If one pays careful attention there are a number of comically weird happenings in everyday life. It was a few of these that led to my extended time with a 2019 Grand Caravan having a whopping 3,500 miles on the odometer. I put another 500 on it.
It all started easily enough. Heading out one morning to a regional meeting, a coworker needed me to pick him up at the Toyota service department. He has a 2018 Toyota Sienna in which the air conditioner crapped out royally at just over 8,000 miles. He wasn’t happy.
The compressor was the culprit. Toyota refused to cover the replacement under warranty due to something external having caused the damage to the compressor. My coworker was fuming as it seems the compressor is in a rather vulnerable location low on the engine, a reflection to him of it being a poor design. It seems the service department manager didn’t appreciate his observation about his 2013 Chrysler Town & Country with 130,000 miles being a more thoughtfully built vehicle.
I picked him up at the dealer in my work car, a 2018 Chevrolet Impala, making him the fourth passenger. It was around 8:30 and just over 75 humid degrees Fahrenheit by this time. Given the temperature and four adult males averaging 180 pounds each (or so), the air conditioner was running.
A few miles up the road a stout mist began to appear from the air conditioning vents. After a bit I noticed the blower motor was providing nearly no moving air. Turning it down resulted in no change. Cranking it up all the way resulted in sleet being shot from the vents. That was the first time I’d experienced sleet inside a car that had its windows closed.
So something within the air conditioning system had experienced a grievous malfunction. My coworker was accused of being a jinx as his presence was causing air conditioning systems to commit hari-kari. We all agreed both GM and Toyota should know how to build reliable air conditioning systems but it appears each has their own unique set of challenges.
Upon arriving at my meeting I told the fleet manager what had happened with the Impala. He arranged for somebody to come pick it up and leave me a different vehicle. What I got was this Dodge Grand Caravan.
Let’s start from the outside and go from there.
We’ve discussed the creative names for colors on new FCA products. FCA calls the exterior color of this base white minivan “White Knuckle”.
Any such color discussion is always for the exterior; we’ve rarely chatted about interior colors. Perhaps we should call this interior “Stack of Black Cats”. One of the first things I noticed was with all the black, the brake and accelerator pedals really blend in, particularly in the dark, shadowy nether regions of a black coated interior. Rarely do I look at the pedals of a vehicle, but I kept wanting to in this one, perhaps due to their being rather hard to discern in the darkness.
Sitting in the driver’s seat is an amazingly enjoyable experience. The shape is great, the relation between the seat and steering is wonderful, and the seat height is perfect. It’s almost pickup like (which is a compliment; if you really think cars are generally more comfortable, that’s fine, but pickups are where it’s at in both comfort and sales – it’s little wonder CUVs have overtaken sedans in popularity as they have the seat height of a pickup with the fuel economy of most sedans).
Yet that’s only the drivers seat. The shotgun seat is also comfortable but the comfort level drops precipitously with the rear seats. The Stow-N-Go system is nifty but it compromises seat comfort, making for an unpleasant experience after a while. The backseats are best for the kids or coworkers in which you can pull rank. Kids are amazingly resilient creatures and don’t stiffen up the way us older folks do plus they generally like being away from the adults. The interior room of the Caravan is abundant enough kids could pull all sorts of shenanigans back there without arousing suspicion.
Admittedly, this is our third review of a current generation Grand Caravan but these reviews have been by different people with different use cases. One Caravan was privately owned, one was a rental, and this one is in a corporate motor pool. It is also the lowest mileage one of the three.
One commonality among these three has been the Chrysler 3.6 liter V6. This is a terrific, yet deceptive, engine. Always smooth, a gentle use of the throttle reveals an engine that does as it is asked but does so without any sense of urgency. However, some spirited ballet on the happy pedal reveals an engine that really wakes up at 4,000 rpm and will pull its little heart out all the way to 6,200 rpm.
While there has historically been concern about the shift pattern of its transmission, such was not the case here. No, it wasn’t the most unobtrusive transmission I’ve experienced but it wasn’t harsh either. It was square in the middle of the bell-curve.
Most of my driving was solo or with one other person on mostly four-lane roads. There is a ramp onto US 54 where I live that has a sharp curve that dumps a person into a very short acceleration lane. Often are the times were one has to prepare to assimilate to traffic in short order. Thus, several times I had to stick the spurs to the 3.6. Downshifting, it would pull to 6,200 rpm and quickly upshift, dropping engine speed to a shade over 5,000 rpm where the show would repeat itself.
There is a second Grand Caravan in the pool at work, a 2013 or 2014 which is also equipped with the 3.6. While that one has what appears to be torque steer by pulling to the right at 6,000 plus rpm, this particular one does not. It remains just as straight and true at wide-open throttle as it does at idle speed.
