2014 Dodge Grand Caravan Review and Quick Spin: Introduction
Thirty years ago, Chrysler Corporation, improbably rebounding from a near-death experience, built and sold the first modern minivan. To celebrate, the 2014 Dodge Grand Caravan is available with a new 30th Anniversary Edition trim package, and as the resident dad-with-kids reviewer here at Autobytel, guess who got the keys for this assignment, despite having just reviewed the Grand Caravan last year.
Thaaaaaat’s right. Me.
So I did what most dads-with-little-kids do when they’re in Southern California and have a set of keys to a Dodge Grand Caravan. I drove it to Disneyland during the morning rush-hour with a DVD of “Frozen” playing on the rear-seat entertainment screen and a couple of princesses singing as loud as they possibly could while secured in the second-row Stow ‘N Go captain’s chairs.
Now, to some of you that might sound like a hellish way to spend a day, but let me share with you daddies out there a lesson I learned the hard way. (It’s a long story.) Time passes in what seems like an instant. One moment you’re changing a poopy diaper, and the next you’re attending high school graduation ceremonies. Enjoy every single minute you can, especially when they’re young. It will help to keep you that way.
2014 Dodge Grand Caravan Review and Quick Spin: About our Test Car
So, what’s makes a 2014 Dodge Grand Caravan 30th Anniversary Edition so special? This upgrade, offered only for the SE ($25,690) and SXT ($28,990) models, includes handsome 17-inch aluminum wheels and multiple badges declaring the van a “30th Anniversary” version lest anyone in the elementary school pick-up lane gets confused. Additional upgrades include Uconnect hands-free voice-command connectivity, satellite radio, heated body-color side mirrors, an auto-dimming interior rearview mirror, and a long list of interior trim upgrades such as contrast stitching for the black cloth seats, a black headliner and overhead console, black leather wrapped around the steering wheel and shift knob, and Piano Black interior trim. Crystal Granite Pearl Coat paint, seen here, is exclusive to the 30th Anniversary Edition models.
When you apply this celebratory treatment to the Grand Caravan SXT, it also adds leatherette seats with suede inserts, a 10-way power driver’s seat, power adjustable pedals, power sliding side doors, a power rear liftgate, and a Super Center Console for front seat occupants. Exterior enhancements for the SXT 30th Anniversary Edition model include polished aluminum wheels with Satin Carbon inserts, fog lights, automatic headlights, and extra chrome trim.
My test van was the SXT 30th Anniversary Edition model optioned with a navigation system and a single-screen DVD rear entertainment system. The total price tag came to $31,085, including the $995 destination charge. You won’t actually pay that much, though, not with the rebates and incentives that are available on this van.
2014 Dodge Grand Caravan Review and Quick Spin: Styling and Design
If you agree with me, then you think a nice set of aluminum wheels instantly makes any vehicle look better, and that’s the case with the Grand Caravan SXT 30th Anniversary Edition. As minivans go, the Grand Caravan is conservative in design and, as a result, remains one of the more visually appealing nameplates in the segment, which lately is populated by some strange-looking models. The wheels, the fog lights, and the chrome detailing give the SXT 30th Anniversary a more substantial appearance than its price tag might otherwise suggest.
That same theme of value applies when it comes to the minivan’s interior. The leatherette seats with suede inserts, the two-tone black and gray décor, the Super Center Console, the upscale Piano Black trim and chrome detailing, and the dark headliner all give the 30th Anniversary model a more upscale look than buyers might expect given the affordable price tag.
If you’re not familiar with the Grand Caravan, then you probably don’t know that the seats never need to be removed in order to expand cargo capacity. Like other minivans, the third-row seat drops into the trunk well for storage, creating a flat load floor. In this minivan, though, the second-row captain’s chairs also collapse and fold into the floor, which is why Dodge says the Grand Caravan is equipped with Stow ‘N Go seating. Aside from its corporate twin, the Town & Country, the Grand Caravan is the only minivan with this feature, which makes it easy to haul home large, spur-of-the-moment purchases.
