2013 Dodge Grand Caravan Road Test and Review: Introduction
Overlooking the original 1950 Volkswagen Type 2, or the VW Bus as it became known in the U.S. market, the 1983 Dodge Caravan was the first modern minivan to reach critical mass with American consumers. With its 7-passenger seating, front-wheel drive, and tidy exterior dimensions, the Caravan and its corporate twin, the Plymouth Voyager, were instant hits with people tired of big station wagons.
In the 30 years since, the Caravan has grown into the Grand Caravan, and the Voyager has been transformed into the Chrysler Town & Country. Together, the Dodge and Chrysler minivans remain the market leaders in terms of total sales, thanks to strong demand by rental car agencies and commercial businesses. Some of the families who made Chrysler synonymous with minivans have moved on to the Honda Odyssey and the Toyota Sienna, while most have decided crossover suvs are much cooler than any minivan could be.
The current Dodge Grand Caravan debuted for the 2008 model year, a lackluster resut of ruthless cost-cutting during a development process that took place under former Chrysler owner, Daimler-Benz. After getting kicked out of Stuttgart’s bed, surviving a stint as a ward of a private equity firm, and then spinning into bankruptcy prior to rescue from Italy’s FIAT, Chrysler put its designers and engineers to work improving the Grand Caravan, and starting in 2011 this minivan became a vehicle once again worthy of consideration.
To see how it stacks up against the Honda Odyssey, Nissan Quest, and Toyota Sienna, I spent a week with this 2013 Dodge Grand Caravan Crew, shuttling family all over metropolitan Los Angeles during the holidays. For those interested in the Cliff’s Notes, the Grand Caravan proves much better than expected to drive, and to live with.
Buyers looking for a new minivan can find real value in the 2013 Dodge Grand Caravan, which starts at just $20,990 for the American Value Package model. That’s $7,685 less than a base Honda Odyssey and $6,255 less than a standard Toyota Sienna. Apply whatever rebate Dodge is offering, and the Grand Caravan improves its value equation.
There are four upgrade models in the Dodge Grand Caravan lineup: SE ($23,990), SXT ($27,590), Crew ($29,590), and sporty R/T ($30,990). My test van was the Grand Caravan Crew, which includes numerous items over the SXT model.
Standard equipment highlights for the Crew model are Uconnect Bluetooth hands-free calling, an 8-way power driver’s seat, automatic climate control, a universal garage door opener, a larger front center console, illuminated visor vanity mirrors, and an overhead rear console with ambient and LED lighting. A full vehicle information center is also standard, as well as dual power sliding side doors, a power liftgate, and power adjustable pedals. Exterior upgrades include extra chrome trim, fog lights, 17-inch aluminum wheels, and a Stow ‘N Place roof rack.
My test vehicle came with the optional Driver Convenience Group, the Safety Sphere Group, the Entertainment Group #5, and a Uconnect 430N media system with navigation. The sticker price read $32,970.
The optional Driver Convenience Group ($895) includes manual window shades for the second- and third-row seats, heated front and second-row seats, a heated steering wheel, Uconnect Voice Command, Bluetooth streaming audio, a USB port, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Add the Safety Sphere Group ($1,300) to get automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, rear parking assist sensors, and a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-path detection.
The Entertainment Group #5 ($1,890) is something I could have lived without, though my kids really enjoyed it. It includes second- and third-row video screens, a 40-gig hard-drive entertainment system, a Blu-Ray DVD player, and a Uconnect 430 multi-media system with a 6.5-inch in-dash touchscreen. For an extra $795, the Uconnect 430 system added a navigation system.2013 Dodge Grand Caravan Road Test and Review: Design
- Redesigned wheels for SXT and R/T models
- Three exterior paint colors
- Black/Sandstorm interior color combination
When it comes to minivan design, little need be said. Box, meet wheels. And when it comes to the Dodge Grand Caravan, it is the unimaginative and undersized wheels that do the vehicle the fewest favors.
You might be looking at the photos accompanying this article and wonder why I might say such a thing. I agree that the Dodge Grand Caravan Crew’s 17-inch aluminum wheels look good in photos. Up close and personal, they resemble a grade-school design project executed for K-mart. Emphasizing function over form, I must admit that they’re unlikely to suffer curb rash and that they’re easy to clean.
The Grand Caravan’s interior contains a mix of quality and questionable materials combined with a blend of modern and dated controls and displays. For example, the attractive thick-rimmed steering wheel is wrapped in smooth leather and fronts an impressive gauge cluster with brilliant white and red markings, while the Uconnect 430N multi-media system, as powerful and feature-laden as it might be, looks like a Radio Shack add-on. The Grand Caravan’s upper door panels are soft and inviting to the touch, while the upper portion of the dashboard is hard and unyielding. The two-tone cabin treatment with chrome detailing and fake wood looks upscale, until you realize that the black seat fabric displays every piece of lint and pet hair that might be transferred to it from occupants’ clothing.
