For decades, the Dodge Grand Caravan has proved its mettle as a family carrier, as ready for highway excursions as it is for quick jaunts around town. Long considered an exceptional value among minivans, the Grand Caravan has gotten old. Little has changed for the 2016 model year, since a new generation of minivans is expected soon and it looks long in the tooth.
Still ranked among the most flexible minivans you can buy, the Grand Caravan has fallen victim to more stringent crash-testing programs. Safety counts big in family vehicles, and Dodge falls short. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives it only a four-star overall rating. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety declared Grand Caravan Poor in the new small-overlap crash test, though better in other testing.
Advantages of the Grand Caravan include strong V6 power, fine visibility, and exceptionally flexible seating. Grand Caravan handily tops its more up-to-date competitors, including the Honda Odyssey, with a terrific system called Stow ‘n Go. Standard on all but the base SE trim, Stow ‘n Go permits second- and third-row seats to fold flat into spaces within the floor. When seats are up, those spaces can serve as storage bins.
One drivetrain is available: a 283-horsepower, 3.6-liter V6, mating with a 6-speed automatic transmission. Gas mileage is about average for a minivan, EPA-rated at 17/25 mpg City/Highway, or 20 mpg Combined. Honda’s Odyssey manages a Highway rating of 28 mpg. However, we have observed 28 mpg on the highway in both the Grand Caravan and the Odyssey. An Eco switch adapts shift patterns for optimal fuel economy on the Dodge.
Except for a hint of groaning from the V6 now and then, it’s a smooth powertrain, with no shortage of low-end or midrange power. Steering and ride quality don’t quite match Odyssey or Quest, yet a Grand Caravan feels composed on the open highway. Over sequential bumps, on the other hand, the Grand Caravan tends to bound, revealing that its suspension damping could be better.
Dodge offers a Blacktop package that includes silver-painted 17-inch wheels with gloss black pockets, black grille and headlight housings, and an all-black interior, including the headliner.
Although curves aren’t absent from its body, the Grand Caravan is essentially a big, space-efficient box on wheels. Just a glance at the relatively plain shape proclaims exactly what this vehicle provides. Namely, storage space, coupled with abundant room for passengers.
Other minivans may display more curves and decorative touches, but the clean, no-fuss, wholly practical profile of a Grand Caravan has held up nicely for a long while now. Few details differentiate the Grand Caravan from the closely related Chrysler Town & Country, apart from the Dodge crosshair grille. LED taillamps are shared with several sporty models, elsewhere in the Dodge lineup. Power sliding doors (if installed) close gently, rebounding when sensing an obstruction.
Like the exterior, the cabin of a Grand Caravan is both functional and attractive. The slim, relatively low-sitting dashboard helps produce a pleasantly airy feeling. Textures are appealing, imparting a sense of quality, though grainy plastic components can be found in the rear.
With the cleverly devised, fold-away Stow ‘n Go seats installed, the Chrysler/Dodge minivans outrank all the competition in flexibility and cargo space. With seats folded, a 4×8-foot plywood can fit inside.
Front seats could stand more firm support, as they’re somewhat spongy, but passengers enjoy abundant space all around. Second-row bucket seats are quite firm, thinly padded and less plush than seats in some rival minivans. Base SE models have a second-row bench instead. Outward visibility is quite good, courtesy of a huge greenhouse.
As in most minivans, the third row best for youngsters, though at least possible for smaller grown-ups. That row folds away manually, or via the optional power-fold system. Adding a movable/removable super console yields handy covered space between the seats.
Rolling down the highway in a Grand Caravan, you’d hardly know the model is more than three decades old. Handling might be predictable and seemingly unexceptional, but Dodge’s strong 283-horsepower V6 and 6-speed automatic still deliver the goods in acceleration.
Other engines feel smoother, but Grand Caravan and its Chrysler counterpart are the top-performing minivans of the lot. Push on the gas pedal of a Grand Caravan and you experience intense response, which belies its role as basic, practical transportation. At low-end and midrange speeds, the V6 is smartly responsive, and you can feel its torque-filled nature. Competitive minivans perform almost as briskly, but they don’t necessarily deliver that sort of sensation.
Even its handling is more engaging than might be expected, not so far removed from a Quest or Odyssey.
Compared to rival minivans, the ride is nearly cushiony. However, the Grand Caravan bounds forward and back when crossing a series of low bumps, as its suspension tends to smother pavement flaws. The R/T edition feels more like an Odyssey, courtesy of its more distinct suspension tuning. For overall road/steering feel, however, Honda’s minivan gets the nod.
The Dodge Grand Caravan stands tall on value, matching rivals in terms of features that ease long-distance journeys. We would order our Grand Caravan with Stow ‘n Go, power sliding side doors, and a power liftgate.
Driving impressions by Marty Padgett, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.