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  • 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT

    Posted on September 9th, 2007 jwoodman

    by Jim Woodman

    Road trip. It’s funny how, depending on your perspective, those two words can conjure up entirely different images. For college students, it’s all about the fun and adventure. Who can say no to a road trip?

    Yet, as parents, we tend to shudder at the very thought of driving more than a couple hours with any child under six. So when my wife and I came up with this crazy idea to drive to Seattle, from San Diego, and back with our eight, six and two-year-old sons, we wondered whether we should check ourselves in for counseling.

    2008 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT

    2008 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT

    “Are you nuts?” or “Wow, that’s really brave of you guys” are some of the typical comments we’d get when sharing our road trip idea.

    Fortunately, auto manufacturers have been listening to lamenting parents and, when you factor in the startling array of onboard entertainment in today’s vehicles, especially the family minivan, a road trip can be – dare I say it – a lot of fun.

    2008 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT

    Since Chrysler and Dodge recently introduced their fifth generation of minivans, with the Town and Country and Grand Caravan respectively, it made even more sense to take one of these all-purpose family vehicles and put it to the road trip test.

    Remember, Chrysler launched the whole minivan revolution and had the market to itself back in 1984.

    Today, choosing a minivan is not so easy. Just about everybody’s got stow-able rear seats, DVD players, satellite radios and options in just about every size and shape. Consumers end up choosing based on styling preferences, safety features, available accessories and, most importantly, price.

    I had heard that Dodge and Chrysler had done some very cool things with their redesigned fifth generation minivans. Word was out that the bar had been seriously raised for their Japanese and Korean counterparts.

    So we started thinking about how great it would be if we could score a new Dodge Grand Caravan SXT for our road trip? Since one of the things I do for a living is review new vehicles, I pitched the idea to the folks at Chrysler and Dodge. Fortunately, they liked my idea of testing their latest and greatest up the California and Oregon coasts with a car full of kids.

    Our Grand Caravan arrived a couple days before our journey and we quickly realized – much to our pleasure – that the Caravan is all about onboard entertainment.

    20 Gigabyte Hard Drive

    Being a technology geek at heart, I have to admit that one of the coolest features – and something I had not yet seen in a car – was the 20 gigabyte hard drive built into the Grand Caravan’s entertainment system. Yes, I said 20 gigabytes! I remember the day I heard you could get a one gigabyte hard drive in a computer. I thought that was outrageous. Now, twenty times that is built into your car!

    So what’s the purpose of a hard drive in your car, you ask? To load music and personal photos. Dodge has essentially allowed you to turn your car’s stereo into an iPod-like entertainment system. I had my choice of loading music through a USB port, or music CDs. Once loaded, just like on an iPod, I could sort by artist, song, genre, etc. Very, very cool. One thing missing, however, was the ability to create a custom playlist.

    I chose to load music through a USB thumb drive, and while it was very simple to do, I would’ve liked to see some sort of progress bar to let me know how much had been loaded. It’s always a little disconcerting to not know how much time it’s going to take to transfer files and, more importantly, not be sure if everything’s loading correctly. That said, it takes about a minute and a half to load a typical album.

    The photo feature allows you to put only 10 images on the hard drive and then choose a default image to display on your dashboard. With today’s digital cameras, real geeks can literally add photos of their vacation – while on vacation – to their car’s dashboard. Yes, admittedly, I went the real geek route myself. Just thought you’d want to know.

    My test vehicle also had an outstanding Sirius satellite radio which, in my humble opinion, is one of the best entertainment values you can sort yourself out with – especially if you take a lot of road trips. No matter how remote your location, you’ve always got a myriad choice of music, talk radio, news and sports.

    DVD Entertainment

    Staying on the entertainment theme, there’s no question that a built-in DVD entertainment system is the single most important item a parent can install for their children – if they want some peace on the road.

    Now, don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not advocating placing your children in front of a TV or video screen all day. But when you’re on the road for six or more hours a day, there’s only so many are-we-there-yet or how-much-longer comments you can take before you want to scream and kill your children or yourself – neither of which is a very good idea.

    Our Grand Caravan had two overhead LCD screens that allowed our boys in the second and third row seats to get a very clear view of their movie. And by giving each child their own wireless headphones, my wife and I were free to listen to satellite radio or any of the music we’d loaded onto the hard drive.

    If you’re not a parent, you won’t know what I’m talking about. But for those with children, you can certainly appreciate the fact you don’t hear a peep out of the kids when they’re watching a movie. Is the DVD entertainment system worth it? You betcha. Are we horrible parents for letting the movies entertain the kids? Hmmm. That’s material for another story, another day.

    It’s funny when you look at things from a child’s perspective. I asked my six-year-old if he liked road trips. “Yes … because you get to watch movies,” was his immediate response. As much as we’d like to believe our kids can appreciate any of the scenic beauty we experience along the coastline, it’s just not going to happen – especially under the age of 10.

    While our vehicle wasn’t so equipped, an optional dual DVD system can play two different DVDs on the two separate LCD screens. Or one row can watch a DVD while the other row plugs in a gaming console (there’s a power outlet built right into the C-pillar). Or, get this, thanks to Sirius Backseat TV, either or both rows can watch live television from three channels: Disney, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. Once they add ESPN to that offering, there’s no question my wife will be doing most of the driving.