Nevertheless, the current Grand Caravan’s interior represents a massive upgrade over the Lego-block components installed in the 2008-2010 models.2013 Dodge Grand Caravan Road Test and Review: Comfort and Cargo
- Super Stow ‘N Go Seating is optional, rather than standard, on American Value Package models
When getting behind the Grand Caravan’s steering wheel for the first time, I was struck by the lack of seat track travel and the resulting immediacy of the controls. With the 8-way power driver’s seat positioned for greatest comfort, my knees rested mere inches from the dashboard and even with the steering wheel telescoped as far toward the gauge cluster as possible and the power adjustable pedals moved as far forward as they would go, my elbows were at near 90-degree angles while driving the van.
“There is no way this Grand Caravan is going to be comfortable,” I grimaced, in advance of a week of heavy holiday travel on highways.
I was wrong.
As it turns out, sitting up tall in a position similar to a dining room chair with everything located a fingertip away is an excellent way to travel, and the Grand Caravan’s supportive front seats are comfortable for hours. Thanks to unseasonably cold Southern California weather (there was actual frost on the Dodge one morning!), our test model’s heated steering wheel and front seats came in handy, items my family back in Michigan would consider the utmost in luxury on any cold, gray, January day.
The Grand Caravan’s Super Stow ‘N Go seats, which include second-row captain’s chairs and a third-row bench that flips and folds into the van’s floor, are also comfortable. Be warned, however, that design requirements force installation of bottom cushions that rise at such an angle as to provide outstanding thigh support, perhaps too much for those of shorter stature, and to cause the second-row seats to feel undersized to larger people. Additionally, the less abdominally fit of the species may struggle to exit the Grand Caravan, especially the third-row seat.
Anyone who has ever wrestled a second-row minivan seat from the vehicle to the garage to maximize cargo volume is likely to find this a small price to pay for the ability to simply store the seat in the Grand Caravan’s floor.
Likewise, the convenience of sliding side doors cannot be overstated, especially when you are the parent of a child who requires assistance with getting into and out of a vehicle.
Look, I know minivans aren’t cool, but neither is back surgery for ruptured discs. With sliding side doors, lifting children into and out of child safety seats is an absolute breeze. Additionally, as they get older and start opening their own doors, with a minivan’s sliders you will never find yourself cringing and A.) writing an apologetic note to a stranger or B.) speeding away from the scene of the crime after one of your offspring damages a neighboring vehicle by throwing a door open with wanton abandon.2013 Dodge Grand Caravan Road Test and Review: Features and Controls
- Optional Blu-Ray DVD entertainment system for Crew and R/T models
The 2013 Dodge Grand Caravan doesn’t look particularly high-tech, but it is, depending on the model you purchase. My Grand Caravan Crew model had standard triple-zone automatic climate control, power sliding side doors, a power liftgate, remote engine starting to warm the van on cold days and cool the van on warm ones, an electronic vehicle information center, and full LED and ambient cabin lighting.
Options on my Grand Caravan included Bluetooth hands-free calling and music streaming with Uconnect Voice Command capability, a hard-drive Uconnect information and entertainment system with navigation, a dual-screen rear-seat entertainment system with a Blu-Ray DVD player, and numerous safety-related technologies.
Most of this stuff is easy to use without referencing the owner’s manual, and most of it is located within easy reach for the driver. My preference would be to divorce radio controls from the Uconnect touchscreen and to use knobs instead of buttons for changing the climate system’s temperature, but otherwise the Grand Caravan’s controls are simple, straightforward, and located in logical locations.2013 Dodge Grand Caravan Road Test and Review: Safety and Ratings
- Trailer Sway Damping system is standard
In addition to expected standard safety features, the Grand Caravan is equipped with a knee air bag for the driver and a new Trailer Sway Damping system. The Crew and R/T models have standard Bluetooth hands-free calling.
The SXT, Crew, and R/T models can be optioned with a reversing camera. The Crew and R/T can also be upgraded with the Safety Sphere Package, containing a blind-spot monitoring system, a rear cross-path detection system, rear parking assist sensors, rain-sensing wipers, and automatic headlights. Uconnect Voice Command technology is also offered for the Crew and R/T models.
