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WHEELBASE: 119.3 in. +6 in.
ECONOMY: 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway/18.9 mpg test
PRICE: $36,140 (includes $730 destination charge)
The Heilig family for years was a full-size van family. We used it for our daily commute as well as for travel. So it earned a lot of miles, and we paid a lot of money for fuel. If minivans had been around when we bought our van, we would have gone that route.
Fast forward to 2005. The Dodge Grand Caravan is officially a minivan, but its length nudges it into the full-size category. Its 119.3-inch wheelbase is about the same as the van we had, and its 200.5-inch overall length is close as well.
What the Grand Caravan offers far and above our earlier van, though, is versatility. Sure, it has loads of carrying capacity - 167.9 cubic feet at the maximum. But it also has Chrysler's unique Stow `n Go storage that makes effective use of previously unused areas of the van.
Add to the versatility is a 3.8 cubic inch V6 engine that has enough power to get out of its own way, and you have an excellent product. Our V8 sometimes was challenged to do its best. The biggest difference between the two vans from different eras is safety, economy and quality. Despite remarks made by some friends who saw me driving the Dodge regarding Chrysler Corporation reliability, I think I'd still go with the modern van. Besides, it has airbags and seat belts and lots more to offer.
The Grand Caravan rides on a wheelbase that is six inches longer than the Caravan and is 11.4 inches longer overall. The Grand Caravan has 21.2 cubic feet more luggage than the Caravan, and that's more than you can get in most sedans.
In general, I felt the Dodge Grand Caravan was a nice package that offered good room, comfort and power. The 3.8-liter V6 is rated at 207 hp and 238 lb-ft of torque. This is transmitted to the front wheels through a 4-speed automatic transmission with a column shifter (some things never change).
We had comfortable bucket seats/captain's chairs in the first two rows. Between the front seats was a small console that hampered rear access. One feature I've always liked about vans is the ability to walk back and forth from front to back. This way, if you stop for a lunch break, you don't have to get out of the van to go back and get the food, for example. If they moved that console back one row of seats to between the second-row captain's chairs, I think it would be more practical.
The overhead console has sliding compartments so that you can customize it to your liking, such as having the sunglass holder in a location not dictated by the manufacturer. There was also a rear seat entertainment system (DVD player), priced at $990, and you could move that around for better visibility, if you chose.
The instrument panel featured black-on-white instruments that were Chrysler Corporation green backlit at night. I don't know why, but I find the green lighting less objectionable than orange lighting favored by some manufacturers.
The steering wheel had buttons on the back to adjust the audio systems. The volume controls were on the right, while you could change the station or the media by depressing the buttons behind the left side of the steering wheel. I'm sure these buttons are marked (I could have looked it up in the owner's manual), but it took some trial-and-error to eventually figure out how to use them. Cruise control switches were also located on the wheel.
Our tester had power everything - windows, door locks, seats, pedals, sliding side doors, liftgate, etc. There was an adequate number of cupholders located throughout the cabin that should please almost everyone.
The Stow `n Go storage was helpful. The second- and third-row seats collapse and fold into compartments in the floor when they're not needed. However, when they're up, these wells can be used as covered storage bins. It's a great way to keep some items out of view if you're concerned about possible theft.
My major complaint with the Grand Caravan was with the key, so you can see I wasn't too upset. This key has, in my opinion, too many buttons that should be transferred to a fob. Too many times I accidentally opened a door on the van, and once the rear hatch opened. Maybe I have fat fingers, but I think this was a feature that could have been improved.
Our tester had a bottom line of $36,150, that included $8,425 in options. I think some of these options could have been eliminated, but that's the choice of the buyer. I'm pretty certain I'd keep satellite radio and the power doors, but I'm not sure if I'd keep the others.
© 2005 The Auto Page Syndicate