Dodge Caravan Road Test Review
by Martha Hindes
2012 Minivan Buyer's Guide - Top Picks
It's been almost 30 years since Dodge's Grand Caravan launched a truly original segment in the automotive world, addressing a need people probably didn't realize they had. Back then, few if any knew what a minivan was all about, or how it could accommodate those needs. Jump to 2012 and there are answers all over the map. But one question remains. Does the minivan originator still lead?
The 2012 Dodge Grand Caravan is a totally different breed than the original that offered sensible utility for five. Since then, Caravan grew legs and added the appropriate "Grand" description to show off its stretched, more usable space for seven, and morphed from plebeian to downright pleasurable in its driving experience rating.
Along with its up-market Chrysler Town & Country cousin, the Grand Caravan got a major redo this year, along with almost every other competitive minivan out there. That brought it interior refinements along with a new single powertrain to replace three previous ones. For the 2012 model year, Dodge adds an R/T version to spike up the sporty side, with performance suspension, special 17-inch aluminum wheels and a knockout black leather interior with red stitching. Crew and R/T editions gain standard remote start, power liftgate and security alarm.
Outside, the Grand Caravan retains its essentially boxy look. adding touch ups instead of major body style changes. Front and rear fascias are updated, and the Dodge crosshairs "face" replaces the earlier Ram's head logo now dedicated to trucks. "Ring of fire" tail lamps plus a new rear spoiler give a more contemporary feel.
The interior got attention with improved materials, upgraded fit and finish, plus safety, security and technology improvements. A new super console joins the requisite storage nooks and crannies that use every conceivable inch of interior space.
On Dodge's "Stow" chart, Grand Caravan keeps its Stow 'n Go seat/storage system, now supersized for second row seating, that tucks all rear seats into the floor with little hint they were there. Yesterday's intriguing, but less usable Swivel 'n Go that allowed rear seats to pivot is but a memory. A Stow 'n Place roof rack system is added to store rails and improve mileage, now rated at 17/25.
The gutsier 283-horsepower, 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 was named a "10 best" winner by the automotive trade bible Ward's Automotive, and tends to defy the longstanding oxymoron that performance and minivans can't mix. Instead, the completely redesigned suspension boosts driving dynamics. And the Grand Caravan, previously maligned for so-so performance, now draws acclaims for improved, more precise handling and more authority on the road.
Dodge claims a lead in minivan pricing -- where upscale models live in the $30K and $40K range. The $20,995 price tag on its entry level 2012 American Value Package Grand Caravan is cited as most affordable in the U.S. market among the half-dozen competitors.
Despite the apparent herd mentality that somehow signaled redo time en masse for many of the original minivan's camp followers; we think Dodge Grand Caravan perhaps benefits most. While it certainly will gain from future body changes, it's a full featured bargain hunter's delight for now. That's pretty regal in our standing.
Dodge Caravan website, click here.