Posted: 11/16/07 11:57 AM
2008 Motor Trend COTY Contender: Dodge Grand Caravan
Posted November 12 2007 05:13 PM by Kim Reynolds
It isn't easy being a domestic minivan these days. So far, the big squeeze from the Asian competition and a shrinking minivan market segment has given two of Detroit's minivan makers the Big Sleep. Ford's Freestar is dead and buried, and GM has conveniently reincarnated its various lament-resistant minivans into "crossovers."
Chrysler's perseverance amid all this white-flag-raising is fairly striking then. Maybe having originated the minivan segment (at least in its U.S. sense) stiffens your backbone in these situations.
And speaking of those original, boxy 1984 Voyagers and Caravans, Chrysler appears to have revisited them, at least inspirationally. Dodge's Grand Caravan (and counterpart, Chrysler Town & Country) isn't only nearly two inches longer, but its flank's tumblehome is darn near shipping-container vertical. Its shape has an almost commercial-duty air: Bob's Plumbing seems to ghostly appear on its side and then fades away. Adding to its practicality, it rolls only on a long wheelbase now. Good for ladders.
Inside, however, the cabin is exactly the opposite of what the exterior advertises-it's like walking into a high-tech gym set up inside a featureless warehouse. While the dash's design is jarring (and its plastics are downright eye-rolling) when optioned to the hilt as our as was our test vehicle, the interior can be a sight to behold. For instance, there are multiple DVD screens that can play different programs simultaneously-even kid entertainment from Sirius Backseat TV. Also available is Swivel 'n Go seating, which lets the second-row chairs face the third row over an erectable table. Strangely, all this is scaled for smaller people. Or maybe that's really not so strange.
There are three V-6 engines available (would Honda or Toyota do this?). At the bottom of the totem pole is a feeble but flex-fuel 175-horse, 3.3-liter coupled to a gear-sparse four-speed automatic. Above that are a recycled 197-horse, 3.8-liter and a new 251-horse, 4.0-liter, both of which spool into a minivan-first six-speed automatic.
The 4.0-liter gives a surprisingly strong punch in the back, but the van's vacuous, phantom-limb steering feel short circuits any driver rewards behind the wheel. Too bad. Will that hold it back from being the 2008 COTY winner?