2014 Dodge Grand Caravan Review and Quick Spin: Comfort and Quality
Designed to seat seven people, but comfortable for no more than six, the 2014 Grand Caravan is equipped with comfortable front seats. Those installed in my SXT 30th Anniversary model looked firm and substantially bolstered, but their appearance proved deceiving. Instead, they’re soft yet supportive, equipped with plush inboard armrests and cushy spots on the door panels where elbows frequently rest.
One thing you need to know, though, is that the seat is positioned relatively close to the steering wheel and dashboard, even when moved all the way back in its track. Power adjustable pedals and a tilt/telescopic steering wheel helped me to find a proper driving position, but the controls always felt like they were too close for comfort.
As for passenger comfort, a by-product of Stow ‘N Go seating is that the second-row captain’s chairs are somewhat narrow, with bottom cushions that are positioned at a steep angle. They also can’t be moved forward and back, and legroom is tight against the hard plastic on the front seatbacks. Adults feel cramped when seated in these positions, and kids in car seats kick the front seat backs all the dang way to Disneyland.
Unexpectedly, the third-row seat is the more comfortable position for adults. It has a severely canted bottom cushion that makes it hard to hoist oneself out, but during the ride the third-row occupants enjoy outstanding thigh support and impressive legroom. Perhaps the trick is to tuck the second-row captain’s chairs into the floor and just use the third-row seat, limo-style.
Hauling stuff is not a problem for a Dodge Grand Caravan. It can carry 33 cu.-ft. of cargo behind its third-row seat, and if you fold that seat into the trunk well the Grand Caravan swallows 83.3 cu.-ft. of flotsam and jetsam. Fold the second-row seats into the floor and it handles 143.8 cu.-ft. of whatever you need to carry. That’s not quite as much as the Honda Odyssey or Toyota Sienna, but you also need not yank the Dodge’s second-row seats out and find a place to store them, like you do with the Honda and Toyota.
2014 Dodge Grand Caravan Review and Quick Spin: Features and Controls
Dodge really needs to redesign the Grand Caravan’s dashboard. The problem has nothing to do with the crisp, clear gauge cluster or the arrangement of the primary and secondary controls. Everything inside of this van is easy to find and straightforward in terms of operation.
Rather, the problem is the Uconnect technology housed at the top of the dashboard over the air vents. Maximum touch screen display size is just 6.5 inches, and this is Dodge’s old-school Uconnect system, not its outstanding modern setup with an 8.4-inch touchscreen and gorgeous graphics. Still, this version of Uconnect is more pleasurable to use than most infotainment systems, even if the version in the Grand Caravan isn’t running the most up-to-date software. It comes with a 28 gigs of hard drive storage space for music and family photos, features voice command technology, includes a USB port, and is paired with a reversing camera. Plus, the touchscreen is responsive without being too sensitive, a great combination when the system’s operator is riding in a vehicle that may or may not be jouncing around on lousy pavement.
Using the rear-seat DVD player was a no brainer, too. We loaded the disc, and it automatically started playing. Thank you, Dodge, for inferring that when a parent loads a movie into the DVD slot, the intent is to watch a movie right away.
The Super Center Console that comes in this version of the Grand Caravan is excellent, offering large cupholders, twin covered storage bins, and a pass-through lower bin. It precludes someone from getting up and moving to the rear of the vehicle, but those days are long gone anyway. Might as well put useful storage in that location, so Dodge does.
My test vehicle also had something called an Observation Mirror, which deploys from the overhead console and allows the driver to see what’s going on in every seating location. An excellent tool for settling family disputes, this Observation Mirror is also good for causing fathers to utter profanities. Well, in my experience, it is. That’s because I whacked my head on it at least three times in the space of a week while getting myself situated behind the Grand Caravan’s meaty steering wheel.
