The Dodge Caravan has stayed atop the minivan heap for 22 years by steadfastly adhering to the basics.
It and the Plymouth Voyager virtually invented the mass market minivan. The twins also foreshadowed the car-based SUVs (CUVs) of today. The Chrysler minivans were based on K-car platforms and cars form the basis for most of the imitators then and now.
Their first priority has always been that the minivan must fit in a garage. Remember before the minivan, there were only full-sized tall vans that couldn't get into regular garages.
So minivans were designed to be easy to get in and out of (see execs, Chrysler). The driving position should be commanding and the view panoramic. There should be a host of occupant friendly features ranging from grocery bag hooks to stow away seats to power side doors and liftgates. Caravan should be sensible and practical ready to carry the soccer team (and their mom) or the grandkids (and their grandparents.)
In short, there are never too many cupholders in a minivan.
Chrysler's Stow'N'Go seating folds second and third row seats into the floor. There's decent room in the second and third row seating as well. The stow feature is valued at $3,150 and there's no extra charge, Chrysler says. Buyers can also save $10 by taking the assist handle delete credit.
It's also probably a good idea to move away from the original four-speed manual transmission on the floor and the old four-cylinder engine, as well. (A new 2.4L 4 banger is available.)
The 3.8L V-6 is mated to a four speed automatic transmission that will get the Grand Caravan to 60 mph in 10.6 seconds with a little front wheel drive spin. There's plenty of lean on curves and sharp, high-speed turns are to be avoided. The ride is nice and comfortable. This is a pleasant cross-country cruiser (minus the soccer team, of course).
The driving position is great via an eight-way power seat that is heated. There's an unobstructed view of the windshield washers. The door arm rest seems a bit far away but there's one for the right arm. In keeping with its functional heritage, the leather seats remind some of the original vinyl. The radio/navigation screen continues to baffle those electronically challenged who only want to preset radio stations.
Outside, there's a nice bold Dodge Ram style grille. Subtle curves in the body and darkened windows lend an almost sleek profile.
The power sliders and rear tailgate work nicely off the key tab or from instrument panel switches. Other goodies can include the DVD video screen, satellite radio, adjustable pedals and load leveling.
It's all a far cry from 1984 and yet it isn't.