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  • 2010 Dodge Caravan SXT

    Posted on February 22nd, 2010 ninarussin

    Minivan is a living room on wheels for active families

    By Nina Russin

    2010 Dodge Grand Caravan

    2010 Dodge Grand Caravan

    The minivan seems poised for a resurgence. The do-everything car Chrysler invented twenty five years ago is finding new fans in young, active families who appreciate its versatility. Because a minivan’s exterior is more aerodynamic than the typical, two-box sport-utility vehicle, it tends to get better fuel economy, reducing the cost of ownership.

    Chrysler has dominated the ALV awards in the minivan category since introducing the current models two years ago. Athletes are impressed by Chrysler’s combination of excellent road manners and unique interior options.

    The newest of these is called Swivel ‘n Go seating. Second-row seats swivel to face the third row. A pop-up table in between turns the back of the minivan into a family room. The seats meet all federal safety regulations in both front and rear-facing positions, and the table meets similar standards once deployed.

    A rear DVD player, satellite television and a 115-volt outlet for plugging in games give kids a myriad of entertainment options. Built-in child booster seats are a stand-alone option.

    This week, I spent time behind the wheel of the Dodge Grand Caravan SXT. The SXT is more upscale of two Dodge minivans. Three rows of seating hold up to seven passengers. Power comes from a 4-liter V-6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission.

    Base price is $26,730, not including an $820 delivery charge.

    Enhanced ride and handling

    Swivel 'n Go Seating

    Swivel 'n Go Seating

    Engineers face several challenges in tuning a minivan for performance. The vehicles are heavy, thanks to the plethora of comfort and convenience features. The SXT automatic has a curb weight of 4514 pounds. The front-wheel drive platform tends to understeer, since most of the vehicle weight is up front. Minivans are also high profile vehicles with a high center of gravity.

    The 4 liter V-6 gives the Grand Caravan the low-end power it needs to accelerate properly in the 20-to-50 mile-per-hour range, critical for highway entrance ramps. I would recommend the bigger engine over the 3.8 liter block, standard on the SXT: not only does it add power, but fuel economy is actually better on the highway.

    An available towing prep package enables the Grand Caravan with the 4 liter engine to tow up to 3600 pounds, meeting our ALV minimum standard. The six speed automatic transmission, standard with 3.8 and 4-liter engines, has better fuel economy and less shift shock than four-speed automatic that comes with the base 3.3-liter engine on the SE grade.

    Optional 17-inch wheels on the test car dress up the exterior, and give the car a more substantial footprint for better cornering and braking performance. A front stabilizer bar keeps the chassis flat in the corners. Self-leveling shock absorbers come with the optional towing package, to make the Grand Caravan more stable on hills.

    Power rack-and-pinion steering provides plenty of assist at low speeds, with a fairly positive on-center response at speed. The Grand Caravan’s 39-foot turning radius is fine for the occasional U-turn.  Considering the car’s 121-inch wheelbase, it’s pretty impressive.

    Except for some blind spots in the rear corners, visibility is good around the car. Engineers did a good job of isolating passengers from engine, road and wind noise.

    Family room on wheels

    Dodge Grand Caravan Interior

    Dodge Grand Caravan Interior

    The Dodge Grand Caravan’s ace-in-the-hole is its spacious interior. The test car comes with second-row captain’s chairs that have built-in child booster seats. With the option, the minivan seats up to seven passengers. Stain-resistant fabric makes it easy to clean up spills. I love the fabric since I use my car to travel to and from the trailhead. Over time, traditional fabric gets grimy, whereas the stain-resistant fabric does not.

    The upscale SXT grade is loaded with comfort and convenience features, including three-zone temperature control, satellite radio, an overhead storage console, and a conversation mirror that allows parents to keep an eye on the kids in back. Power adjustable pedals make it easier for smaller adults to drive the car.

    An option package adds an eight-way power driver’s and front passenger seat, heated first and second-row seats, larger wheels, a sport suspension and a rechargeable flashlight that stows in the cargo area.

    A power liftgate that comes with the option makes it easier to load up the weekly groceries ($2760). Controls for the power third-row seats are to the left of the liftgate.

    An infotainment upgrade includes Bluetooth interface with voice-activated controls, and an Infinity sound system with nine speakers and a 500-watt amplifier.

    Swivel ‘n Go seating, which includes the pop-up table, costs $1995. Moving the seats is a simple operation. A strap on the outside of each second-row seat releases the latch, allowing it to swivel 180-degreees to the rear.

    The table, which stows in the floor, mounts between second and third-row seats. It works like a beach umbrella. A pole locks into pins on the minivan floor, and the table mounts on top of it. Twelve and 115-volt power outlets on the C pillar recharge portable electronic devices, and power up computer games.

    Standard safety

    The Grand Caravan comes standard with remote keyless entry, front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes and electronic stability control. Chrysler’s standard warranty includes five years or up to 100,000 miles of powertrain coverage, three years/36,000 miles bumper-to-bumper, and 24-hour roadside assistance.

    Dodge builds the Grand Caravan at its Windsor, Ontario Canada plant.

    Likes: A versatile active lifestyle vehicle with excellent power and appealing interior options, including the Swivel ‘n Go seating system.

    Dislikes: The minivan’s high curb weight can give it anemic performance when equipped with the standard 3.8-liter engine. Those who can afford it should opt for the 4 liter engine option.

    Quick facts:

    Make: Dodge
    Model: Grand Caravan
    Year: 2010
    Base price: $26,730
    As tested: $34,100
    Horsepower: 251 Hp
    Torque: 259 lbs.-ft.
    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: 17/25 mpg city/highway
    Comments: Buyers must add the towing prep package for the Grand Caravan to meet ALV minimum towing standards.


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