The Dodge Caravan and Grand Caravan line-up changes slightly for 2006: the Grand Caravan Plus is no longer offered. Models are the short-wheelbase Caravan and Caravan SXT, and the long-wheelbase Grand Caravan and Grand Caravan SXT. Stow ’n Go seating is optional on the Grand Caravan and standard on the Grand Caravan SXT. The CD/DVD changer is modified to play any CD or DVD, including MP3, DVD-audio, DVD-R and DVD-W, and includes “auto start” capability for DVD-audio and “easy start” for DVD-video. There is also a new enhanced BeltAlert seatbelt reminder for both driver and front passenger, and a message now appears in the instrument cluster if the fuel cap is loose or unattached.
The Caravan comes with a 3.3-litre V6 and four-speed automatic transmission, and includes driver’s side inflatable knee blocker, air conditioning, cargo net between the front seats, lockable underseat storage drawer, power front windows, power locks, heated mirrors, engine immobilizer, tilt steering column, cruise control, intermediate rear bench seat with Easy Out Roller system, CD player and 15-inch steel wheels. Stow ’n Go seating is not available on the short-wheelbase model.
The Caravan SXT adds dual-zone air conditioning, one-touch-down driver’s window, power rear vents, keyless remote, illuminated entry and 16-inch aluminum wheels.
The Grand Caravan also uses the 3.3-litre V6 and features Easy Out Roller system (if Stow ’n Go is not ordered) and covered, in-floor storage bins. It carries the same features of the Caravan, plus an input jack for an MP3 player and anti-lock brakes.
The Grand Caravan SXT uses a 3.8-litre V6 with four-speed automatic transmission, and includes Stow ’n Go, three-zone manual temperature control, power windows, power locks with keyless entry, heated mirrors, overhead console with trip computer and garage door opener, eight-way power driver’s seat, fog lamps, roof rack, leather-wrapped wheel with audio controls, input jack for MP3 player, 16-inch aluminum wheels, and low-speed traction control.
Stow ’n Go seating includes second- and third-row seats that flip and fold into storage wells in the floor. A flat cargo floor is created without removing and storing heavy seats, and the configuration can be changed anywhere: halfway through a trip, you won’t find yourself needing an extra seat that’s been left at home. When the seats are upright, their under-floor wells double as covered storage compartments.
The Grand Caravan’s seat storage system is revolutionary, but the minivan itself isn’t; the smaller V6, while adequate around town, is sluggish on the highway, and steering tends to be vague. The vehicles are put together well, but some materials look cheap. Minivans such as the superb Honda Odyssey and the Toyota Sienna have the edge on performance, handling and interior appointments, but if you want to remove the second-row seats on other vans, they’re strictly Grunt ’n Shunt. Until the others catch up, Stow ’n Go rules.