    Another very cool option that Dodge offers is their “Swivel ‘n Go” second-row chairs that literally flip around 180 degrees so that the second row passengers now face the third row occupants. A removable table, that’s centered between both rows, makes card games and eating drive-thru fast food a pleasure. Essentially, your minivan is getting to be more and more like an RV.

    Convenient LED reading lamps highlight the cabin and an overhead “halo” light bathes the interior in a soft blue. These cool blue lights, believe it or not, were a big hit with the kids.

    Our vehicle also featured second row “stow and go” seats that easily fold into the floor. If you get the “Swivel and Go” seats for the second row, they won’t stow away like the third row seats.

    Cupholders, as in all American vehicles, were everywhere. I especially liked the center console where I was able to easily store a quart-size water drinking bottle in addition to a few cokes. If you need your coke, coffee or beverage fix on a road trip, the center console on the Grand Caravan will store everything you need and then some.

    Driving Impressions

    As mentioned up front, the new Grand Caravan is completely redesigned. You’ll notice the rear is a little more squared-off which allows you to carry more luggage and gear and have greater visibility out the back. The roof is six inches wider than its predecessor. We loaded all our luggage into the rear compartment, behind the third row, which allowed the kids to have plenty of room inside.

    There’s nearly two more inches added to wheelbase and overall length. Standard tires are now 16-inches and suspension is thoroughly revised with struts up front, a rear twist beam with coil springs, and a larger front stabilizer bar for improved control. That said, it’s still a minivan and rounding corners on tight, windy roads up the California and Oregon coasts made me realize it’s impossible to get great handling characteristics in a vehicle with this high center of gravity. In other words, you don’t buy a minivan to zip around tight corners.

    Dodge no longer offers the previous four-cylinder base engine – which is a smart move. Who wants to chug up a hill, or accelerate to freeway speed, in a four-cylinder minivan? The new Grand Caravan lets you choose between three V-6s: a flex-fuel 3.3-liter (175 hp), a 3.8 (197 hp), and a new, 24-valve 4.0-liter unit that delivers 251 horses and 259 pound-feet of torque. The 3.3 is coupled with a standard four-speed automatic, while the two larger engines dial you into six-speed automatic transmissions – the first offered in a minivan.

    Our vehicle was equipped with the 3.8 liter engine and was very adequately powered. Interestingly enough, there were no Low or Second Gear transmission options. The idea here is that the six-speed automatic transmission has low enough gear ratios to get you up those steep hills. I had a couple instances where we’d driven down to some coastal beaches and, during the steep, dirt-road drive back up the hill, the transmission performed flawlessly. Since most people rarely shift into anything other than “Drive” on their automatic transmissions, this is probably another wise move.

    And with two less gear options to worry about, the shift lever is now mounted on the dash, just to the right of the steering wheel, and doesn’t take up very much room. EPA Fuel economy is rated at 16/23 city/highway respectively. I found, however, I was getting just over 20 miles to the gallon with a predominance of highway driving. We drove north up the coast, which involved a lot more stop-and-go driving, and returned via Interstate 5. In California, where much of the highway speed limit is 70 mph, I found that cruising between 75 mph and 80 mph was very easy on the engine. You don’t really want to drive a minivan faster than 75 anyway, as highway crosswinds in a higher-profile vehicle will make handling a little squirrelly.

    Powerful remote keyless entry

    I was also very impressed with the remote keyless entry. The range on this thing was the best I’ve ever seen. I could literally open and close the sliding power side doors or power liftgate with a touch of the button from about 75 yards away. No kidding. At one point, I was inside my brother-in-law’s house in Seattle, which sits on top of a hill, and I opened the car doors at the bottom of the hill, much to the surprise of a friend who was walking toward the car.

    The Grand Caravan is loaded with safety features, including standard all-row side-curtain airbags, standard electronic stability and traction control, tire-pressure monitoring and optional rear park assist and backup camera.

    Our vehicle was equipped with the “Customer Preferred Package 25K” at an additional $2,395, that included all the entertainment goodies I mentioned plus the rear back up camera. The only thing I didn’t have, which would have made the Grand Caravan the ultimate road trip vehicle was the integrated navigation system.

    Here’s the real kicker. Everything, including all the power options and entertainment toys stickers out at only $30,330. Yes, the new Dodge Grand Caravan comes in at a lower sticker price than previous models. When you consider a fully-loaded Honda Odyssey or Toyota Sienna can quickly get you to $40k, I have no doubt a lot of folks are going to be rethinking Dodge and Chrysler.

    For the record, if you have to do a road trip, and I don’t care if you’re a college student or parent of screaming quadruplets, the Dodge Grand Caravan is an outstanding option to get you there in style, comfort and safety.

    Yes, I would do that road trip in the Grand Caravan again without hesitation. It was truly a lot of fun.

    Quick facts:

    Make: Dodge
    Model: Grand Caravan SXT
    Year: 2008
    Base price: $ 26,805
    As tested: $30,330
    Horsepower: 197 Hp @ 5200 rpm
    Torque: 230 lbs.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
    Zero-to-sixty: N/A
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    Side curtain airbags: Standard
    First aid kit: N/A
    Bicycle friendly: Yes
    Towing: Yes
    Off-road: No
    Fuel economy: 16/23 mpg, city/highway

     

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