2014 Dodge Grand Caravan Review and Quick Spin: Safety Matters
Dodge offers few modern safety technologies on the 2014 Grand Caravan. A reversing camera and rear parking assist sensors are optional for all models except for the R/T trim level, on which they are standard, and my SXT 30th Anniversary model had this upgrade. Dodge does offer a Blind Spot Monitor with Cross Path Detection as an option, but only on the most expensive R/T model.
Otherwise, the Grand Caravan is light on modern safety equipment, and because this minivan’s version of Uconnect can’t be upgraded to Uconnect Access services, it doesn’t provide the Emergency and Roadside Assistance technology that Dodge offers on some of its models.
Based on existing crash-test ratings, the Grand Caravan is a reasonably safe conveyance for a family. It gets top marks from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but hasn’t been subjected to the small overlap frontal-impact test yet, so the jury is still out on whether or not it provides “Top Safety Pick” levels of protection.
In tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Grand Caravan earns an overall rating of 4 stars, mainly due to 4-star protection levels for the driver and front passenger in the frontal-impact test. The van provides 5-star protection in all side-impact assessments.
2014 Dodge Grand Caravan Review and Quick Spin: Driving Impressions
Equipped with a 3.6-liter V-6 engine generating 283 horsepower, the 2014 Grand Caravan is the most powerful minivan available today, not counting its corporate twin, the Chrysler Town & Country. There is a trade-off associated with such status, though. The Grand Caravan’s key competitors are more fuel-efficient than the Dodge.
According to the EPA, the Grand Caravan is rated to return 17 mpg in the city, 25 mpg on the highway, and 20 mpg in combined driving. The van is also equipped with a Fuel Economizer driving mode, which adjusts powertrain calibration in an effort to conserve gas. During my test-driving, I averaged 19.5 mpg, using the Fuel Economizer mode only occasionally.
The reason I didn’t keep the thriftier setting engaged is because the 6-speed automatic transmission became irritatingly befuddled in this mode. It tries to upshift as rapidly as is possible, making the minivan feel sluggish and lethargic. The driver responds by pushing down harder on the accelerator pedal, and that’s when the transmission gets confused about what it should be doing. The result is entirely unsatisfactory.
Something else that’s dissatisfying about the Grand Caravan is the braking system. With my wife and two kids aboard, I drove the Dodge up and over the Santa Monica Mountains from the beach to Agoura Hills. This route takes a driver from sea level to about 1,800 feet in elevation before dipping back down a quarter of a mile. Coming down from the crest of the road, the Grand Caravan’s brakes heated up fast, making a terrible noise not unlike that of an evil villain getting vanquished near the end of a Disney flick. To their credit, they did not fade much, but they made quite a ruckus that did not inspire confidence. I can’t imagine that people who rent Grand Caravans for SoCal summer vacations would have anything positive to say about this Dodge after experiencing something like that.
Perhaps because the Grand Caravan has been marketed as a “Man Van,” it rides firmly. Still, the connected highway ride quality doesn’t translate into genuine handling prowess, so you’ll want to take corners with care, and twisty roads ought to be avoided. Additionally, the steering requires more effort to turn when parking a Grand Caravan, but I didn’t find it onerous despite my flabby middle-aged biceps.
2014 Dodge Grand Caravan Review and Quick Spin: Final Thoughts
Thirty years ago, the Dodge Caravan was an instant success with families seeking a more fuel-efficient way to carry a whole bunch of people and a whole bunch of stuff. For decades afterward, the larger successor to the original, the Grand Caravan, was the innovator in the segment.
Today, that’s no longer true, and Dodge has relinquished its position of leadership to Honda and Toyota. Nevertheless, the 2014 Dodge Grand Caravan represents an excellent value. It is, however, unquestionably in need of a complete redesign.
Dodge provided the 2014 Grand Caravan for this review
2014 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT 30th Anniversary photos by Christian Wardlaw
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