COAL: 2015 Dodge Grand Caravan: A Vast Improvement

So here’s the new D family hauler. We’ve had a few weeks to compare it back to back with our old van and here’s what we found:

To recap, my father in law works at a Ford dealership and when it’s new car time we ask him to look out for a good trade in, then wait. He’s had his eye out for a newish van for us since last November, no huge hurry but a good deal on a good van. There haven’t been many candidates, back in December we checked out a very smoky CVP Caravan which was rejected, and at the beginning of the summer he presented a bright white Town & Country but we felt it too blingy for our discerning minivan tastes. What we really wanted was an SXT trim level, and since our 2007 Caravan will still trucking along just fine we were prepared to wait.

So he emailed us in July, he was making a deal where the trade in was an SXT Premium Plus with just under 100,000 km (62,000 miles). Premium Plus even, and it wasn’t red!

 

Apparently it was owned by a lady who hated minivans. Her husband had persuaded her that it was best for transporting the family, and she hated it from the day she got it. After three years she told her husband to get stuffed and traded it in on a new Explorer. We have no such qualms about minivans, as I’ve mentioned before I compartmentalize transportation from interesting vehicles. My 1963 VW is interesting, a Caravan is transportation. Despite the previous owner’s hatred the van had been dealer maintained and was clean.

When you get first dibs you have to come and see the vehicle right away, so we went up after work that week. The dealership is over an hour from our place, and by the time we got there, met up with Dad and took a test drive it was past closing time. As we turned back in to the lot the staff was waiting for us so they could close the gate. I said to my wife “you realize if we don’t buy this van all these people are going to pound us in the parking lot?” We had already decided to buy the van, so did not have to take on the dealership staff.

 

We were on vacation the following week (last trailer camping trip with the old van), so Dad sourced some roofrack crossbars and a trailer hitch before we picked it up. Dad’s such a stickler, he had the hitch place redo the wiring because they didn’t put a plastic protector over it. Great guy to have in your corner.

 

When we picked it up I recreated my epic photo of my fathers 1981 Impala purchase.  Like me, Mrs DougD really looks like her father.

There is a lot to like about this new van.  The 3.6 litre Pentastar V6 has a lot more oomph than the old van’s 3.3.  Unintentional tire squealing starts and effortless highway cruising are the new normal.  It has all the minivan features we have so longed for since our Windstar days:  Roof rack, non-fixed sliding door windows, stow and go seats.  Oh joy!

 

The interior is delightful.  Our old van was a base model value package and every surface was cheap, hard plastic.  The SXT has soft door panels, leather/suede-like seats and dual air.  It’s significantly quieter inside on the highway.  The radio/DVD touch screen controls are easy to use, Mrs DougD was able to get her phone sync’d in about 5 minutes (unlike our 2013 Focus which was a multi-day blasphemous struggle, thanks Microsoft!)

Also fun is that unlike our old van this one immediately aquired a nickname:

It’s The Cracker Van!  Because it’s a big box of Premium Plus. 😛

 

All these great features have already come in handy. The other week we picked up three kids from summer camp, my two plus a nephew. With the split rear seat we could fit them and all their camp junk easily, and the powerful A/C kept us cool as we did 120-130km/hr all the way home. It also kept smells moving toward the back of the van, a combined nine weeks of damp unwashed camp laundry is incredibly smelly.

 

Although this van is a vast improvement it is definately vast.  It’s a lot bigger than the 2007 as you can see here.  It feels a lot bigger on the road too, I feel slightly bad for our 15 year old daughter who will have to learn to drive in this.  I bet she’ll quickly learn to drive a stick shift so she can use the Focus.  Despite the big tires and brakes the handling feels clumsier than the old van.  If the engine is fantastic the 7 speed transmission is a bit of a letdown:  shift shift shift shift shift wherever you go.  In stop and go driving I just hold it back in 4th or 5th.

 

There’s a few issues related to the rolling stock.  Despite having brand new tires there is some vibration at 120km/hr, so something’s not balanced right.  I need to buy winter tires anyway, once I have some I can change them one at a time to find the culprit.  Some of the lug nuts are rusting under the stainless cover, so they swell up and you can’t get a socket on it.  The solution is to remove the cover and use an 18mm socket.  I bought a set of McGard locking nuts to replace the bad ones.  The previous owners had locking nuts and apparently lost the key, all four rims have chisel marks on them from their removal.  The brakes are fine in town but lumpy on the highway, I have a pair of OEM front brake rotors on order.  Not covered by Mopar warranty, naturally.

But these are either teething problems or things we will just get used to.  We are adjusting well to not having any red vehicles for the first time in over twenty years.

With any luck the Cracker Van will get us through many years of commuting, moving kids between home, camp & college dorm, carrying canoes and towing trailers.  It really is a vast improvement.