2013 Dodge Grand Caravan Crash-Test Ratings:
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the 2013 Grand Caravan is a “Top Safety Pick.” In crash tests conducted by the NHTSA, the Grand Caravan receives an overall rating of 4 stars. Diving deeper into individual NHTSA assessments, the minivan achieves either a 4-star or a 5-star rating in each individual assessment, making it a safe vehicle in which to transport passengers.2013 Dodge Grand Caravan Road Test and Review: Engines and Fuel Economy
- No changes for 2013
Hope you like the 283-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 engine and the 6-speed automatic transmission that Dodge installs in every Grand Caravan, because you have no choice in the matter. Good thing it’s an excellent powertrain, delivering plenty of acceleration and, the majority of the time, smooth shifting.
A “fuel economizer” mode, activated using an “Econ” button on the dashboard, modifies transmission shift points to help maximize fuel economy, doing its best to help the van achieve EPA ratings of 17 mpg in the city, 25 mpg on the highway, and 20 mpg in combined driving. We achieved 20.5 mpg, traveling primarily on the highway, and driving with that “Econ” button engaged most of the time.2013 Dodge Grand Caravan Road Test and Review: Driving Impressions
When the current generation Grand Caravan arrived back in 2008, it had an underpowered and thirsty engine, a sloppy transmission, floppy steering, and suspension tuning that made the van drive like it was rolling on four underinflated tires. I was utterly astounded by how uncompetitive the completely redesigned Grand Caravan was.
Starting in 2011, that changed, and today’s Grand Caravan is, dynamically, an equal to anything in the minivan class.
The 3.6-liter V-6 engine is the lauded “Pentastar” engine, one of the 10 Best Engines according to Ward’s Auto, an industry trade journal. Dodge uses this V-6 in everything it makes except for the Dart compact sedan. The engine makes plenty of horsepower and torque, more than enough to chirp the Grand Caravan’s inside front wheel when powering out of an intersection, and is bolted to a 6-speed automatic transmission with two shift programs and a manual shift mode.
When the engine’s fuel economizer mode is engaged by pressing the “Econ” button on the dashboard, the transmission is lazy about responding to throttle inputs in order to keep engine revs low to maximize gas mileage. This characteristic is easily resolved, and with the “Econ” feature turned off, the transmission isn’t shy about downshifting and providing a swell of additional motive force. Even with a full load of passengers, merging onto a freeway ought not be a problem with the Grand Caravan.
I mentioned earlier that the Grand Caravan’s driver grips a thick-rimmed steering wheel, wrapped in soft and smooth leather in our Crew test van. This wheel is connected to a steering system that supplies decent communication about the road surface, but which also requires slightly more effort than most people might prefer. On the highway, the Grand Caravan tracks resolutely, requiring few course corrections.
The Grand Caravan’s ride and handling are confidence inspiring until the van is driven in an unintended manner. Obviously, this isn’t the right choice for tackling a favorite twisty road, and even the top R/T trim level, which Dodge claims is equipped with a “high-performance” suspension, is unlikely to inspire much more than fear if driven near the Grand Caravan’s modest handling limits.
Rather, on the city streets, suburban boulevards, divided highways, and freeways of America, the Grand Caravan offers a solid, almost firm, ride quality and good cornering roll control combined with a level of compliance tuned to keep everyone comfortable. Dynamically, the Grand Caravan is absolutely competitive with anything in the class.2013 Dodge Grand Caravan Road Test and Review: Final Thoughts
Minivan buyers care about functionality, utility, safety, reliability, and value. There is no other reason for buying one. Nobody purchases a minivan for beautiful design, for the image it conveys, or because it is fun to drive.
With that in mind, the Dodge Grand Caravan possesses just one primary flaw, but it is the one most responsible for handing the retail minivan consumer over to Honda and Toyota: reliability. Anybody buying a vehicle for purely practical reasons is likely to consult Consumer Reports first, and anybody buying a minivan will cross the Dodge Grand Caravan off of the consideration list after consulting the publication’s reliability history charts.
Until red dots start replacing black dots on those charts, Dodge will continue to struggle to sell the Grand Caravan to the general public. But I will say this. The massive discounts offered for the Grand Caravan in comparison to the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna, both in terms of the sticker price and nearly continuous rebate programs, will pay for a killer extended warranty.2013 Dodge Grand Caravan Road Test and Review: Pros and Cons
- Useful Stow ‘N Go seats
- Powerful 3.6-liter V-6 engine
- Capable ride and handling
- Surprisingly sophisticated technology
- Excellent safety ratings
- Impressive value equation
- Poor reliability record according to Consumer Reports
- Unimpressive fuel economy
- Cloth seats collect lint and pet hair, generate static
- Dowdy design, even for a minivan
Dodge supplied the vehicle for this review
2013 Dodge Grand Caravan photos by Christian Wardlaw