RECENTLY DRIVEN

2011 Dodge Grand Caravan Crew

 

Revised frontal styling for 2011 

 Vehicle Tested  2011 Dodge Grand Caravan Crew
 Body style  Minivan
 Engine  3.6L-V6 (283 horsepower)
 Transmission  Six-speed automatic
 Base price  $33,995
 Price as tested  $43,445

Market Fact
The Grand Caravan, Chrysler Town & Country and the Volkswagen Routan are all built on the
same platform.

History
The fourth-generation Grand Caravan debuted as a 2008 model. The thorough 2011 facelift
includes revised exterior styling, a redesigned cabin and a new 3.6L V6 engine.

Key Competitors
Honda Odyssey, Kia Sedona and the Toyota Sienna.

  

Profile little changed for 2011

Performance
Chrysler's new 3.6L Pentastar V6 engine replaces both the 3.3L and 4L V6s offered last year.
The new engine produces 283 horsepower, 103 more than the base 3.3L V6 did in 2010.
The 3.6L delivers good performance overall but lacks the alacrity expected from an engine
rated at 283 horsepower. As currently set up, the van will not creep when in gear, making
parking and slow manoeuvring difficult as every movement requires the throttle to be
depressed. In addition, the gas pedal needs a big push to get the car moving, leading
to lethargic performance from a stop, especially in town traffic. The automatic transmission
upshifts smoothly and reacts promptly to kickdown requests, but is determined to get to
the highest gear possible to enhance fuel economy. However, when maximum power
is requested, the transmission keeps the engine right in its power band and the whole
drivetrain feels quite energetic. The steering is nicely geared, but its assistance, or lack
thereof pleased and annoyed those who drove the Grand Caravan in equal measure.
Some enjoyed the solid, meaty feel, while others complained that the steering was too heavy.
While there is some controlled lean, handling is pretty crisp for a large family hauler and
the ride is very supple indeed. Solid brake pedal feel and good brake response. The Grand
Caravan exhibits a better ride and handling balance than a Chrysler Town & Country
driven recently by the APA. The Grand Caravan is relatively smooth and quiet, but
occupants hear a lot of  "ping" when small road debris (road salt, sand, grit) kicked
up by the tires hits the undercarriage. In addition, the doors rustle in their apertures
over bumps, even on the low mileage example tested. The Grand Caravan tested came
with the optional running boards. They were doubly impractical as they hindered
access into and out of the vehicle, and they lay beyond the body sides at curb height,
just waiting to be damaged. Strong air conditioning, excellent audio system and
the Bluetooth system is easy to set up and is a model of clarity. The DVD player
in our Grand Caravan worked very well, and the driver could enjoy the movie on the
back-up camera screen as long as the gear lever was in park position. 

Interior
The Grand Caravan's cabin is virtually all new for 2011, and is a massive improvement
in terms of style and fit and finish over last year. The interior is fronted by a clean dashboard
that houses big, crisply-marked gauges, and considering the complexity of the systems
they operate (multi-zone climate, audio, DVD), the controls are simple. The
redesigned shift lever not only looks more elegant than the device used last year,
it also moves with a smooth precision, rather that the plasticky scratching it
subjected drivers to in 2010. The high-contrast two-tone cabin colour scheme
is most attractive, however, the very pale gray cloth upholstery may start to look
grubby once subjected to the rigours of family life. As expected, there
are numerous bins and cupholders placed around the cabin. 

The front seats feel overly soft at first, but prove comfortable enough as time passes.
While space is generous, driver seat travel was restricted on the
power-seat-equipped example driven by the APA. The second-generation Stow N' Go
seating in our test Grand Caravan is more comfortable than the first-generation (pre-2008)
seats, and room is ample in both the second and third rows. The Stow N' Go seats,
can, not surprisingly, be easily stowed, leaving a cavernous, unrestricted cargo
area with a low load height.

 Fuel and temperature gauges are neatly integrated into the tachometer and speedometer  

 

The updated and improved cabin is fronted by an attractive dashboard 

 

Cavernous load space clear of any obstructions when the second and third row seats are folded

Reliability
Revised model, insufficient data. The air conditioner and electrical circuits were weak points
on the previous model. Three year/60,000 km bumper to bumper warranty, 5 years/100,000 km
on the powertrain. The front bumpers on the pre-2011 were vulnerable to damage in minor impacts.
Purchase of an extended bumper to bumper warranty is recommended, particularly if you opt
for a luxury model with lots of power accessories.

Pricing
Restraint is important when picking options for a new Grand Caravan. The MSRPs on base models
are very enticing but trim upgrades and options can inflate the bottom line alarmingly. Prices for the
Grand Caravan are little different than they are from a comparably equipped Honda Odyssey or Toyota
Sienna, which have better resale value. That said, these vans can be good value when Chrysler
is offering big incentives or low rate financing. Heavy depreciation means that high-spec. models
are best bought used.

Safety
Standard side-curtain airbags on all models. The Grand Caravan/Town & Country was rated Good in
the IIHS frontal, side and rear impact tests. Not rated for rollover. Standard ABS and ESC.

 

Rear view shows updated styling as well as the impractical Mopar running boards