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.