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2017 Dodge Grand Caravan

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 7/25/2017 ANDREW WENDLER

2017 Dodge Grand Caravan 2017 Dodge Grand Caravan - Instrumented Test Review A suburban staple since its 1984-model-year introduction, the Dodge Caravan has outlived acid-wash jeans, guru of good times Spuds MacKenzie, and the relevancy of Andrew Dice Clay. We might have thought that the arrival of Fiat Chrysler’s newly minted Chrysler Pacifica minivan would put a stake through the beating heart of the long-running Dodge, but here we are in 2017, and factory-fresh Grand Caravans continue to arrive on dealer lots. But unlike most born-in-the-’80s touchpoints that have slipped beneath the waves of nostalgia, the Grand Caravan remains an immensely practical, if somewhat dated, tool for managing a busy family life. 

Thirty-Three Years and Five Generations

Now in its fifth generation, the Caravan has seen plenty of changes, but none alter its core mission of transporting people and their stuff—and a lot of each. Dodge shuffled the available trim levels for 2017, eliminating the R/T model and the American Value package, so the lineup now stacks up as SE, SE Plus, SXT, and GT, in ascending order. Our test example was a GT.

In addition to including all the features of the scuttled R/T model (a sport suspension, 17-inch alloy wheels, leather seating, remote starting, a power liftgate and sliding side doors, a nine-speaker audio system, and a 6.5-inch infotainment screen), the GT adds navigation and the Driver Convenience Group (heated front- and second-row seats, a heated steering wheel, three-zone automatic climate control, Uconnect Voice Command, window shades, and overhead storage bins). Basically, for $35,490, you get a Caravan that has been dragged through the garden of options. There are still a few items left on the menu, but the only one we’d add for sure is the $995 Trailer package, which gives you a 2.0-inch hitch receiver, a wiring harness, and a load-leveling suspension, all adding up to make the Dodge good to tug 3600 pounds. (We also might spring for the $95 engine-block heater, given our Michigan winters.)

2017 Dodge Grand Caravan© ANDREW WENDLER 2017 Dodge Grand Caravan

If keeping the little ones pacified in a glassy-eyed stupor is a priority, you’re looking at another $995 for the DVD Entertainment setup (a 9.0-inch video screen for the second row with wireless headphones, remote control, an HD multimedia interface, and a “charge only” USB port). Curiously, the $1495 Safety Sphere Group (blind-spot warning, rear cross-path detection, and rear parking assist) is not rolled into the GT package—considering the Caravan’s family mission, we’d think that every possible safety feature would be baked in from the start.

The Grand Caravan’s interior at first seems as large as a New York City apartment, and the front seats are straight out of the La-Z-Boy showroom. Big, soft, and cushy in a very 1980s, Bob Guccione kind of way, the initial impression of luxury they offer can give way to sloppy feeling that’ll have you wishing for more support once you clock some miles. The rest of the interior is just good enough. The switchgear on the console and door panels is standard Chrysler fare; the buttons, light switches, and bin doors on the dash and overhead consoles function as intended but lack any real sturdiness or precision. Finish quality is a mixed bag of plastic surfaces ranging from soft to brittle, all with a feel that leans more toward industrial than luxurious. The plastic-chrome finish on the dash-mounted shifter and its bezel, for instance, looks like surplus from a Monogram model kit.

2017 Dodge Grand Caravan© Chris Doane Automotive 2017 Dodge Grand Caravan

High points include sliding covers for the dual bins in the console and the pair of 12-volt outlets located in the forward bin, frill-free gauges for vehicle and engine speed, and a reasonably intuitive button layout on the dash. We wish Chrysler’s 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment setup were available, but instead the job falls to a 6.5-inch unit surrounded by physical buttons. The Grand Caravan has the famous fold-into-the-floor Stow ‘n Go seats, a staple of any FCA minivan, but we were struck by how much less comfortable they were compared with the newer ones in the Pacifica. In this Caravan, the low seat-cushion height leaves adults with their knees uncomfortably elevated and thighs unsupported. Second-row buckets are standard in all but the base SE. If you’re willing to trade away some convenience, you can get a second-row bench in that model instead.

