2019 Dodge Grand Caravan

Chrysler should’ve mastered this category by now?

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How could I resist any vehicle with only 3 miles on the clock?  This Dodge’s life consisted of  the assembly line, a transport truck, and a half mile trip to the rental car garage.  That was the irresistible series of events leading me to pick it up for the first time ever.   The lowest mileage vehicle I’ve ever owned was 55,000 miles and it was 14 years old, so the allure was stronger than usual.

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As I mentioned in the Pacifica review a few months ago, as a 16 year old, our family dove into the minivan craze in 1988 with a Plymouth Grand Voyager with a 136hp Mitsubishi sourced engine.  More than 30 years later, six tenths of a liter more in displacement more than doubles the horsepower output to 283hp.  Flooring the gas pedal delivers a surprising 0-60 time of about 7.5 seconds.  A far cry from the required 10.5 seconds in 1988 while now delivery 25% better fuel economy on the highway.   I’ve never seen one in person, but there are a handful of first-generation 5-speed manual turbos out there.

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Chrysler has been neglecting the Grand Caravan (and Journey for that matter) and focused all attention on the Pacifica as the ideal family hauler.  The Grand Caravan hasn’t change much since 2011 and as a result, it flounders at the bottom of nearly all minivan comparisons.   Maybe with the next refresh fuel misers will be blessed with an 8- or 9-speed automatic.

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The dual material leather and ‘suede’ seats looked pretty good and were comfortable during my drive time in the city.  Durability is of upmost importance in this segment as most vans are rarely occupied only by the driver.  The material wasn’t of top-tiered quality, but at least it felt sturdy.

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When I first took a seat in the Grand Caravan, I initially liked the piano black trim pieces inside.  After closer inspection in better lighting, they were very cheap painted plastic.  The glove box on the bottom and the storage unit above were both spacious and an excellent use of interior space.  One of the biggest quirks of our 1988 version was the glovebox was underneath the front passenger seat.  Why that useless bit of odd trivia is clogging up my brain, I’ll never know.

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As with the rest of the vehicle, the center stack is showing it’s age.  The HVAC controls are well laid out and easy to use, but the sound system was unnecessarily complex, primarily the Bluetooth phone connection.  It was a ridiculous mixture of incessant voice commands and button pushing just to get it paired.  The stereo quality coming from the 6-speakers was pretty good, but forgettable.  I think the problem may lay within the need for more speakers to fill the huge cabin.  On the Dodge website, it says that 1-year of SiriusXM is standard, but 30 miles into my time with the Grand Caravan, the satellite radio quit working.  That seems like a silly extra step to gain minimal extra revenue from a rental.

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In 1988, this area between the 2 front seats was nothing but floorboard.  Storage bins are plentiful and there’s no shortage of cupholders.  Have you ever wondered who started cupholders in mass produced vehicles?  Look no further than the great-great-grandfather 1st generation Caravan of the mid-1980’s.

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I thought the high contrast black & white interior looked great from a distance even though the materials weren’t of the quality expected in a $31,400 vehicle.  I’ll have to assume that the profit margins of the Grand Caravan are HUGE for FCA.

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The cheapness continued with the front façade and grille.  I tapped on the grille, bumper, and headlights with my fingernail and all 3 felt like a hardened plastic tarp on the verge of cracking.  That’s a little perplexing since the weight of the Grand Caravan has increased by over 800 lbs. since the first Grand Caravan in 1987.  I tried several times to activate the fog lights to no avail.  Either they didn’t work or were so dim, they didn’t make a noticeable difference while in motion.

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The seating position for the driver was comfortable and outward visibility was excellent from all angles.  The catch-all tray below the power seat controls is genius.  FINALLY, an easy to clean non-carpeted place to catch French fries and coins from the drive-thru window.  The headlamp switch is a little misleading.  It’s not possible to turn off the daytime running lamps as the “O” would imply.

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The optional $395 black side roof rails are ready hold the extra long-haul cargo, although I’d thoroughly read your rental contract to see if that’s even allowed.

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The rear cargo area with the fold flat seats was flawlessly labeled and easy to use.  Chrysler has come a long way from having heavy bench seats that require 2 healthy people to remove.

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I was scratching my head trying to figure out how a van with 3 miles could be so dirty inside.  It looked and felt like extra seat stuffing.  The middle road captains chairs were also spring loaded and easy to collapse into the floor.

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I don’t think anyone can predict vehicle recalls, but I’m calling this one.  There were a lot of exposed wires in the engine bay and no underbelly air dams that are commonplace in so many vehicles nowadays.  I was surprised by the ill-fitting wheel well covers also.  There were numerous gaps throughout that hopefully were for well thought out and planned ventilation.  As with last weeks Ram Quad Cab, the battery is also surrounded by insulation.

The ride quality was not as expected in a modern-day 7-passenger minivan that weighs over 4300 pounds, but rides more like a heavy duty work truck.  Anything other than fresh blacktop was unpleasant to drive over at any speed.

No way I’d rent another Caravan.  If it leaves such a bad impression at 3 miles, I can’t imagine what it’d be like at 13,000 , 31,000, or 93,000 miles.

SEAT COMFORT:
70 out of 100
ERGONOMICS:
70 out of 100 – ridiculously difficult Bluetooth pairing.
SOUND SYSTEM:
60 out of 100
TRUNK/STORAGE:
100 out of 100 – couldn’t get better
ECONOMY:
45 out of 100
HIGHWAY CRUISER:
65 out of 100
CITY COMMUTER:
30 out of 100
RECOMMEND TO RENT:
45 out of 100 – Sienna, Odyssey, and Sedona are light years better.
RECOMMEND TO BUY
30 out of 100 – maybe at $10000, a 5-year old well-maintained Caravan would be a deal.
515 points

 

2 thoughts on “2019 Dodge Grand Caravan

  1. Yikes, yeah this one didn’t seem to do so well. The styling has aged – and not very gracefully. I actually didn’t even realize they still made a Grand Caravan since Chrysler debuted the Pacifica a couple of years ago. Gotta love being the first person to put some miles on this one though! I’m sure you played the part of soccer dad well!

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  2. True – even the upgraded painted wheels can’t help the sportier, yet dated, SE Plus version. I wonder why Chrysler just doesn’t go for the extreme differences instead? Make the Caravan available with a turbo diesel? Go back to the C/V trim? Less expensive stripped down version?

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