2012 Dodge Grand Caravan R/T review: Man cave on wheels?

2012 Dodge Grand Caravan R/T

2012 Dodge Grand Caravan R/T

The first time there are several large boxes to bring home from the home store, or several large boxes to take to the parcel delivery company, the decision to own a Dodge Grand Caravan—with Stow ‘n Go seats—will be wisdom incarnate. Stow ‘n Go, which allows the rear seats to tumble into a well at the very rear of the vehicle much like the Honda Oddyssey, can also fold and flip the middle row seats into a well under the floor between the front and middle row seat.

Ladies and gentlemen, by a knockout, the winnah.

Of course, a minivan is more than tricky seats, but combined with Chrysler Group’s new award-winning 3.6-liter V-6 and upgraded interior, the Dodge Grand Caravan is at the head of an admittedly diminished though still formidable field.

2012 Dodge Grand Caravan R/T

The 2012 Dodge Grand Caravan R/T has a monochrome body-color grille. (Click to enlarge)

The three-point-six six is now the only engine available in the Grand Caravan. Not only does it simplify production to have only one engine queued up for installation on the assembly line, the new engine has more power and it more fuel efficient than the engines it replaces. It’s rated at a class-leading 286 horsepower with 260 lb-ft of torque and still has an EPA rating of 17/25 mpg city/highway. Chrysler credits what it calls best-in-class aerodynamics, reduced mechanical drag and a choice of low rolling resistance tires as contributors to the official fuel economy numbers.

The 2012 Grand Caravan also has a driver-selectable “fuel economizer mode.” The driver can switch over to programming of the transmission to shift up at lower rpm. Of course, it’s easy to overcome any fuel savings by pushing harder on the pedal on the right. For those expecting a certain level of performance, the economizer mode just makes the Grand Caravan feel sluggish.

The Dodge Grand Caravan lineup for 2012 adds an “American Value Package” for a new lower-priced model that retains all of the mechanical goodness of the Grand Caravan lineup with a starting price of $20,995. It’s not a stripper, with major features including Stow ‘n Go, power windows, mirrors and locks with keyless remote, and cruise control as part of the package. Going up the scale are the usual Dodge trim levels, SE, SXT and Crew.

The 2012 Dodge Grand Caravan R/T has a leather-covered steering wheel and shift knob and leather seating with red accent stitching

The 2012 Dodge Grand Caravan R/T has a leather-covered steering wheel and shift knob and leather seating with red accent stitching. (Click to enlarge)

The 2012 Grand Caravan lineup also has an R/T trim package, the model we tested. Billed as a “man van”, the Grand Caravan R/T has a monochromatic exterior and R/T-only 17-inch alloy wheels, while the interior features black leather with contrasting red accent stitching. The audio system has nine amplified Infinity speakers with a 506-watt amplifier for its subwoofer.

The R/T and Crew share a number of standard features, including a single rear overhead console system, overhead ambient surround lighting, remote start, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, “super console”, electronic vehicle information center (EVIC) centered between the speedometer and tachometer, eight-way power driver’s seat, and a “Media Center 430N” in the center stack that includes 30GB hard drive, Gracenote Music ID and audio jack. Only the R/T and Crew have the option of Garmin navigation.

It’s a recurring complaint here, but we are not enamored with the Garmin nav. It’s not that it doesn’t give proper directions. It’s just that the lines are too thick, like they were written with a crayon intead of a pen.

And only the R/T has the Media Center 730N as an option and too many things to list here. Apparently you have to be a manly man to have everything, even more so than if you have a crew.

And that’s really just the start. See your dealer or dodge.com for a more detailed listing.

Only the R/T, however, has performance suspension. We recommend that one not get too high hopes about it. The R/T is still a minivan and there’s only so much that can be done for a vehicle with a minivan’s high center of gravity. But Dodge has given the Grand Caravan R/T stiffer shocks with retuned shocks for a ride as firm as most would want while maintaining a comfortable ride.