Surf over to the Chrysler website and you’ll find a juicy incentive on the Dodge Grand Caravan, one so fat as to render the sticker price almost silly – more than $10,000.
Silly in a good way. If you’re a family type looking for the most sensible and cost-efficient way to truck kids around, don't hesitate. Take all the money and bargain hard for a few grand more. Eventually, you’ll carve the $34,495 price of the Grand Caravan Crew Plus minivan I just tested down to something in the low-$20,000 range.
Meet a stupendous bargain, a smoking offer on a minivan – the most functional kid carrier ever invented. I know, minivans are so passé and they often leave long-time owners crying out, “I just can’t take it anymore.” The image thing, and fluctuating fleet sales, explain why, despite the big-money deals, Grand Caravan sales are down about 17 per cent this year in Canada.
And all that, in turn, explains why the future of the Grand Caravan beyond, say, 2015 is uncertain. As Automotive News recently noted, “it isn’t yet clear whether another high-profile Dodge, the Grand Caravan minivan, will morph into a crossover-like vehicle on a new platform in 2015, according to recent statements by Chrysler executives.”
Forget about the future. The present Grand Caravan is so utterly functional, so completely affordable, so thoroughly gratifying from a can-do perspective – it’s brilliant. And as exciting as an egg salad sandwich.
Unless, of course, you set your mind to employing all it has to offer. The Stow-’N-Go seats, for instance, should not be overlooked. Even after all these years, no other car company with a minivan – a shrinking pool to be sure – has managed to match the simplicity and usefulness of a second row of seats that can be neatly tucked away in a blink. And when not so disposed, the bins below are incredibly useful.
Or the third row. Like all of their ilk, I wouldn’t want to wrestle my way back there, but for short hops, little types will like them fine. And they flip up and down with an easy tug and push. Throughout, you’ll find cupholders and cubbies for stashing all and sundry for a long road trip.
The drive isn’t bad, either. A couple of years ago, Chrysler stuffed its good 3.6-litre V-6 under that snub-nosed hood. At 283 horsepower, this reasonably fuel-efficient engine is plenty powerful and uses regular gas. Truth be told, there is so much smooth power here, I found it absurdly easy to light up the front-drive wheels. The six-speed automatic gearbox is modern enough, too, though I found the occasional hesitation in shifts.
The seats? My tester came with a $3,000 option package (29L) that includes leather upholstery, which is a must for easy cleanups of spilled juice boxes and such. Yes, they could contour to the shape of a human with just a little more aplomb, but they were decently padded and adjustable.
The rest of the $3,000 worth of extras run the gamut, from a 115-volt power outlet to a 28GB hard drive, to a 6.5-inch touch screen display, to heated front seats, a left power sliding door, Chrysler’s Uconnect infotainment system, lovely ambient lighting, overhead storage bins, a back-up camera – you’d think Chrysler would have nothing to add here. You’d be wrong.
Need to tow? The tow package adds $700. Remote starting and a security alarm adds $595. Heated steering wheel, $200. Video for the second- and third-rows, $1,750. Power folding rear seats, $650. Nine speakers, a subwoofer and a 506-watt amplifier, $800.
This list is here to make a point: you can stuff every feature imaginable into the Grand Caravan and not push the transaction price past $30,000. Come on now: where else can you get so much for so little coin? You can’t.
And all these odds and sods are easy to access and simple to use, even if you are not the least bit technologically savvy. The touch screen, for instance, is mounted high up on the centre console where it is visible and within easy reach of driver or passenger. Better still, the menus are utterly sensible, thoroughly intuitive and graphically delightful. A five-year-old could easily set a destination in the navigation system or cue up a song from the hard drive.
Now, while the engine is good, overall, the least entertaining part of the whole thing is getting from A to B. Yup, you’re wheeling around in a minibus, a dedicated people carrier whose sole purpose is to transport you, the gang in back and all your junk.
I’m okay with that and here’s why. The Grand Caravan is so cheap, even stuffed to the gills with extras. Choose it over, say, a comparably equipped crossover wagon of any sort, and you’ll have enough money left over to buy yourself a nice little used sports car or a terrific new motorbike.
Go figure, and when you do, plug that $10,000 into the calculation.
2013 Dodge Grand Caravan Crew Plus
Type: Three-row minivan
Price: $34,495; $1,595 freight and PDI. As tested: $46,435
Engine: 3.6-litre V-6
Horsepower/torque: 283 hp/260 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.2 city/7.90 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Nissan Quest, Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey
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