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Chrysler has redesigned the seating system in the Dodge Grand Caravan and the result is one of the most versatile interiors in the industry. The second-row and third-row seats flip down into the floor, leaving a huge, perfectly flat cargo compartment behind the front seats. No other minivan currently has second-row seats that disappear into the floor.
With seating for seven, the Grand Caravan can carry half the little league team with room left over for their stuff. Selectively folding away the seats gives its owner great versatility in hauling a mix of passengers and cargo. No need to pull seats out and store them in the garage or to try to put stuff on top of them. Fold them all down and the Grand Caravan offers more cargo space than most sport utilities, including the mammoth Chevy Suburban. And its cargo space is more accessible and more convenient than that of SUVs.
Other new and revised features further improve the Grand Caravan for 2005, making it a compelling choice among a strong group of competitors that have been recently been redesigned. Also more compelling: pricing, which has been dropped by an average of $3,000.
The shorter Caravan models are largely unchanged and have the old seating system. Dodge added new features to the Caravan for 2004, including a tire pressure monitor. Its stereo systems feature in-dash, six-disc CD changers.
On the road, the Dodge Grand Caravan and Caravan offer a smooth ride and responsive handling. These are family-friendly vehicles that offer the features and flexibility most buyers want and there's a model for every budget. Most models come with a powerful V6 engine that delivers strong acceleration for merging onto hectic freeways. Anti-lock brakes and side-impact airbags are available.
Caravan SE ($18,995) is the base level and comes with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, hand-crank windows, manually adjusted mirrors, and a limited list of options. It comes standard with air conditioning, variable intermittent wipers, AM/FM/CD stereo, and 215/70 tires on 15-inch steel wheels.
Caravan SXT ($22,295) is the short van equipped with a 3.3-liter V6 and a higher level of standard equipment, though it does not get Stow 'n Go. SXT adds second-row bucket seats, dual-zone manual air conditioning, tilt steering, cruise control, power windows, power heated mirrors, power locks with remote keyless entry, an upgraded AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo, a rear window defroster, sunscreen glass, 215/65 tires on 16-inch aluminum wheels, a tire-pressure monitor, and other niceties, plus an expanded list of options.
Grand Caravan SE ($21,995) is a long-wheelbase base model, similarly equipped to the Caravan SE. But it's powered by the 3.3-liter V6 engine. Grand Caravan SE Plus ($24,990) adds the Stow 'n Go seating, three-zone air conditioning, anti-lock brakes (ABS), and a trip computer.
Grand Caravan SXT ($26,995) is powered by a 3.8-liter V6 and comes standard with four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, low-speed traction control, 16-inch tires and aluminum wheels. Along with Stow 'n Go, the Grand Caravan SXT features second-row adjustable seats, a 60/40 split third-row bench with tailgate feature, front and rear cargo nets, dual power sliding doors, fog lamps, rear heat/air-conditioning system, roof rack, eight-way power driver's seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, steering-wheel audio controls, overhead console with trip computer and compass/temperature gauge, and a new carbon weave center stack bezel.
Side-impact curtain airbags are optional. All-wheel drive has been dropped from the menu for 2005. Packages are available in a dizzying array of combinations.
Dodge Caravan and Grand Caravan are large vehicles, but not outrageously so. Measuring just over 200 inches long and less than 5-feet, 10-inches tall, even the Grand Caravan will fit just about anywhere a full-size sedan will fit. Bumper to bumper, the standard Caravan measures 189.3 inches long. Grand Caravan's extra 11 inches makes a big difference in the amount of cargo it can carry with all three rows of seats in place. Caravan rides on a wheelbase of 113.0 inches, while the Grand Caravan stretches across a wheelbase of 119.3 inches.
Grand Caravan and Caravan are sleek and attractive with steeply raked windshields and aggressive grilles. The tracks for the sliding side doors are cleverly camouflaged under the rear side windows for a clean appearance. The D-pillars and rear window are steeply inclined for a sporty look, and a discrete spoiler rises from the trailing edge of the roof. Flared wheel openings add strength to the appearance. Headlamps and taillamps are big, the latter wrapping around to the sides. The optional roof rack is hunkered close to the roof, stylistically less obtrusive and perhaps less likely to generate wind noise, but also offering less clearance for the thicker hooks of some tie-downs.
