There are some major changes in the 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan – some you’ll notice immediately and some that aren't evident to the eye, but quickly evident when driving.
The perennial "owner" of the minivan class for 27 consecutive years, the Windsor, Ontario-built Grand Caravan has received a major makeover inside. There are some exterior changes, too, yet the look is strongly familiar.
The interior is considerably upgraded and there is a new engine and a new transmission. The Stow-N-Go seats are improved and the suspension upgraded resulting in a much more refined vehicle.
Safety has also been enhanced with seat-mounted airbags and a knee blocker airbag. All of this, valued at $2,500, has resulted in a negligible $500 price increase.
Exterior changes include new fascias front and rear, new lights, a new lift gate, wheels, taillights and roof rack. Inside you’ll find a new instrument panel, centre console and steering wheel.
The old, shiny, hard plastics have been replaced with pebble-finish soft-touch materials resulting in a much more upscale look. The Stow N Go seats now are larger and offer more comfort than the slim first generation, yet fold flat to the floor with the simple tug of a lever.
The new corporate Pentastar V-6, which produces 283 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque on regular fuel in this application, replaces all three V-6s offered previously. It is paired with a smooth shifting new six-speed automatic transmission
The new engine/transmission combination endow this big box with a fair degree of punch, especially off the line. Acceleration from rest to 100 takes about 7.5 seconds, excellent for such a big vehicle.
The new engine is smooth and quiet, a huge improvement over any of the old sixes. It doesn’t do too poorly in the fuel consumption department either, despite having to lug around almost 2270 kg (5,000 lb) of "mini" van.
Transport Canada says you can expect to get 7.9 litres/100 km on the highway and 12.3 in the city. I averaged 12.5 litres/100 over 800-km of mixed but mostly highway driving and noticed no difference when employing the "eco" mode through the button on the instrument panel.
The suspension revisions and other detail changes have resulted in a much quieter and improved ride/handling mix. It clearly isn’t a sports car and neither it nor the occupants would appreciate being treated as such. But driven in a normal manner, it handles the turns well and provides a comfy ride down the straight bits, even if the surface is less than ideal.
The tester was in Grand Caravan Crew trim with Stow ‘n Go. There is nothing "mini" about this van – it remains the Ace of Space. What has made this vehicle one of the most successful in the history of the industry is its versatility per dollar factor.
Whether you are toting a basketball team, quartet of mountain bikes or deck’s worth of building supplies, the Grand Caravan does it all. Add to that the ability to accommodate a bunch of stuff on the roof, thanks to a clever new roof rack system with crossbars that swivel to the side and out of the way and airstream when not in use.
The ability to customize the interior layout, combined with the fact the rear seats – all of them – fold flat to the floor, makes this minivan stand out. The Stow ‘n Go seat system is unparalleled. Either or both second row bucket seats can be lowered into their own well which, when the seats are in position makes for great, hidden storage space.
The same goes for the third row seat(s). Access to the third row and space once there are exemplary. A lever on the side of the mid-row buckets causes them to fold and flip forward for ingress and egress and the back row allows plenty of head and legroom for adults. Fold all those seats unto the floor and the result is a cavernous 4,073 litres of cargo space.
My test vehicle was equipped with enough infotainment to keep a pre-school occupied. There were screens for both second and third rows, a multimedia system that includes a hard drive for recording and playing back your own games and movies, CD/DVD player, USB and Bluetooth provisions and – hurrah! – a Garmin-sourced navigation system that is thousands of dollars less expensive than those offered by other manufacturers.
The base price of the Crew trim level test vehicle was $34,000 but bulged to $40,000 with options. The result included a raft of standard equipment including tri-zone climate control, alloy wheels, power windows, locks and doors (including sliding side doors), remote keyless entry, power-adjustable pedals and driver’s seat, rear-seat entertainment system, nav system, heated steering wheel and heated front and second row seats.
Another thing that separates the Grand Caravan from the pack is a seemingly constant string of rebates and other offers that will trim thousands off the above-mentioned price.
More refined, powerful and fuel efficient, the new Grand Caravan offers more versatility per dollar.