Since 2014 marks thirty years since the debut of the Caravan, Dodge is rolling out 30th Anniversary editions of the SE and the SXT to celebrate. The package content is different in the SE and the SXT, but it's essentially a bundle of optional equipment with special trim. Another new appearance option is the Blacktop Package, also available on the SE and the SXT, which -- as you might suspect -- features blacked-out exterior trim and more use of black inside, with contrasting silver stitching...
The Dodge Grand Caravan is the original minivan, and through three decades of updates and redesigns, Chrysler has worked hard to keep the Grand Caravan (and its Chrysler Town & Country twin) at the forefront of the segment it created. Dodge has pioneered innovations such as dual sliding doors, power sliding doors, a power liftgate, and stowable rear seats. Most of the features introduced by Chrysler have become commonplace, but the Grand Caravan still demands a serious look from anyone shopping for a minivan.
The minivan market has shrunk, as many families have migrated away to crossovers and SUVs, but for those seeking the maximum people- and cargo-hauling capability for the price, nothing beats a minivan. Whereas past versions of the Grand Caravan offered multiple powertrain choices (including optional all-wheel drive) and short or extended-length body styles, the current model offers a single V-6 engine, comes with front-wheel drive only, and is available in only one size. There are, however, four trim levels: the base AVP has an ultralow starting price under $21,000 (with very limited availability of options); the SE and the SXT are the volume models; and the top-spec version is the R/T. The R/T portends to be the sporty offering, but aside from a firmer suspension, its sportiness is limited to body-color exterior trim, leather-and-suede upholstery, and contrast stitching. It's fine as far as it goes, but you'd never mistake it for something from Chrysler's SRT division.
The Grand Caravan does boast the most powerful engine among minivans, however, a 3.6-liter V-6 that makes 283 hp. Unfortunately, the six-speed automatic transmission seems determined to hide that fact, so reluctant is it to downshift. Switching off the Eco button on the dash helps somewhat but not enough. Speaking of economy, the Grand Caravan is a tick or two behind its three main competitors in its EPA combined fuel-economy ratings. We do, however, appreciate the Dodge's fairly direct, nicely weighted steering and its well-controlled ride, neither of which is what you might have expected from a minivan.
If you're at all aware of Chrysler's history of innovation, you probably are expecting some special features, and the Grand Caravan certainly has its share. The signature item is its Stow 'N Go seating (standard on all but the AVP, where it's optional). This allows both rows of rear seats to drop into the floor, to easily convert from passenger to cargo hauling and back again. Other minivans have a similar arrangement for their rearmost seats, but their second-row seats must be carried out of the vehicle. Stow 'N Go is a big deal if you often switch between hauling people and stuff; if your minivan will be used almost exclusively to shuttle a crowd, it's less of a factor -- and in fact, the stowaway seats are rather low to the floor and not the most comfortable, although Dodge claims to have improved them this year. Other noteworthy equipment includes a backup camera with rear cross-path detection (it warns you if traffic is approaching as you back up), a roof rack with stowable crossbars, and an available heated steering wheel.
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