With several hundred miles – over the last month – spent behind the wheel of Ford’s Galaxy minivan and (most recently) Dodge’s Grand Caravan, I can be forgiven (I’ll hope) for brandishing the mannerisms, if not the actual appearance, of the world’s most unattractive soccer mom. And while the domestic-centric Grand Caravan is an ocean removed from Ford of Germany’s urban/suburban people hauler, the duo’s combination of comfort and utility can prove both compelling and – I’ll admit it – cumulatively addictive.
Dodge’s Grand Caravan and its corporate stablemate, Chrysler’s Town & Country, are almost ubiquitous on this side of the Atlantic. Launched in the mid-‘80s by Lee Iacocca’s Chrysler Corporation, Chrysler’s minivan was one of a great many innovations credited – at some point in the last century – for ‘saving the corporation’. And there remains a lot to like about the formula – a relatively small footprint containing oodles(?) of utility – even as that formula has been co-opted by any number of competing manufacturers. With increased competition the once-dominant Chrysler offerings have been taking a back seat (in style points, if not in actual sales) to more contemporary models from Honda and Toyota. However, with a residential move in the offing and the very real need to haul the miscellany you don’t want the movers to move, we borrowed a Dodge Grand Caravan for our once-in-a-generation commitment to a new zip code.
Our test Grand Caravan, enjoying a midrange level of equipment and modest MSRP, was conservatively dressed in a silver metallic exterior and, inside, a durable black cloth. With a base window sticker for the SXT of just under $27K (plus destination), the Grand Caravan certainly offers bang for the buck, but then, its tooling was paid for on or around Iacocca’s first communion. Slab sides and overtly angular lines provide the Grand Caravan with an excess of utility, but you probably won’t use it to pick up members of the opposite sex, unless – of course – they’re turned on by unattractive men posing (albeit reluctantly) as soccer moms.
Power is provided by Chrysler’s newish 3.6 liter V6. In this guise it delivers 283 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque through Chrysler’s 62TE six-speed automatic. Unloaded, the minivan platform borders on responsive, while with the load area filled to the rafters (or whatever serves as a rafter on a minivan) the Dodge does more than get out of its own way. We were reasonably satisfied with the Dodge’s around-town disposition, more pleased on the highway.
The real story is on the inside. The Grand Caravan’s length, angular sides and ‘Super Stow ‘n Go’ seating make the Grand Caravan easy to like in any situation, but absolutely love in a residential move. Got boxes? Check. Have small furnishings with odd shapes (no jokes, please…)? Check. Need to move a couple of bicycles while still taking the requisite poundage of simple stuff? Check. The ease with which the Dodge minivan took virtually whatever we threw at it was nothing short of amazing. And while the move wasn’t over too soon (it’ll never be over…), our time with the Grand Caravan – regrettably – was all too brief.
We did have adequate time, however, to muse on this country’s continued fascination with oversized – and overhyped – pickups, while relegating the minivan (in far too many instances) to the world of car pools and soccer practice. With a relatively low step-in height and easy-opening doors, ingress and egress – getting in and getting out – is child’s play for both adults and, well, children. And once inside a passenger is seated comfortably, regardless of where that seat happens to be located.
Of course, if – like us – you happen to be hauling things rather than people, the Stow ‘n Go seating is worth its weight in gold. While not perhaps as intuitive to actuate as we might have thought, the process of folding the seats into the floor remains far easier than actually removing seats from a van’s interior. And to that end, we – after over a week of stowing and going – wouldn’t have it any other way. A decent (if not entertaining) platform, willing drivetrain and amazing livability puts the Grand Caravan high on my list of desirable American vehicles.
Now, as Chrysler contemplates the next generation I have a few suggestions. First, let’s reintroduce all-wheel drive, something Chrysler offered roughly a decade ago. Sure, front-wheel drive meets most needs most of the time, but for the committed all-season traveler he or she should have all-season capability. And with all-wheel drive, throw in a couple of inches of additional ground clearance. You’re not – of course – going boulder-hopping, but ground clearance similar to that offered in Subaru’s Outback (8+ inches) would be a godsend. Also, provide a chassis dynamic where the driver can discern a modicum of entertainment value. No, we won’t take a Grand Caravan autocrossing, but if it had the on-road, Euro-influenced feel of Ford’s Galaxy it would be even more attractive.
Finally, in the build-out of the current model we’d create some special editions recalling the Chrysler minivan’s three decades of success. And in a tribute to Iacocca we’d coat one in bright orange and – you guessed it – dub it ‘General Lee’.