Dodge Grand Caravan SXT: Family Friendly and TV Too

by The Car Family

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It isn’t difficult to find reviewers who want to cast stones at the Dodge minivan, but we didn’t find any from families. Here are the facts. The Dodge has the most family-friendly interior of all vans. Secondly, it has good crash scores. Finally, these vans are built with kids in mind even to a built in child’s seat.

The Dodge Grand Caravan comes in three trims of which only the SE and SXT are for a family and we highly recommend the latter. The smaller, 3.3 engine has flex-fuel capability and can run on E85 if you can find it. We don’t recommend this engine as it does not have enough power for a family traveling in the mountains or even pulling a small trailer. There is word that the 2011 version is going to have a sharper interior and more potent engines and with a five-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, it might pay to look into the new model. Of course, that also means there are going to be some bargains on the 2010 model.

Mom’s view: As soon as you drive this Dodge it gets smaller. It is fairly nimble, has good visibility in all directions except the rear, and the optional 4.0-liter V6 engine and a six speed automatic can get about 22 mpg in mixed driving. The Caravan has active front-seat headrests, antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, full-length side curtain airbags and you can order an integrated child booster seats with Swivel ‘n Go, rear parking sensors, a blind-spot monitoring system and Rear Cross Path. The latter is a must. When you are backing up it warns you of traffic coming. Great for crowded malls when you are parked beside gas hoggish, large SUVs that block your view. You also need to always consider the optional rearview camera when ordering any family vehicle. The crash test scores were excellent.

The interior is a bit drab, but with the stereo controls mounted high and the sliding door buttons also within reach. It is easy to get used to driving this Dodge. I especially like the optional seating choices. The standard Stow ‘n Go setup has two second row captain’s chairs that fold into the floor. The bench third row seat also folds flat into the floor. That leaves a very large, flat cargo bay. The optional Swivel ‘n Go seats turn so you can face the other passengers. A pole-mounted table can be moved between each row of seats, although I found it a bit wobbly. The center console has a hole near the bottom that makes a good place to place a purse, which is always nice. But make sure it is won’t roll into the pedal area. By the way, some models have adjustable pedals.

The interior is rugged, but really needs some upgrading in materials. However, this isn’t a show vehicle and so durability is my concern. The van we tested had 10,000 rough miles on it and there was no sign of wear on the seats or anywhere for that matter. A few rattles, but nothing that a screaming child can’t drown out.

The standard three-zone manual climate control works well, but has its fans full when the outside temperature gets into triple digits. Do get darkened windows. The optional Swivel ‘n Go rear captain’s chairs allow passengers to face each, which is fun for playing games, and there is a table available on some models to facilitate this. A rear entertainment center is available as well as Sirius Satellite TV. Yep, you can get television delivered to the back seaters.

The less expensive SE comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, full power accessories, three-zone climate control, cruise control, a tilt steering column, Stow ‘n Go second-row seats, a flip-down kiddie mirror and stereo/CD. The SXT model adds a larger engine, a power driver seat and remote-operated sliding side doors, and third-row power vent-style windows among other items. The optional SXT model features a4.0-liter V6, the SXT and a sport-tuned suspension. This is the van to order as it makes the Dodge more playful to drive and still retains its practicality.

Dad’s view: The optional 4.0-liter V6 option and six speed transmission are as good as anyone’s. Don’t get any other version if you travel or tow as the 251 horsepower and 259 lb-ft of torque makes this one quick minivan. Driving the Grand Caravan was relaxing with good seats and a quiet ride. It is, dare I say, fast and the handling is okay, but not up to that of the more expensive models from Honda. The steering is light and the brakes feel overboosted, The handling was a surprise because it does corner well considering its mass. I liked this rig and wouldn’t mind owning one even for commuting.

Young working man’s view: Not yet. The upgraded sound package is worthwhile, but not first rate. The high-mounted audio controls are easy to reach and the television reception is fairly good in metropolitan areas even though you are limited to children stations. Driving a minivan is always interesting at first. You keep thinking someone is following you, but this Dodge is fairly responsive and easy to park. The low liftover makes loading simple and the interior lighting is adequate. The headlights are barely average. Overall, this is too much vehicle for my needs. I also felt that the interior needed to be refreshed and the option packages appealed to those kid prone. By the way, I am now engaged and am off the market, so to speak, in case you were interesting. So maybe in the coming years this Dodge may move up my desirability list.

Young working woman’s view: As usual with Dodge, the option packages are numerous and a buyer needs to spend time researching the packages before shopping. For example, you can order a 30GB hard drive for digital music storage, touchscreen controls, satellite radio and a rearview parking camera. Or you can opt for a rear DVD entertainment system with a nine-inch flip-down screen, remote control, two headphones and a 115-volt outlet. There are also a flashlight and a driver-side umbrella holder.

All of these are nice touches, but unless you have children or/and dogs, a minivan isn’t the best choice. A good sedan can do most things just as well and get better fuel mileage. But they don’t offer the variety of options that this Dodge does, especially for youngsters. For example, the Family Value Group adds second- and third-row sunshades, a sliding center console and remote engine start that help heat or cool the vehicle before you get enter. You can also get GPS, heated seats for the front and second row, and real time traffic. The Premium Group adds rain-sensing wipers, automatic climate control, a power-folding third-row seat, Bluetooth with an iPod interface, and nine speakers.

Buying this minivan reminds me of buying a house before it is built. You can have it anyway you want, but almost everything is an upgrade and adds to the cost. Keep it simple and you still have a house, but nothing to show-off to the family. The same goes for the Dodge. In basic form it is transportation, but with a few packages it can be an entertainment center or fun driver. And, Dodge is dealing.

Family conference: Quality statistics on the Dodge are a consideration, but we feel with the long warranty and the fact that Dodge has to do its best to keep every customer for leaving the fold well result in better ratings in 2011. The Volkswagen Routan is nearly identical to the Dodge, but has a better interior design and superior handling.

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