I am constantly asked what the best three-row crossover vehicle is and for many years my answer has not waivered: a minivan. I am still a firm believer that the ultimate utility comes from a model that receives so little respect these days, and recently we got a (final) look at the granddaddy of them, the Dodge Grand Caravan.
I say final look as there is no replacement announced for the model when its 2016 production run ends this year. The parent group, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, has been parading around the next-generation Chrysler product – dubbed Pacifica – that appears to be the sole minivan in the FCA family come 2017.
Sad, as Caravan and Grand Caravan have carried the segment from its infancy decades ago but as they say, all good things must come to an end. To keep this from sounding too much like a “Dead Man Walking” eulogy I will look at the highlights of the model and for one last time attempt to sway those naysayers who turn up their noses at the mere thought of owning a minivan.
Let’s start where so many begin their research efforts by looking at pricing. Besides being the best-selling and most awarded minivan ever, the Dodge Grand Caravan is also the most affordable, with pricing beginning under 22 grand. That’s way less than any seven-passenger crossover or sport ute on the market today and that includes three rows of seating standard along with a V-6 engine, not to mention second and third row Stow ‘n Go seats that fold flat into the cargo floor.
For those parents with children who can neither operate rear doors safely or effectively, minivans feature sliding side doors that are now fully powered and can even be operated via keyfob remote or switches from the drivers cockpit. No embarrassing “sorry, my kids did it” when dinging up the body paint of the car next to you in the parking lot.
Minivans are not just great for parents when it comes to providing safe and efficient transportation. Easy ingress/egress makes this segment ideal for those who travel with the elderly or infirmed as well. The load floor is lower than most utility vehicles and the door openings are wider and more convenient for those not as athletic as the snowboarding/surfing models we see selling the hottest new utes on TV. And minivans are still the most popular upfit model for the mobility impaired.
Getting back to our Grand Caravan tester, Dodge sent us the SXT Plus model, which is near the top of the line of packages offered for 2016. The others include AVP, SE, SXT, and R/T. As I mentioned, all 2016 Grand Caravans feature the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine that produces 283 hp and 260 lb. ft. of torque while delivering 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. This engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and all Grand Caravan models are front wheel drive. Acceleration is powerful and on demand, steering is effortless, and braking is well controlled and solid.
The Grand Caravan rides very stable and very quiet. Conversations can be had over the three rows of seating without the need to raise voices. It features all the latest amenities including power rear liftgate, three-zone climate control, Uconnect driver infotainment with hands free group, Bluetooth and voice command, satellite and HD radio, and super console with power outlets and flexible storage options. This tester also arrived with the Dual DVD/Blu-Ray entertainment package that features second and third-row overhead video screens and wireless headphones, overhead storage bins, 115-volt auxiliary power, and 40GB hard drive multimedia system with Garmin navigation system and SiriusXM Travel Link.
Driving the Dodge Grand Caravan is one of the simplest tasks – I call this a “point-and-go” type vehicle as little time is ever wasted thinking about operating the controls of the vehicle itself. Everything is second nature, another virtue of the minivan. Sightlines are open and easy and the vehicle includes back up camera view along with available park assist for added safety, as well as blind spot monitoring and rear cross path detection system.
The 2016 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT Plus we tested rolled in with a final window sticker of $34,020, very competitive for those shopping seven-passenger vehicles despite the stigma of a minivan. It drives easier and handles better than most three-row crossover vehicles on the market and is competitive in fuel economy and features, not to mention safety. And given that so many have opted over to crossovers you may find yourself driving something unique. The Grand Caravan is dead, long live the Grand Caravan!