The versatile Dodge Caravan remains a favorite for staying true to its DNA while evolving some smart features.
My mom and dad have driven a Dodge minivan as long as I can remember. They are religious about their devotion to the minivan; they won’t drive anything else. That’s great, but getting them to buy a new one is nearly impossible; they will hold on to their car until it literally has to be towed off to the junkyard.
So when I had the chance to spend a week with them in a 2016 Dodge Grand Caravan, I was thrilled: it was an opportunity to show them the improvements in technology since they bought their last minivan in 2003. And, wow, there have been a lot of improvements.
Who this car is for:
- Families or drivers who need room for a lot of cargo or people
- Drivers who like sitting up high while driving
- Drivers and passengers who appreciate having a lot of amenities in the car
- Buyers seeking a spacious car at a good value
- Drivers who like push-button doors, lift gate and windows
- Drivers who like that the second and third row seats fold into the floor, creating a fully flat cargo space
- Drivers who need a third row with great leg room and headroom
What buyers of this car should consider
- Can be more of a challenge to park because of its size
- 3 USB ports-one up front, two in the second row
- Advanced safety features are an additional cost
- Heated seats and other amenities are an additional cost
- Front seat USB port is slow to charge, so you’ll need an adaptor to charge anything quickly (using the cigarette adapter ports)
Making the minivan more stylish
Looking at the Dodge Grand Caravan side by side with my parent’s 2003 minivan, it was clear that Dodge’s designers have been challenged to make it look and feel more modern and beautiful. Style touches include a streamlined color palette and Dodge’s minimalist front grille. The interior reflects this design philosophy, too; even for a very thrifty $34,000 the interior felt plush and elegant.
My mom and dad love their minivan for a lot of reasons. Probably their favorite feature is the large, open and flexible cargo space. They tend to haul a lot of things, from equipment to kayaks to grandchildren when we visit, so they like always having the space.
They also like the Caravan’s ‘van feel’—the high perch over traffic and the driver’s seat that positions you in an upright position so you have good visibility. They felt right at home in the 2016 Grand Caravan, and also appreciated the added power and responsiveness of the drive experience, too.
Safety features are a major improvement
In looking at the Dodge Grand Caravan, the first thing they noticed were the safety features. The airbags have been increased in number but reduced in size, so now there are two glove boxes rather than just one. They also loved the rearview camera, which both my dad and mom found useful, even though they are used to the very good sight lines of the Dodge Caravan; the rear view camera made it so they could see exactly what was behind the car and how much room they actually had when backing up.
An added safety feature that’s harder to notice is the electronic stability control: the minivan’s computerized systems work to help the van stay stable on the road and around curves.
Stow and go seats that make managing the cargo space super easy
But what impressed the most were the stow-and-go seats. They loved that by pulling a series of tabs you can stow or restore the third row seats, and by moving a panel on the floor and flipping the center row seats forward you can put them into the floor too, creating a full van-sized cargo space.
Lovely leather interior— a treat at this price point
What impressed me were the details: The spacious interior was very nicely appointed. The seats in the model we tested were leather and suede—real leather and real suede— which were comfortable, looked nice and cleaned up easily. Even our black and white dog Eli, who always has muddy feet and seems to shed only white fur, didn’t leave a mark in the car (well, hardly a mark, anyway). I would easily put this car to the twin or triplet toddler test; I’m sure it would pass.
Very roomy and comfortable third row
The third row was great for extra passengers. Three of us (yes, I rode in the third row!) took the back row for a 3-hour drive one day and while it’s not as comfortable to have three across as it would be to sit in the third row by yourself, I found it to be completely comfortable, and here’s why: the third row sits at an angle, with the front of the seats higher off the floor than the back of the seat. This keeps your legs at a comfortable angle—you don’t ride with your knees practically under your chin, the way you do in some third row seats. Also, there’s plenty of head room; that means plenty of breathing space, too.
Another brilliant detail—and this has killed my day before—was the interior light that, if left on, shut off automatically so it wouldn’t drain the battery. I can’t tell you how many times one of my kids has left a light on in the car, only to realize it the next morning when the car’s battery is dead.
During our Grand Caravan test drive they did it again: Left the light on all night. Even so, when we got into the car the next morning it started just fine. I only noticed the light was on when we pulled into a parking garage and I could see it illuminating the third row. This is a hugely appreciated feature.
Safety, safety safety: One feature I wish this van had
The Dodge Grand Caravan we drove had a lot of great standard safety features, including electronic stability control and a rear view camera, but there was one I wish we had: blind spot monitors. Even though the van’s sight lines are great and it was easy to see out all the windows, blind spot monitors are great for older drivers who might have limited mobility for a glance over the shoulder or hearing aids that might not pick up the sound of a truck in your blind spot. This is a feature I really want my parents to have on their next car—and they think it would be great to have, too.
A look at the Dodge website shows that the option I wanted most in this van, blind spot monitors and cross traffic detection (which lights up and beeps if you’re in reverse and someone or something is about to cross your path) are only available on the higher R/T model (for $1,400), not on the Grand Caravan SXT Plus we test drove.
A basic tech package that has all you need
The Grand Caravan we test drove had the basic technology package and the two-disc DVD system package. I found the basic tech —radio, navigation, phone, hands free voice control and basic settings— to be completely fine; I didn’t feel as if I needed the upgraded system. We were able to sync our phones with the bluetooth and set radio stations on the system. I loved the navigation screen and that it displays both the speed you’re going and the speed limit of the road you’re on while you’re driving. We tried many times to use the voice activated system and failed, though; I get the feeling that it takes more time to learn how to use it than I had, so we gave up after a while.
What We Loved
- Stow and go seats—even the second row folds into the floor
- Leather and suede seats —they were beautiful, stayed clean and were very comfortable
- Great speakers in the back—DVDs have a movie theater quality sound
- Entertainment system with two screens, remote control and wireless headphones
- Third row has lots of legroom and headroom—great for tall passengers
- Storage ‘well’ behind the third row has TONS of cargo space
- Navigation screen displays speed you’re going and speed limit of the road you’re on
- Back seat passengers can run the entertainment system with a remote control
- Back seat passengers can control their climate, or it can be done from the front seat, too
- Econ setting helped us to get better gas mileage
- Accent lighting around the cup holders, center console and entertainment console
What You Need to Know
- Base price: $27,395; price of the model we drove: $34,065
- Advanced safety features (blind spot monitors, cross traffic detection and rain sensing wipers) are extra
- Dual entertainment system adds $2295 to the price
- Heated seats, heated steering wheel and sun shades add another $995 to the price
- 17MPG city/25MPG highway; we averaged 20 in the city and 25 on the highway
- 3 year/36,000 mile bumper to bumper warranty
- 5 year/60,000 mile powertrain warranty
- Uses regular fuel
Disclosure: Dodge loaned us the Grand Caravan SXT for our test drive; all opinions are my own.