Got a chance to try out a 2013 Dodge Grand Caravan on December 6, and was not overly impressed. Mind you, I’m a Chrysler fan from way back. My first car was a Chrysler, and I’ve owned more Mopars than any other brand over the years. I hear that the Dodge Dart is extremely cool, and everyone raves about the 300 and the Ram trucks, but the Grand Caravan left me cold. Perhaps that was because it was night, and the heater controls were a pain to figure out. Who needs five similar knobs to control air conditioning and heat anyway?
The dashboard layout was far from intuitive. Huge, same size dials report the speed and RPMs, and each of those has a small, hard to see secondary dial giving the coolant temperature (left side) and fuel level (right side). These are hidden away at the bottom of the larger dials and are usually obscured by the steering wheel, as is the minimal digital speedometer on the lower edge of the cluster in the middle. The small speed digits are about as big as the numbers on the regular speedometer, but why is there a digital speedo when you already have a large analog speedometer? Even stranger, you can’t get a mileage reading on it unless you stop the engine and open the door. Some people actually want to see the mileage because it can help them gauge fuel economy.
Another point of interest: there is no regular door or ignition key, only a couple of battery powered remotes to unlock the doors, which are a “central locking system” that all lock at about 20 MPH but don’t unlock until you pull the door handle to open it. Like many higher-end Japanese and European cars, you insert the small end of the key fob into the large slot in the dash, a signal goes to the starter, and you turn the fob to start the vehicle.
The auto trans shifter is mounted on the dash, where you put the shifter through a zig-zag maneuver to change gears, probably to give the driver the illusion he is actually shifting gears. The Toyota Sienna I tested had a similar setup, but the gears showed up in an easily seen digital dial, whereas in the Dodge, the gears showed under the digital speedometer, unseen unless you stared over the steering wheel, a dangerous deed indeed. In the Sienna, the gears also were alongside the shifter, but in the Dodge, the shifter was unmarked.
The seats in the Grand Caravan (seating for seven, including four captain’s chairs and a third row bench) were soft to the touch and the seating area was long enough to give adequate thigh support, but the seat itself was harder than it looked, and had no lumbar support (advantage Sienna, again). There was no rear view camera even though its tall profile gave many blind spots, and the rear hatch and rear side windows were overly tinted, making them useless at night for gauging if there’s anything or person next to or behind you. The side view mirrors were also inadequate to the task, but there were more than enough drink holders built in for all passengers. The sound system was way below par and not easy to operate, but it did include a CD player and an MP3 input jack. Fit and finish of the interior was good, but the material looked inferior. Ride was bad, and the shocks of apparent cheap quality, which gave you the impression you would even feel driving over a feather.
Final verdict: I would not buy this minivan for myself, but if you’re looking for a fairly roomy ride with stowaway seating to give you more room, this could be the vehicle for you. I gave it three out of five tomahawks.