeling, Motor Matters)
TOUGHER TO GET TOP PICK: This time last year when the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released its list of “2009 Top Safety Picks,” a record 94 vehicles made the list. Not so this year. So far only 27 have made this year’s list of the “2010 Top Safety Picks.” That is because for the first time a good performance in a roof strength test (measuring rollover protection) is required. To earn this 2010 award, a vehicle must get the top rating of Good in the insurance institute’s tests of front, side, rear and rollover protection; and it must have electronic stability control. (Source: Down the Road, Motor Matters)
WINTER DRIVING TIP: Don’t overestimate the capability of SUVs. Many drivers mistakenly believe that four-wheel drive is a cure-all. SUVs do have specific benefits, but they have limitations, as well. Every type of vehicle, regardless of which wheels propel the car, depends on four small contact patches where the tire meets the road for traction. This small contact area is the limiting factor of any vehicle on a slippery surface. Four-wheel drive does not improve braking or cornering effectiveness. (Source: Bridgestone)

Copyright, Motor Matters, 2009