February 2009. The Dodge Grand Caravan offers the same entertainment options as the pricier Chrysler Town & Country (*est. $26,430 to $36,530), but for thousands less. You can get a DVD screen for every row, and the kids can even watch their favorite shows: The optional satellite TV service beams in Nickelodeon, Disney Channel and Cartoon Network via satellite.
Unfortunately, experts find that both Chrysler-made minivans suffer from safety and reliability problems. Both break down far more often than the average car, according to one major owner survey. And although the 2009 Chrysler and Dodge minivans get mostly good safety ratings, crash tests show that they are only marginally effective at protecting passengers in a rear-end collision. The budget-priced Kia Sedona (*est. $21,065 to $26,595) gets better marks for safety, as does the top-rated Honda Odyssey (*est. $26,355 to $41,005), and the Odyssey holds its resale value far better than either the Kia or the Chrysler-made minivans, according to reviews.
But no minivan offers more gadgetry than the Dodge Grand Caravan. Besides the "superstupor" TV package, as one reviewer calls it, you can choose from two types of trick seats. Stow 'n Go is the standard option: the second-row captain's chairs and third-row split bench fold flat into under-floor storage bins to create a huge cargo bay, and the bins can store items when the seats are upright. Stow 'n Go gets almost uniformly positive reviews, although some testers find the fold-up seat cushions too thin.
Swivel 'n Go seats are an extra-cost option, available only on the upper-level Grand Caravan SE G Package (*est. $26,820) and Grand Caravan SXT (*est. $29,145). The second-row captain's chairs swivel to face the third-row bench, with a stowable table between for games and meals. It's popular with kids, but adults say it's a pain. The table crowds everything, it can be hard to remove, the swiveling seats don't fold down and the seats aren't safe for infant or booster seats when they're rotated backwards. Note that the Dodge Grand Caravan seats seven; unlike the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna (*est. $24,540 to $37,865), it offers no eight-passenger option.
The Grand Caravan lacks a few of the more expensive Town & Country's features. For example,
the base Town & Country LX (*est. $27,250) includes three-zone climate control and woodgrain dashboard trim that you can't get on the base Dodge Grand Caravan SE (*est. $24,230). The most expensive Town & Country Limited (*est. $37,350) includes chrome wheels, xenon headlights, suede-trimmed seats and other touches of luxury that you won't find on Dodge's higher trim line, the Grand Caravan SXT (*est. $29,145).
However, reviews say the plastics and consoles in both the Chrysler and Dodge minivans seem flimsy and cheap. Both minivans display clumsy handling and long braking distances in tests. Critics say the base Grand Caravan SE's engine, a 175-horsepower, 3.3-liter V-6, bogs down under the minivan's weight. The SE comes with a four-speed automatic transmission and delivers an EPA-estimated 17 mpg in the city, 24 mpg on the highway and 19 mpg combined, which reviews find unimpressive. The top-of-the-line Grand Caravan SXT comes with a 6-speed automatic transmission and a 197-horsepower, 3.8-liter V-6 engine that performs better in tests. However, it cuts the EPA-estimated fuel economy to 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway/18 mpg combined, and in one independent test, it delivered only 16 mpg combined -- the worst fuel economy of any minivan. For $630 extra, you can switch the Grand Caravan SXT's engine to a 251-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 that testers say is quieter, more powerful, and delivers slightly better gas mileage (17 mpg city/25mpg highway/20 mpg combined).
As usual, Consumer Reports' testing of the Dodge Grand Caravan is more comprehensive than any other reviewer's. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety focus solely on safety, crash-testing the Grand Caravan and other minivans. Edmunds.com pits the Grand Caravan against the top-rated Honda Odyssey, while Motor Trend's analysis compares the Grand Caravan, Odyssey and Toyota Sienna minivans. Other sources don't compare the Grand Caravan with other minivans, but their opinions are still helpful. For example, the road test at MotherProof.com is unique, because it includes two young children.
Editors at Consumer Reports test a top-of-the-line Dodge Grand Caravan SXT with Stow 'n Go seats. They also test the top Chrysler Town & Country Limited trim and make some direct comparisons between the two in a lengthy write-up. A handy chart shows how these two minivans stack up against the competition.
Review: Dodge Grand Caravan, Editors of Consumer Reports
2. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
NHTSA's searchable database includes crash-test results for all minivans. Like most other vans in the segment, the Chrysler Town & Country earns five-star impact and four-star rollover ratings.
Review: 5-Star Safety Ratings, Editors of SaferCar.gov
3. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
The Dodge Grand Caravan does only a "marginal" job of protecting passengers in a rear-end collision, crash tests here show. However, the Grand Caravan gets high marks in front- and side-impact tests.
Review: Chrysler Town & Country, Editors of IIHS
The Dodge Grand Caravan loses this head-to-head road test. The reviewer says the top-ranked Honda Odyssey drives better, rides better and is more comfortable. This review is more than a year old, but neither minivan has seen any changes since then.
Review: 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT vs. 2007 Honda Odyssey Touring, John Pearley Huffman, Sept. 2, 2007
5. Car and Driver
Car and Driver manages to evaluate both Stow 'n Go and Swivel 'n Go seating, along with the Dodge Grand Caravan's performance and interior finish, in just a few concise paragraphs. The review mentions that the Dodge finished third in a five-minivan comparison here.
Review: 2009 Dodge Grand Caravan -- Review, Editors of Car & Driver, Sept. 2008
6. Kelley Blue Book
Although the Chrysler Town & Country makes this site's Recommended list, the cheaper Dodge Grand Caravan does not. Editors say the Town & Country's interior is more sophisticated than the Grand Caravan's. They still praise the minivans' shared features, including available Swivel 'n Go seating.
Review: 2009 Dodge Grand Caravan, Editors of Kelley Blue Book
MotherProof.com's Sara Lacey tests the 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan (unchanged for 2009) with her two children, ages 4 and 6. Interestingly, she finds problems with the Grand Caravan that she didn't find in her test of the nearly identical Chrysler Town & Country.
Review: Why Are Things So Hard in the Caravan?, Sara Lacey, Apr. 10, 2008
Editors at ConsumerGuide test every minivan on the market, but they also recommend nearly all of them, making this review less helpful than it might be otherwise. Testers award the Grand Caravan numeric scores in 11 categories, but they don't compare it directly with any other minivans.
Review: 2009 Dodge Grand Caravan Full Review, Editors of ConsumerGuide.com, Jan. 27, 2009
9. Motor Trend
Motor Trend's review briefly compares the Dodge Grand Caravan with the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna. Unlike other critics, testers here find that the Grand Caravan trails only on interior fit and finish.
Review: First Drive: 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan, Editors of MotorTrend.com
Cars.com names the Dodge Grand Caravan -- and its Chrysler-built siblings, the Chrysler Town & Country and Volkswagen Routan -- to this list of three hot new minivans for 2009, saying all three benefit from a retuned Chrysler engine that gets 2 mpg better gas mileage. However, the Grand Caravan's EPA-estimated fuel economy has not changed. This page links to brief individual reviews for each minivan.
Review: Hot New Minivans and Vans, Kelsey Mays, Oct. 15, 2008