Dodge Grand Caravan 2011 still sets the minivan standard
For almost 30 years, Dodge and Chrysler minivans have been the number one people movers of choice throughout Canada and the U.S.
And all these decades later, the Grand Caravan along with the Chrysler Town & Country account for 70 per cent of all minivan sales.
At the press launch of the 2011 model Grand Caravan held in San Francisco, Ca., journalists were told how Dodge engineers redesigned and retuned virtually every system including the 2011 Grand Caravan’s suspension.
Combined with a new V6 that replaced the three V6s offered in 2010 plus the suspension overhaul, Grand Caravan now offers claimed best-in-class horsepower along with dynamic driving experience that is hard to equal.
At the heart of the 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan is an all-new powertrain. The new 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 engine is mated to a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission.
With the Pentastar engine, the new Grand Caravan delivers claimed best-in-class horsepower with 283 hp 108 more hp than the previous 3.3-litre V6.
Torque with the new engine is 260 lb/ft, 55 lb/ft more than the 3.3-litre and all with an overall increase of two mpg more in fuel economy. Fuel rating is now 12.3L/100 km (23 mpg) city and 7.9L/100 km (36 mpg) highway.
A new feature is the driver-selectable Fuel Economizer Mode. With the flip of a switch, drivers can change the transmission shift schedule to maximize their fuel efficiency or performance.
The Grand Caravan was previewed along with seven other Dodge and Chrysler products in San Francisco. The most important point coming out of the event is that Chrysler/Dodge got the message from press and consumers about the shabby interiors and has done something about it. It starts with a modern, new one-piece instrument panel that is more intuitive for the customer with improved ergonomics and larger, redesigned gauges.
I briefly tested one with what Dodge calls its new “super” centre console designed to offer enhanced functionality and storage for the active commuter, as well easy driver/passenger access with a pass-through storage space for larger items, like a purse. A minivan first is an optional heated steering wheel
The Grand Caravan also features more comfortable, larger Stow ‘N Go seats with a new, easy to use one-touch fold down function.
Just one motion makes each seat glide below the cargo floor opening up cargo space to a full 143.8 cu ft (4.1 cu m).
When I drove the new Grand Caravan I did so with the third row seats folded and want to see if the 83.3 cu ft (2.34 cu m) behind the second row would act like a drum and increase noise at the year.
I noticed this in 2008 when I drove a 25th Anniversary Grand Caravan with 3.3-litre V6. There was a decided “boom” from the back that, while not disconcerting, probably would have become wearing over a long drive.
Perhaps the smooth and well-maintained highways east of San Francisco may have had something to do with it, but the effort made by the engineers in identifying some 45 areas where improvements were made to noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) showed through.
My co-driver was in an aggressive mode and decided to put the Grand Caravan through its paces through the hilly cattle country roads on the way to Sonoma.
He was impressed with the handling but I was a bit nervous at his pace until he just happened to see about 20 California Highway Patrol officers on motorcycles coming the other way on some kind of training exercise.
For 2011, the Grand Caravan will be offered in four basic models with prices starting at $22,995 for the Canada Value Package, $25,995 for the SXT with Stow N Go, $28,995 for the Crew and $36,995 for the Crew Plus.
As always, there are many ways to mix and match standard features in options but I suspect the Crew will be the volume leader with its 17-inch aluminum wheels, tri-zone climate control and the available Safety Sphere Group.
This integrates blind spot monitoring, rear cross path detection, ParkView back-up camera, automatic headlights and rain sensing wipers.
While Ford and General Motors have exited the full-size minivan arena, Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen and Kia still have seven and eight-seat offerings and now Nissan is back with the Quest.
That’s because they all know there will always be a need for a vehicle with room for seven and the ubiquitous 4X8 sheet of plywood. Personally speaking, moving a son or daughter in or out of university residence would have been a challenge without one.
And over the years, Dodge (and Chrysler) have always managed to keep ahead of the competition selling 13 million minivans since they were introduced in 1983 featuring 75 minivan or industry firsts.
Chrysler has spent more than (US) $1.4 billion on the minivan production plant in Windsor where the official production of the 2011 models was celebrated recently.
Clearly, the company sees future in their minivans for years to come. When it comes to minivans, Dodge Grand Caravan continues to set the standard.