May 22, 2013
Written by Steven Macoy
Thursday, 17 May 2012 10:12
Chrysler, facing its corporate demise just three years ago, is riding a compelling combination of venerable nameplates, new designs and models, and clever marketing to an enviable sales record. The automaker has rocketed from a less-than-10-percent to an 11.6-percent market share in the U.S. market during the first four months of 2012.
The 2012 Dodge Grand Caravan is one reason for the sales explosion, posting double-digit increases compared with the same period in 2011.
We hadn’t driven a Caravan in quite a while, though we spent a week with a similar Chrysler Town & Country minivan recently. Both minivans were equipped with Chrysler’s Stow n’ Go system, which greatly enhances the 7-passenger minivan’s versatility by allowing any or all of the rear seats to be slipped easily under the floorboards.
The Caravan has come a long way since it arrived in 1984 atop a K-car platform. Its 4-cylinder engines have been replaced with a smooth, 283-horsepower V-6. Where a single, manually operated sliding door graced the passenger side, the Grand Caravan now has a slider on each side; they open and close at the touch of button in the higher trims levels.
Our bright red test car was a top-of-the-line R/T, base-priced at $29,995 and running $33,070 with options. These included a power liftgate, DVD entertainment system, and Chrysler’s mobile Internet service, UConnect Web.
Like its forebears, the front-wheel-drive Grand Caravan is compliant on the road, feeling more like a big car than a van. Engine power is ample. Visibility is good in all directions except when the ceiling-mounted video screen is lowered for viewing; then, the view to the rear is partially blocked. But two young passengers, watching cartoons while perched on the rear bench seat while we drove our Grand Caravan around western Connecticut, didn’t mind the obstruction.
Short and medium-height drivers were comfortable, but the tallest driver (about 6 feet) wished for more leg room. At just 40.7 inches, the quarters were a little tight, considering the acreage behind the front bucket seats: 33 cubic feet of cargo room even with all of the seats upright, and a maximum of 143.8 cubic feet with the seats stowed.
The Grand Caravan is rated at 17 mpg city, 25 highway, and 20 overall.
Although still dogged by Chrysler’s pre-bankruptcy reputation for poor quality, the Grand Caravan and other models are showing improvement. “Last year, Chrysler's brands earned their highest ratings in years in Consumer Reports’ annual reliability survey, rising from the bottom of the pack to the middle,” The Wall Street Journal reported May 9.
The 2012 Grand Caravan has been designated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
While some of the competing minivans, especially the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey, tend to score higher than the Grand Caravan in comparative testing, the Dodge remains a sentimental favorite and a good bargain as well — just $20,995 for the American Value Package (AVP) version.
Engine: 3.6-liter V-6, 283 horsepower, 260 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic
Weight: 4,510 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear
Wheels: 17x6.5-inch painted alloy
Tires: P225/65R17 all-season
Seating capacity: 7
Luggage capacity: 33 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 143.8 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 20 gallons
Fuel economy: 17 mpg city, 25 mpg highway
Fuel type: Regular
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