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Review and photos by Jil McIntosh
Look in the dictionary under “practical”, and you’ll find a picture of a minivan. Their once-lofty status has been downgraded by their soccer-mom reputation, but in reality, they’re comfortable, roomy, and far easier to manoeuvre than most SUVs. I’ll tell anyone who’ll listen about the time I took three passengers on our annual nine-hour trek in a full-size, truck-based SUV, instead of our customary minivan. Although it was a bigger envelope and twice the price (both on the sticker and my gasoline card), we had less passenger and cargo space than in the minivan.
Today, there are considerably more competitors than when Dodge Caravan made its debut in 1984, but it remains a worthwhile contender. The Caravan comes in regular wheelbase and the 152mm-longer Grand Caravan (overall length difference is 290mm), all with 7-passenger seating. The smaller version is $28,205 in regular trim and $29,980 for SXT, which adds such features as dual-zone temperature control, keyless entry, wheel-mounted audio controls and 16-inch aluminum wheels.
The smaller van is roomy enough, but if you’re planning on changing the seat configurations frequently, and your budget allows it, consider moving up to Grand Caravan with the new Stow ‘n Go seating, which starts at $30,740. These seats fold under the floor; regular Caravan’s seats may have little wheels on them, but they’re still a pain in the butt to remove and install. They’re heavy and awkward, and require a place to store them. And if you need to swap cargo for passengers halfway through, too bad – the seat’s at home.
All Caravans come with a 180 hp 3.3-litre V6 (except for Grand Caravan SXT, which contains a 3.8), 4-speed automatic transmission, and front-wheel drive. The engine is tuned more to city streets and is a bit sluggish on the highway. My base tester’s workhorse tendencies translated to a fairly decent return of 11.2 L/100 km.
You won’t mistake a Caravan for a sportscar – steering is a bit numb, although it held its own on nasty roads, ploughing through ridges of slush without mishap. ABS comes standard on Grand Caravan but is optional on the smaller model.
Inside, the Caravan offers upright seating with good visibility, rolling locks with override on the inside handles, and a well-designed, wheel-mounted cruise control that clusters the driving-control buttons (accelerate, resume, cancel and coast) all on one side. The third seat can be slid ahead for more cargo space, or back for extra legroom. Power pedals are optional on all models, and there are seven grocery bag hooks on the third seat. The base model eliminates the tachometer and, annoyingly, the front door pockets. A glass-teat babysitter – oops, make that rear-seat DVD system – can be added even to the base model.
All Caravans come with two sliding doors that can be upgraded to passenger-side power on Caravan SXT, and power to both on Grand Caravan. Opening either sliding door sets the hazard lights flashing for several seconds; depending on your viewpoint, it’s either an important safety item, or an unnecessary irritation.
Decidedly unflashy, Caravan simply gets a lot of people and their stuff to where they’re going. It may not have the panache, but it’s got practicality down pat.
Technical Data: 2005 Dodge Caravan
|Options||$1,170 (side airbags, curtain airbags $600; ABS $570)|
|Price as tested||$30,675|
|Type||4-door, 7-passenger minivan|
|Layout||transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive|
|Engine||3.3 litre V6, OHV, 12 valves|
|Horsepower||180 @ 5200 rpm|
|Torque||210 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm|
|Curb weight||1773 kg (3908 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2878 mm (113.3 in.)|
|Length||4808 mm (189.1 in.)|
|Width||1997 mm (78.6 in.)|
|Height||1749 mm (68.9 in.)|
|Cargo area||430 litres (15.3 cu. ft.) behind third seat|
|1300 litres (35.6 cu. ft.) behind second seat|
|4200 litres (146.7 cu. ft.) behind first row|
|Fuel consumption||City: 12.2 L/100 km (23 m.p.g.)|
|Hwy: 8.2 L/100 km (34 m.p.g.)|
|Fuel type||Unleaded regular 87 octane|
|Assembly location||Windsor, Ontario & St. Louis, Missouri|