The 2005 Grand Caravan models are distinguished by a new U-shaped grille with black grille bars, is a design cue shared with the new Dodge Magnum. The front fascia is new with a molded-in license plate pocket and new fog lamps, while the sides get new body-colored side moldings.
Models with power sliding doors on both sides add convenience when moving passengers. They're particularly useful when you find yourself herding children while carrying two armloads of gear. Press the button on the remote transmitter twice and the door slides open; press it twice again and it slides closed and seals. From the second-row seat, the power sliding door can be opened and closed by pressing a button; it can also be opened manually. A safety lock switch hidden on the trailing edge of the door can be engaged to prevent a child from opening the sliding door from inside. The power sliding doors can be fussy when passengers are in a hurry to get out, however, and they usually are. Pulling on the outside lever opens the power door manually, with just slightly more effort than opening a regular manual door.
Models with manually operated sliding doors are easy to operate, smoothly sliding open and closed with the pull of a nicely designed lever. The outside door handles are comfortable and well designed; they impart a feeling of quality in appearance and operation. All door handles should be this good, but they aren't.
A power rear liftgate is available that adds convenience when picking up groceries or supplies. Press a button on the remote control and the liftgate opens or closes automatically. It's great feature for those times when you approach the van with an armload.
Dodge Caravan's interior is comfortable and convenient. Both Caravan and Grand Caravan can accommodate seven passengers in a 2/2/3 arrangement.
The seats in our 2005 Grand Caravan SXT were nicely finished in light-colored leather. The material is soft and appears to be durable. The seat bottoms are nicely finished on all sides; some manufacturers don't finish the inboard side panels and that leaves an unattractive, unfinished look that you don't notice until after you've bought the vehicle. Faux carbon fiber trim added a touch of high-tech to the cabin.
The seats in the Grand Caravan seemed more bucket-like than those of the Town & Country and not as comfortable. There is a manually adjustable lumbar support, however, and the seatbacks seem to have more side bolstering than the T&C. Exposed screws on the power seat adjusters did not feel aesthetically pleasing. The seating position is higher than that of a sedan, which enables drivers to see over traffic. But you won't need a rope ladder to climb into the seats, as you do in SUVs.
Chrysler's new Stow 'n Go seating system is the best on the market. The second and third rows of seats fold flat into the floor leaving a perfectly flat platform for cargo. Folding and unfolding the seats is a quick three-step process. Pull one strap to drop the seatback, then pull two other straps to tuck it into the floor. This leaves a perfectly flat platform. Very few seats fold perfectly flat and no one else (except the Chrysler Town & Country) has a second row that does this. The system is also flexible. The third row is split 60/40 and either or both of the second-row captain's chairs can be stowed. So, for example, you could stow the right one-third of the third-row bench and the right-hand second-row seat for loading something long, while still leaving seating for yourself and three or four passengers. Alas, the front passenger seat does not fold down, so you may want to secure that kayak to the roof rack. Grand Caravan SXT and SE Plus models come standard with Stow 'n Go.
The second-row seats move fore and aft to optimize legroom for rear passengers. Getting into the third row is a little awkward, but easier than in most SUVs. Once back there, the third-row seating is comfortable, though the seat bottoms are steeply raked.
The low floor makes getting in and out through the side doors easy. Caesar the 160-pound mastiff requires a ramp to get into an SUV, but he stepped easily and without hesitation through the rear and side doors of our Grand Caravan without such assistance. The low load height also makes loading cargo easier, and the Grand Caravan can carry more stuff and bigger items than any SUV. There's a fair amount of cargo space behind the third row. When the seats are in place for passengers, there are wells behind the third-row seats that are perfect for groceries. A pair of cargo nets can be hooked onto hooks, providing well-designed bags to keep your melons from rolling around. Another net can be secured between either the second-row or front-row captain's chairs. Hooks on the backs of the seats are useful for hooking plastic grocery bags and other items. There's also space in front of the center console for a purse or tote bag. When it comes to moving combinations of people and stuff, the Grand Caravan has no peers.
