Dodge Grand Caravan – 2007 Detroit Auto Show: Are you a Town and Country Mom, a Grand Caravan Dad, and do you like Habanero peppers in your mashed potatoes? If you answered anything beyond a confused “huh?,” go camping and get away from the marketing machine that runs this world. Fact is, beyond the bright red paint job, minor interior accoutrements and the crosshair grille, there’s little difference between the 2008 Chrysler Town and Country and the 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan – save for the number of rental cars sales. Dodge would have you believe the Grand Caravan is spicier and bolder – though beyond the red paint job it’s hard to tell how, exactly. They do look different, however, which is more that some badge engineerin’ fools can claim.
Up to now, Dodge minivans mattered mostly to vacationers, out of town business folk and other purveyors of the rental car lots. Even with Stow ‘n Go, the innovative seat storage solution debuted in the Grand Caravan and the Chrysler Town and Country a few years ago, retail sales declined and fleet sales went up. All this happened as wait lists for the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna continued to grow. Dodge's plans to change this include its latest spate of interior innovation, such as swiveling mid-row chairs, a table, a five-way configurable center console and a power, one-touch third row seat. The only thing left to do is take the seats out and put in a dance floor.
Chrysler and Dodge are offering the 2008 Town & Country and the Grand Caravan with three engine choices: a 3.3-liter, flex-fuel V6 that’s good for 170 horsepower and works with a four-speed automatic transmission; a 3.8-liter V6 that produces 198 horses and is mated to a six-speed automatic tranny; and a new 4.0-liter V6 that pumps out 240 horsepower and is mated to the six-speed transmission. The all-wheel drive option has been dropped, so all of the new vans put power to the front wheels only, which depending on the trim level, will measure 16 or 17 inches in diameter.
Leaner and more contemporary than the minivan it replaces, the Grand Caravan gets rid of the flabby look and hides the sliding door track better than almost any other minivan. Compared to the 2008 Town and Country, the Caravan is supposed to be spicier, though we had trouble seeing much spice in this design, except perhaps for the red paint and Dodge grille. With a taller face, longer snout and more pronounced headlights, the Grand Caravan looks more square and flat than round and plump. That’s a good thing, though we felt that the rear gate of the Grand Caravan could use a little more character. Flat and squared, it provides for plenty of storage space, but is about as spicy as a bean and cheese burrito.
Inside is where the spice is, thanks to a collection of cool features rather than just one item. Take, for instance, the optional Swivel ’n Go second row buckets that can be turned 180 degrees to face the one-touch power folding and stowable third row bench and available center activity table. Then there’s the front sliding console that can be configured five different ways, the nine dishwasher-safe cupholders, the integrated second row child booster seat, the adjustable LED reading lights, the ambient light in the ceiling, or the stain-resistant cloth seats (leather optional). That’s in addition to a DVD system that can simultaneously play two videos, three-row side-curtain airbags, available Stow ’n Go seating, rear power windows, and an available 506-watt stereo.
At the recent 2007 Detroit Auto Show, Chrysler execs made a fuss over GM and Ford leaving the minivan market, saying “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” While Chrysler originally built the minivan “kitchen,” Honda and Toyota have recently taken up positions as top chefs – something Chrysler says will change once these new minivans hit the market.
Perhaps two types of the same minivan is one type too many. Or maybe Chrysler has sold itself into rental minivan purgatory, the result of which is a permanently diluted vehicle in the eyes of minivan shoppers. Whatever the reason, it may not matter how good these minivans are, nor how innovative or useful their interiors. Until car buyers lose the perception of Dodge as the rental van, it will be hard to sway the tide of sales toward import minivan makers. With a declining market dominated by two fierce competitors, Dodge has work to do. Thanks to one of the most innovative interiors we’ve ever seen, it now has the minivan to climb back to the top of the minivan charts.