Road Test: 2009 Dodge Grand Caravan
2009 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT 25th Anniversary Edition
When most people think of classic or antique cars, vehicles like the Ford Model A and Chevrolet Camaro come to mind, but the official definition of a classic is any vehicle that is at least 25 years old. Joining the silver anniversary club, Chrysler single handedly created the minivan craze by introducing the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager back in 1983 for the 1984 model year. Besides creating the segment, the Dodge Caravan has continued to shape the minivan market by creating must have conveniences such as dual sliding side doors and fold flat second- and third-row seats.
Assembled in Windsor, Ontario alongside the Chrysler Town & Country and Volkswagen Routan, the 2009 Dodge Grand Caravan is available in three trim levels (Cargo Van, SE and SXT) with a starting MSRP of $23,545. Commemorating the introduction of its minivan, we were able to test out the 25TH Anniversary Edition package on the 2009 Grand Caravan SXT which comes with a base MSRP of $31,955, but this model was fully loaded giving it an as-tested price of $40,805. Although the segment is shrinking as General Motors and Ford Motor Company shy away from the minivan design, there is still a healthy amount of competition from Asian automakers such as the Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey, Kia Sedona and Nissan Quest.
2009 Dodge Grand Caravan Exterior
As is the case with all minivans currently on the market, the Grand Caravan's styling is a case of function usurping form, but that doesn't mean it couldn't be done with a little style. As a matter of fact, Dodge's fifth-generation minivan offers one of the most innovative and accommodating interiors in its class wrapped in a body that easily looks better than its competitors and the jelly bean shaped Chrysler minivans (from 1996-2007) thanks to Ralph Giles. Not surprisingly, Giles is also responsible for other successful vehicle designs of the Chrysler Group including the 2005 Chrysler 300, 2005 Dodge Magnum and 2009 Dodge Ram 1500. Influences from these popular vehicles can be seen in design elements of the 2009 Grand Caravan such as the prominent crosshair grille and the square-shaped headlights. While the Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country continue to share most of the same design, the latest models offer identifiable front fascias, headlamps and grille designs that help give these two vans a more distinguishable look than ever before. For enhanced styling, the 25TH Anniversary Edition package gets unique styling thanks to a sportier front fascia, 17-inch, five-spoke aluminum two-tone wheels, chrome beltline trim moldings and a unique Mineral Gray Metallic exterior coloring.
2009 Dodge Grand Caravan Interior
Unlike the Volkswagen Routan we drove just weeks ago, the Grand Caravan's cabin feels less luxurious due to the abundance of hard plastic on the instrument panel, but the Anniversary Edition package takes care of most of the cabin's remaining shortcomings. Although this $2,475 package only added a few exterior enhancements, inside is where the real payoff takes place. All the seats are covered in dark, perforated leather and feature high-quality seams with the first and second rows getting heated bucket seats. Even the floor mats add to the luxury-themed interior with 'Grand Caravan' embroidered into the front mats.
Dodge refers to the Grand Caravan as a 'family room on wheels,' and after a week behind the wheel of this fully loaded model, we're sold. From the dual screen rear DVD entertainment system to the 506-watt Infinity sound system, all that was missing was a sectional microfiber couch to make us feel at home. Our test vehicle also came with Chrysler's UConnect studios that adds Sirius Backseat TV (it comes with a one-year subscription) to the rear nine-inch screens giving rear passengers the ability to watch the Disney Channel, Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network. This entertainment system also includes dual input jacks, a power outlet and a standard two-prong 115-volt AC plug. In total, this Grand Caravan offers five power outlets and 11 cupholders. As much entertainment and fun available to the rear occupants, Dodge didn't forget about the driver either. For the driver, Dodge offers UConnect hard drive-based navigation that includes 20 gigabytes of memory dedicated to music storage plus it offers Sirius Traffic which finds alternative routes (when possible) when traffic is congested in certain areas. Finally, the Grand Caravan also offers thoughtful design elements such as an iPod jack located in the upper glove compartment, an umbrella holder next to the driver's seat and a small, rechargeable flashlight that stores in the rear cargo area.
One of the uniqueÂ aspects of Chrysler's minivan duo is the trick Stow 'n Go seat system. While the middle-row seats manually fold into the floor boards (once the front seats are moved forward), the split rear bench seat on our test model had the ability to fold and tumble at the touch of a button as well as providing a tailgate feature that folds the whole seat backward to comfortably seat people at a party or tailgate. In addition to the power folding rear seat, this Grand Caravan also came with dual power sliding side doors and a power rear liftgate. With all of the seats up, there is considerable storage capacity in the floorboards, but with the seats all folded flat these vans can swallow up to 140.1 cubic feet of cargo.
2009 Dodge Grand Caravan Performance & Handling
All 2009 Grand Caravan SXT models come standard with Chrysler's antiquated 3.8-liter V-6, but our test model thankfully came with the optional 4.0-liter V-6 adding more power, better fuel economy and noticeable refinement. Introduced in the Dodge Nitro, the Grand Caravan's optional ($630) 4.0-liter V-6 not only increases horsepower and torque to 251 and 259 lb-ft, respectively, but it also provides slightly better fuel economy than the other V-6s available in the minivan with EPA fuel economy estimates of 17 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. To allow for the Stow 'n Go seating system, the fifth-generation Dodge Grand Caravan does not offer all-wheel drive.
Dodge claims that the Anniversary Edition package includes a sport-tuned suspension, but we felt no difference in ride quality compared to the Routan's 'German-tuned suspension.' The bigger V-6 does deliver instantaneous power to the front wheels for surprising acceleration that families will appreciate when merging back onto the interstate following repeated rest stop bathroom breaks. Despite the large area of window surface and the relatively steep windshield angle, Chrysler managed to engineer its latest minivan with reduced levels of noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) to make it smooth and quiet even at highway speeds.
2009 Dodge Grand Caravan Safety
All 2009 Chrysler minivans received a quadruple five-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for both frontal- and side-impact protection and a four-star rating for rollover avoidance. As for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) assessment of the Grand Caravan, front and rear impacts got the minivan a Good rating, but the Marginal rear-impact rating prevented it from becoming a 2009 Top Safety Pick. The 2009 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT comes with standard safety features that include six airbags (including side-curtain airbags for all three rows), power adjustable pedals, electronic stability program, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and tire pressure monitoring system. Optional safety devices on this Grand Caravan include a backup camera, rear park assist sensors, blind spot detection and cross traffic detection.
Although minivan sales may be on the decline, this is still a lucrative and important vehicle segment for Dodge, and the fifth-generation Grand Caravan is an example of that. Just like the first Caravans to roll of the assembly line, the 2009 Dodge Grand Caravan is full of family-friendly innovations, and it's easy to see why Dodge is the leader in minivan sales even after 25 years.
Photos by Jeffrey N. Ross.
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