Auto123 reviews the 2020 Dodge Grand Caravan.
It doesn't really need much of an introduction anymore: the Dodge Grand Caravan is part of the furniture, as they say. And even it did need one, an introduction wouldn’t do it much good by this point, because, sadly, the Dodge minivan that launched a segment back in 1984 will be gone for good after 2020, as it makes way for the Chrysler Pacifica - but also for the Chrysler Grand Caravan, the automaker having decided to double its lineup in 2021.
Truth is, the Dodge – not Chrysler - Grand Caravan appeals first and foremost to young families who don't care about the luxury promised by other minivans on the market... and loathe the steeper asking prices of those models. Because, well, that's the main attraction of what is indubitably the “oldest” model on the market: Price!
We could have decided to let it go without saying goodbye, but no, even after we’ve put it through an impressive number of test drives over the years, the Dodge Grand Caravan has called to us one more time for a last lap around the suburban cul-de-sac.
Note: Some of you may catch on to the fact that this here is no regular press vehicle provided by FCA. As such, this is no top-of-the-line tuxedo-wearing trim. No, this is the real deal, the one that most buyers in the minivan segment have traditionally gone for: the proudly run-of-the-mill SXT version, which actually just debuted at dealerships this past September.
And when it did appear, one of the buyers of the 2020 Grand Caravan SXT was a certain member of my immediate family. My sister and her husband had decided it was time to say goodbye to their 2006 Toyota Sienna and welcome to the family a newer, safer vehicle. And so I benefited from their usual generosity to abscond for a day in their brand-new ride, just to remind me one more time of the pluses and minuses of the grand old dame of the minivan segment.
More utilitarian than a utility vehicle
The primary reason for the marked interest young families have long had in the Grand Caravan is that it gets the brood from A to B in greater comfort than any crossover available on the market. Yes, that’s an advantage the old Dodge shares with all others in the minivan category. But, and this is where the most family-friendly vehicle in brand’s lineup stands out from its rivals, the Stow 'N Go system is one of the most appealing features of this versatile people-mover.
In fact, according to FCA Canada, the Stow 'N Go system is one of the most important factors influencing buyers of the Grand Caravan and the newer Chrysler Pacifica, which can also be equipped with it. Admittedly, the ability to quickly fold the second-row captain's seats into the floor of the vehicle is a big plus that the other three minivans on the market (Kia Sedona, Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna) don't offer. That's what motivated the purchase of this Grand Caravan SXT, which happens to the most affordable trim in the lineup that can be equipped with this celebrated system.
That matters because in addition to children, this 2020 minivan will be called upon to transport very large paintings on occasion, as its new owners are painters when they're not looking after the three young ‘uns in the household.
I have to admit, the Stow 'N Go system is really easy to use and simplifies lives.
A 2011 interior
The Dodge Grand Caravan was last redesigned an eon ago, more precisely in 2011. At the point the minivan traded in its outdated 4.0L V6 engine for the then-latest 3.6L Pentastar block. The dashboard was also changed a bit at that time, and the quality of the materials was upgraded.
But stacked up against its rivals at Kia, Honda and Toyota, and even the Chrysler Pacifica, the Dodge Grand Caravan didn't measure up, with hard plastics here and there and wobbly assembly dating from a period when FCA products were still lagging behind the pack for level of quality.
On the other hand, I have no complaints about the comfort of the cloth seats, the peripheral visibility or the location of most of the dashboard controls. However, I must point out the absence of second-row windows that can open, which is nonsense in a family van! Fortunately, the rear side windows provide some ventilation - when the first-row windows are also open. The only point of consolation here is called air conditioning and I firmly trust that that will come in handy and reliably next summer.
I could also whine about the small size of the screen connected to the rearview camera (located inside the rearview mirror), but let's not forget that the current Grand Caravan was designed long before the law that obliges manufacturers to equip all their vehicles with a rearview camera in North America came into effect.
At the wheel of a minivan
Despite its advanced age, the Dodge Grand Caravan offers a very similar type of driving and live-in experience to other minivans. As in, it's easy to get in and out thanks to the low floor and wide doors, and there's no shortage of human, storage and cargo space on board.
The V6 engine delivers 283 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, all managed via a 6-speed automatic transmission. In this respect it's true that the Dodge is a little scruffy compared to others, but it could have been worse. Anyways I won't make up a fantasy about the Grand Caravan's astonishing performance; its mission is of a different order. Luckily, the American 6-cylinder engine sounds quite acceptable, while the automatic transmission does a good job. I didn't notice any irregularities during my brief time behind the wheel and I was even able to push the mechanics a little bit on the highway to commemorate the musicality of the Pentastar during acceleration.
As for handling, it's more akin to that of an ocean liner, with the suspension calibrated for comfort, comfort and more comfort. The steering is also a little fuzzy in the middle, but at the risk of repeating myself, this Grand Caravan is a functional vehicle above all, and is not conceived to elicit passion. Given its age, it’s not surprising that the soundproofing is more approximate than in competing minivans.
The last word
The next few months will be crucial for the FCA group. The Dodge division is increasingly positioning itself as the automotive giant's muscle, and the withdrawal of the Grand Caravan - and the Dodge Journey as well - confirms this shift.
But despite the addition of a Chrysler Grand Caravan (more economical to purchase than the Chrysler Pacifica) for 2021, the automaker could well find itself with an exodus of customers accustomed to Dodge Grand Caravans sold at a discount since the dawn of time, especially in Canada, where the proportion of Grand Caravan buyers is higher than among our neighbors south of the border.
The truth is, though, that the manufacturer stretched the elastic as far as it could go with this current Grand Caravan, and maybe even beyond. Honestly, the Grand Caravan should probably have been retired from the market well before 2020. Still, despite all its imperfections, the Dodge Grand Caravan has served millions of users across North America and around the world proudly, and the units that are sold before its time is officially up are likely to continue to do so for years to come.
The affordable price
The ingenuity of the Stow 'N Go System
We like less
The quality of some plastics in the cabin
Quality of assembly is still middling, even after all this time
Higher fuel consumption than other minivans