Reviews

2013 Dodge Grand Caravan Walk Around

The 2013 Dodge Grand Caravan is attractive, as minivans go. The look is crisp and tidy, but not boxy, with just a touch of sportiness. Unlike some of its competitors, the Grand Caravan neither blends in with the scenery, nor leaps out of it, screaming.

Up front is a curvy, almost car-like fascia with mesh inserts above and below the main bumper. Filling the upper grille are the trademark Dodge crosshairs, finished in matte black with a chrome outline; except on the R/T, where the chrome parts are replaced with body color.

Rear-end styling is more clever than conspicuous; on each side the rear roof pillar unites with the taillight cluster to form a single surface, which then bulges out just slightly to become the rear bumper and step plate before retreating back up to the roof via the taillight on the opposite side of the van. Recessed into this gentle U-shape is a subtly convex liftgate integrating a body-color roof spoiler.

Sixteen-inch wheels are standard, although Dodge has promised 17-inch steel wheels by mid-year. We think the available five-spoke 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels look better.

Still, a minivan shape does not lend itself to artistic sculpture. A description of the overall shape of this current generation of the Dodge Grand Caravan wouldn't sound too much different from a description of the 1984 model. There is a big box behind, where all the people and cargo fit, and a smaller box in front, for the engine. That very efficient outline defines every minivan on the road.

All the leading minivans, including Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey, Nissan Quest and Chrysler Town & Country, measure within an inch or two of the Grand Caravan in overall dimensions. They're all big, and with a 202.8-inch overall length and a 121.2-inch wheelbase, the Chrysler vans are the biggest of the bunch.

These so-called minivans are quite large. However, they share their basic architecture with cars, using unit-body structures and front-wheel drive platforms, with the engine mounted transversely. Conversely, full-size vans, such as the Chevrolet Express, are built on truck platforms, with body-on-frame structures, rear-wheel-drive platforms and giant, longitudinally mounted V8 engines. Minivans are lighter, more fuel-efficient and offer more responsive handling than the full-size vans.

Interior

Grand Caravan boasts a rich and inviting interior, characterized by strong, decisive lines and shapes and thankfully free of visual gimmicks.

The dashboard is hard plastic, but that's the norm for the class. The look and feel is that of a flowing, one-piece design. The door tops are padded, adding a touch of comfort, and both the standard-level cloth upholstery and the R/T-grade leather have a look of quality.

Instrumentation consists of black dials offset by blue-tinted graphics and chrome trim. There are big divisions so you can read each 5-mph increment on the speedometer. The shift lever sticks out just to the left of the center stack, an efficient location.

The handsome, three-spoke steering wheel incorporates trip computer, phone, audio, cruise control, and, when ordered, navigation controls. It telescopes as well as tilts, even with the basic American Value Package, allowing more drivers to find an ideal seating position. The optional heated steering wheel is nice on cold winter mornings.

The sloped A-pillars allow good visibility, but the long hood means the driver sits back a bit from the front bumper, so it's a little hard to gauge the distance when parking.

Center consoles now come in three grades (or four, if you count the open storage bin in the AVP). SE has a removable console with four cup holders. Optional on SXT and Crew is a Premium console, also removable, which slides fore and aft for use by either the front or rear passengers. Standard issue on SXT, Crew, and R/T is a Super Console with capabilities between basic and Premium.

Grand Caravan is designed well for hauling youngsters, with some thoughtful features. Among them is the convex conversation mirror, which is handy for talking to those in the rear seats without having to turn around. We like this clever little feature, which has been around for some time.

The DVD entertainment system is a snap to play, which is important because some of them, even those in much more expensive vehicles, are not easy to use. Plug in the DVD, press Play, and it works; the screen drops down from the ceiling and the viewing begins. Video can be shown on the front touch-screen when the transmission is in Park. It comes with wireless headphones for rear seat passengers and has jacks to plug in video game systems. When the DVD screen is deployed, the driver loses some visibility in the rearview mirror so more attention needs to be paid to the side mirrors.

Late in the 2013 model year, the Grand Caravan will offer an industry-first Blu-Ray DVD video system on Crew and R/T models. Blu-Ray discs offer four times the definition of conventional DVDs. The dual-screen system designed for the Grand Caravan will feature a High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) input for video game systems, a 115-volt power outlet, and two USB ports so customers can charge their cell phones, laptops, tablet PCs or MP3 players. The Blu-Ray player can play both standard DVDs and Blu-Ray discs.

Three different Uconnect systems are available, and we like all of them. All come with a 6.5-inch touchscreen. The base version has a 30-gigabyte hard-drive that can hold about 6,700 music files. Another version has an integrated Garmin navigation system that works just fine but has cartoonish graphics. It also has a 30-gig hard-drive, but it can hold about 4,250 songs because some of the space is used for Navigation map information. The top version has a more familiar Dodge navigation system that we like better. It can also hold 4,250 songs and adds Sirius satellite radio, SiriusXM Traffic and SiriusXM Travel Link. This system comes with Uconnect Phone wireless cell phone link, voice recognition, and iPod control, and it can record voice memos.

With any of the systems offered, songs can be ripped from CDs, and music and pictures can be downloaded from thumb drives via a standard USB port. The hard drive is a great way to have ready access to your music collection without toting around a bunch of CDs. For further connectivity, Uconnect Web, a mobile wi-fi router, is offered as a Mopar accessory.

The second-row bucket seats are stationary, but the back folds forward and the seat tips up to allow access to the third row, all with the pull of a lever. Open the bins in the floor and you can then push the seats into them.

This system, called Super Stow 'n Go, works superbly well. For a fairly simple invention, it's a masterpiece. To test it, we hauled a couch. In just a minute or so, and without having to refer to the manual, we dropped the second- and third-row seats flat into the floor. We unloaded the kids, then went to the furniture store to pick up a long leather couch. We converted the Grand Caravan from soccer bus to cargo van in 60 seconds, and easily carted the couch home.

New for 2013, albeit only on the AVP, is a second-row bench seat that reclines, folds and is removable for added cargo room. It does not fold into the floor, but still comes with the concealed, under-floor storage bins that are normally part of the Super Stow 'n Go system. The bins can keep valuables out of sight while the van is parked. Second row Super Stow 'n Go seats can be added to the AVP as an option.

The second-row floormats are now anchored so they don't slide around, another nice improvement for 2013.

Standard on all Grand Caravan models, including the AVP, is a 60/40 split-folding third-row that also folds flat into the floor. This third-row seat will fit three kids or two adults. It's as useful and comfortable as most competitors'. While the overall interior volume in the Grand Caravan isn't class-leading, it's close with a whopping 143.8 cubic feet of space with all the seats folded down. The competition offers more legroom, but all of these minivans are big inside and the Grand Caravan is comfortable for kids.

The step from SE to SXT is about $3,600, but it may be well worth it just for the convenience of not having to physically slide your minivan's side doors open or closed (there are two of them, by the way), or lift the liftgate. The SXT should offer better resale value, also. Minivan owners tend to have full, busy lives, and small conveniences such as a power tailgate that raises as you walk up with your arms full can be worth a lot. The buttons are located on the headliner between the front seats, and using them imparts a wonderful sense of ease and convenience.

The Grand Caravan leads the minivan field when it comes to interior convenience, capability and versatility. Chrysler has been working to give its minivans a competitive advantage in these areas for a long time, and those efforts show.

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