2017 Dodge Grand Caravan© Chris Doane Automotive 2017 Dodge Grand Caravan

Still Some Fight in Those Bones

Pop the hood, and the nostalgia trip continues with Chrysler’s tried-and-true 3.6-liter V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission. While hardly a cutting-edge powertrain, it provides enough gumption to propel the Caravan from zero to the 60-mph mark in 7.8 seconds and through the quarter-mile in 16.1 with a trap speed of 88 mph; both times are just 0.2 second behind those posted by a 2017 Chrysler Pacifica we recently tested. That’s less surprising when you consider that the Pacifica also relies on the ubiquitous Pentastar for motivation, although the Chrysler shuffles its slightly higher output (287 horses versus 283 for the Caravan) through a nine-speed automatic instead of the Dodge’s six-speed gearbox. In the Grand Caravan, a governor steps in at 113 mph, and you likely wouldn’t want to go much faster anyhow, as the Caravan’s numb steering, susceptibility to crosswinds, and aging chassis require constant correction to keep it on the straight and narrow.

Braking from 70 mph required 180 feet. Of the four nonhybrid Pacificas we’ve evaluated, braking distances have been between 177 and 187 feet. The new 2018 Honda Odyssey and the last front-wheel-drive Toyota Sienna we tested both needed 184 feet. Although the Caravan has nothing to be ashamed of in terms of stopping distance, the pedal feel was soft and vague, and we experienced fade beginning with the first stop.

2017 Dodge Grand Caravan© Chris Doane Automotive 2017 Dodge Grand Caravan

We registered 0.77 g of grip, an impressive number given how much the Caravan leans when asked to change directions. A post-test examination of the 225/65R-17 Michelin Energy Saver all-season tires revealed an unevenly worn left front. Besides potentially compromising performance and tracking, this indicates some suspension or steering components may need servicing. Still, this van is no canyon carver even when the running gear is properly sorted. The trade-off is a relatively smooth ride, but it’s virtually impossible to ignore the nebulous, weary sensation that permeates almost all of the Caravan’s dynamic moves, which illustrates just how much the competition—including the Pacifica—has improved in recent years.

The 20-mpg fuel economy observed over the course of the Caravan’s stay with us exactly matches the EPA combined rating, with the agency’s city figure at 17 mpg and the highway rating at 25 mpg. The Caravan’s observed fuel economy also gives up little ground to the 20 to 22 mpg we’ve seen in our testing of the Pacifica (although a 2017 Pacifica hybrid earned a combined 28 MPGe).

While its demise is inevitable, the Caravan has been granted a stay of execution of sorts. FCA is letting it coexist with the much vaunted Pacifica at least through the rest of the 2017 model year and likely into 2018 as well. Smart shoppers know—and our own research supports—that these things are leaving dealerships with significant discounts off MSRP. So if raw utility and passenger-carrying capacity outweigh your need for parking-lot cachet and the latest styling and technology, the aged Caravan is still a contender for your cash—either to buy or to rent.

Specifications

VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 7-passenger, 4-door van

PRICE AS TESTED: $35,490 (base price: $27,090)

ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 24-valve V-6, aluminum block and heads, port fuel injection

Displacement: 220 cu in, 3605 cc

Power: 283 hp @ 6400 rpm

Torque: 260 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic with manual shifting mode

DIMENSIONS:

Wheelbase: 121.2 in

Length: 203.7 in

Width: 78.7 in Height: 69.0 in

Passenger volume: 164 cu ft

Cargo volume: 31 cu ft

Curb weight: 4636 lb

C/D TEST RESULTS:

Zero to 60 mph: 7.8 sec

Zero to 100 mph: 21.5 sec

Zero to 110 mph: 26.6 sec

Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 8.2 sec

Top gear, 30–50 mph: 4.2 sec

Top gear, 50–70 mph: 5.5 sec

Standing ¼-mile: 16.1 sec @ 88 mph

Top speed (governor limited): 113 mph

Braking, 70–0 mph: 180 ft

Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.77 g

FUEL ECONOMY:

EPA combined/city/highway: 20/17/25 mpg

C/D observed: 20 mpg

C/D observed 75-mph highway driving: 22 mpg

C/D observed highway range: 440 mi

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