The instruments are straightforward: big, round analog gauges with white faces. They light up green at night. The dash is canted slightly forward for better visibility. Indicators for the turn signals and high beams are cleverly located in a thin hooded display above the instrument panel where they are easy to see.
The optional steering wheel controls are well designed, among the best available. Cruise controls are on the front of the steering wheel and allow precise regulation of speed; an indicator on the dash tells the driver the system is on. Behind the steering wheel are audio controls that let
These are smooth, quiet vehicles, particularly when measured by minivan standards. Additional sound-deadening measures have been added for 2005 that reduce wind noise. We found carrying on a conversation to be easy and pleasant (though that varied somewhat with whom we were conversing with).
Ride quality is supple and well-controlled on the highway. The rack-and-pinion steering responds nicely and provides good feedback through the steering wheel. The Grand Caravan tracks true at highway speeds, so there's no need for constant, minor steering corrections. Indeed, the Dodge Grand Caravan offers superb driving dynamics. Grand Caravan rides more softly than an SUV, gliding over potholes rather than trying to beat them into submission. It's an excellent choice when transporting passengers on beat up freeways and bumpy urban streets.
Grand Caravan's relatively tight turning radius makes getting into parking spaces easily. As with many of the latest aerodynamic designs, it isn't always easy to tell exactly where the front corners of the van are located. It's easy to tell where the rear is, but the height of the windows blocks the view of low objects, like that expensive sports car you don't want to scratch. Rear park-assist helps with this by lighting a series of small lights in the rear roof liner that are visible in the rearview mirror or when you turn around.
The 3.8-liter V6 available for the Grand Caravan delivers strong power. This big V6 is responsive when merging into fast freeway traffic, accelerating from intersections, or passing on two-lane roads. The 3.8-liter engine is rated at 215 horsepower and 245 pound-feet of torque and employs a traditional overhead-valve design rather than the more contemporary overhead-cam setup found on many imports. We recommend anyone who regularly carries a heavy load of passengers get the 3.8-liter engine. An optional towing package is available with the 3.8-liter engine that raises the Caravan's trailer tow rating to a 3800 pounds.
Models equipped with the 3.3-liter V6, have enough power to climb hills without breathing hard, and merging onto the freeway doesn't give you visions of your life insurance salesman. The engine is smooth and quiet when cruising, although it makes itself known under full-throttle acceleration. The 3.3-liter engine is rated 180 horsepower and 210 pound-feet of torque, which is significantly less than the 3.8-liter. The 3.8-liter engine is rated 18/25 mpg City/Highway by the EPA, while the 3.3-liter is rated 19/26. Both are rated as low-emissions vehicles in all 50 states. The 3.3-liter V6 is a flexible-fuel engine, so it can use E85 ethanol.
We haven't tested models with the base 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, but with just 150 horsepower and, more important, 167 pound-feet of torque, we don't expect it to be a rocket. It's rated 21/27 mpg.
The Grand Caravan's brakes offer good feel, performance and durability. Standard brakes are discs in front with heavy-duty rotors and drums at the rear. ABS is standard on all Grand Caravans and optional on Caravan SXT; ABS allows the driver to brake and steer in a panic stop. Four-wheel disc brakes are standard on Grand Caravan SXT. Disc brakes generally offer more resistance to brake fade (the tendency of the brakes to lose performance when heated by repeated use) than drum brakes.
When it comes to switching between big loads of cargo, people and pets, Chrysler's new Stow 'n Go seating system makes the Dodge Grand Caravan one of the most versatile minivans available. Other revisions enhance refinement and add convenience.
The Dodge Caravan's roomy interior offers convenient, carefree motoring. The driving experience is controlled and enjoyable. And there's lots of V6 power available in the lineup. A wide selection of models means there's a Caravan or Grand Caravan to fit most budgets.