Walkaround and Interior

By June 10, 2004

Walkaround

Dodge Caravan and Grand Caravan are large vehicles, but not outrageously so. Measuring just over 200 inches long and less than 5-feet, 10-inches tall, even the Grand Caravan will fit just about anywhere a full-size sedan will fit. Bumper to bumper, the standard Caravan measures 189.3 inches long. Grand Caravan's extra 11 inches makes a big difference in the amount of cargo it can carry with all three rows of seats in place. Caravan rides on a wheelbase of 113.0 inches, while the Grand Caravan stretches across a wheelbase of 119.3 inches.

Grand Caravan and Caravan are sleek and attractive with steeply raked windshields and aggressive grilles. The tracks for the sliding side doors are cleverly camouflaged under the rear side windows for a clean appearance. The D-pillars and rear window are steeply inclined for a sporty look, and a discrete spoiler rises from the trailing edge of the roof. Flared wheel openings add strength to the appearance. Headlamps and taillamps are big, the latter wrapping around to the sides. The optional roof rack is hunkered close to the roof, stylistically less obtrusive and perhaps less likely to generate wind noise, but also offering less clearance for the thicker hooks of some tie-downs.

The 2005 Grand Caravan models are distinguished by a new U-shaped grille with black grille bars, is a design cue shared with the new Dodge Magnum. The front fascia is new with a molded-in license plate pocket and new fog lamps, while the sides get new body-colored side moldings.

Models with power sliding doors on both sides add convenience when moving passengers. They're particularly useful when you find yourself herding children while carrying two armloads of gear. Press the button on the remote transmitter twice and the door slides open; press it twice again and it slides closed and seals. From the second-row seat, the power sliding door can be opened and closed by pressing a button; it can also be opened manually. A safety lock switch hidden on the trailing edge of the door can be engaged to prevent a child from opening the sliding door from inside. The power sliding doors can be fussy when passengers are in a hurry to get out, however, and they usually are. Pulling on the outside lever opens the power door manually, with just slightly more effort than opening a regular manual door.

Models with manually operated sliding doors are easy to operate, smoothly sliding open and closed with the pull of a nicely designed lever. The outside door handles are comfortable and well designed; they impart a feeling of quality in appearance and operation. All door handles should be this good, but they aren't.

A power rear liftgate is available that adds convenience when picking up groceries or supplies. Press a button on the remote control and the liftgate opens or closes automatically. It's great feature for those times when you approach the van with an armload.

Interior Features

Dodge Caravan's interior is comfortable and convenient. Both Caravan and Grand Caravan can accommodate seven passengers in a 2/2/3 arrangement.

The seats in our 2005 Grand Caravan SXT were nicely finished in light-colored leather. The material is soft and appears to be durable. The seat bottoms are nicely finished on all sides; some manufacturers don't finish the inboard side panels and that leaves an unattractive, unfinished look that you don't notice until after you've bought the vehicle. Faux carbon fiber trim added a touch of high-tech to the cabin.

The seats in the Grand Caravan seemed more bucket-like than those of the Town & Country and not as comfortable. There is a manually adjustable lumbar support, however, and the seatbacks seem to have more side bolstering than the T&C. Exposed screws on the power seat adjusters did not feel aesthetically pleasing. The seating position is higher than that of a sedan, which enables drivers to see over traffic. But you won't need a rope ladder to climb into the seats, as you do in SUVs.

Chrysler's new Stow 'n Go seating system is the best on the market. The second and third rows of seats fold flat into the floor leaving a perfectly flat platform for cargo. Folding and unfolding the seats is a quick three-step process. Pull one strap to drop the seatback, then pull two other straps to tuck it into the floor. This leaves a perfectly flat platform. Very few seats fold perfectly flat and no one else (except the Chrysler Town & Country) has a second row that does this. The system is also flexible. The third row is split 60/40 and either or both of the second-row captain's chairs can be stowed. So, for example, you could stow the right one-third of the third-row bench and the right-hand second-row seat for loading something long, while still leaving seating for yourself and three or four passengers. Alas, the front passenger seat does not fold down, so you may want to secure that kayak to the roof rack. Grand Caravan SXT and SE Plus models come standard with Stow 'n Go.

The second-row seats move fore and aft to optimize legroom for rear passengers. Getting into the third row is a little awkward, but easier than in most SUVs. Once back there, the third-row seating is comfortable, though the seat bottoms are steeply raked.

The low floor makes getting in and out through the side doors easy. Caesar the 160-pound mastiff requires a ramp to get into an SUV, but he stepped easily and without hesitation through the rear and side doors of our Grand Caravan without such assistance. The low load height also makes loading cargo easier, and the Grand Caravan can carry more stuff and bigger items than any SUV. There's a fair amount of cargo space behind the third row. When the seats are in place for passengers, there are wells behind the third-row seats that are perfect for groceries. A pair of cargo nets can be hooked onto hooks, providing well-designed bags to keep your melons from rolling around. Another net can be secured between either the second-row or front-row captain's chairs. Hooks on the backs of the seats are useful for hooking plastic grocery bags and other items. There's also space in front of the center console for a purse or tote bag. When it comes to moving combinations of people and stuff, the Grand Caravan has no peers.

The instruments are straightforward: big, round analog gauges with white faces. They light up green at night. The dash is canted slightly forward for better visibility. Indicators for the turn signals and high beams are cleverly located in a thin hooded display above the instrument panel where they are easy to see.

The optional steering wheel controls are well designed, among the best available. Cruise controls are on the front of the steering wheel and allow precise regulation of speed; an indicator on the dash tells the driver the system is on. Behind the steering wheel are audio controls that let