There is an obvious, but not off-putting, amount of road and wind noise that can be observed from the driver’s seat. However, I really only noticed this when driving solo. This got me to thinking….
These are still the best selling minivans in the United States. No doubt price is a huge factor in this, as many private minivan owners are quite dollar conscious. Yet does this price savings overrule any concern with noise? Or, due to minivans often having multiple people onboard, particularly children, do these people drown out the noise making any such concern a moot point and, in turn, emphasize the value proposition of these?
It’s undoubtedly some degree of both. The proportions are the true source of debate.
I have ridden in this minivan a time or two since my time with it although someone else was driving. During that roughly three-hour round trip I gave the Dodge Grand Caravan a lot more thought, particularly in comparison to its rivals, the Toyota Sienna being the only one in which I’ve had seat time.
The Toyota is quieter and often smoother in operation although my experience with a rental version displayed its propensity to downshift at the slightest provocation and its not aging well. The Dodge makes the driver feel more connected to the road, and while a tad louder, this connection means a lot. And, it appears the air conditioning compressor of the Dodge may be located in a better spot, making for a happier relationship.
The circumstances that lead a person into driving a minivan are highly varied, which is why I explained how I wound up in this one. The market is currently a rich place for minivans and it would be hard to go wrong with any of them.
Weird as it is to say, I’ve enjoyed my time with this Caravan although having coworkers see me driving it threw some for a loop. As one said, “Jason, you’ve been driving a dark Impala. You are now in a white Dodge that looks like a pregnant goat. When you are getting your car back?”
This was the first time I’ve had my ride compared to a goat. Perhaps a darker color would remedy this…
My 2017 Toyota Sienna Rental Review
Excellent review. FCA still produces a surprising number of recession era models, this being one of them. They’re either positioned as value/fleet models (Dodge Journey, Grand Caravan, Charger, Chrysler 300) or they still sell well enough because they’ve been properly updated through the years and buyers still like them (Dodge Durango, Dodge Challenger, Jeep Grand Cherokee). In each of these cases it seems there is at least one thing that can potentially remind drivers of the era in which they were conceived. In the Caravan’s case wind noise seems to be that issue.
With the resurrection of the Voyager, the Grand Caravan’s time may soon be coming to an end. I’d be curious if FCA’s decision to position the Dodge as the fleet minivan of choice actually impacted the Pacifica’s resale value in a positive way,
The resale value of the Pacifica is supported mostly by not selling new ones super cheap. Which the GC facilitates. Price-first customers (Inc fleets) can have basically a brand new ten year old car. Chrysler doesn’t have to undercut the price of every Pacifica to sell vehicles to those value customers who have the budget of a new Sedona.
At retail, more of the market buys the more expensive vans. Pacifica, Toyota and Honda sell about twice as many combined as the GC and Sedona, and about half of the GC’s volume is fleet.
I think the sister Town & Country had acoustic glass, which cut down on the wind noise quite a bit. Our ’13 T&C S is noticeably quieter than the GC’s we’ve rented over the years. The T&C’s also had a little more NVH-reducing stuffing in the doors, etc. I wish the chassis upgrades in our S (and the contemporaneous GC R/T) had been kept around. Even now, I think those setups make them handle better than any other minivan currently for sale.
Regarding the Impala, it sounds like high humidity, coupled with low fan speed (as dictated by the relatively low 75 ambient temperature) cause the evaporator to freeze over.
While it is possible that there is something wrong with the system (low refrigerant charge will cause icing as well), usually this can be fixed by not running the fan at its lowest setting when humidity is high, and using the heater blend instead of the fan to regulate the temperature.
Does the Impala have ATC or manual A/C? Most ATC systems are programmed to never use the lowest blower speed, and to regulate the temperature with the blend door instead.
It’s manual and the blower is never on its lowest speed as I have a mild phobia about non-moving air inside vehicles. Also the temperature was approaching 85 by the time we got to our destination.
The culprit was, if I remember correctly, an evaporator that consumed itself. Don’t know if that makes sense given the symptoms, but the car was at the dealer for over a week getting repaired.
Incidentally, it’s back at the dealer as of yesterday because the volume of air pushed out of the vents is significantly less at any given fan speed than what it had been.
Wonderful review of the car that is a 99% chance of being the replacement to my current Kia Sedona. I love minivans, consider crossovers as being something that shows as much driver’s sensibility as owning a brougham, and really want a Pacifica Hybrid (to keep the driveway down to two cars) but recognize that a combination of a four year old Grand Caravan plus a like year Nissan Leaf would be the cheaper alternative.
I dread the day that the Grand Caravan is dropped, it’s a prime example that there is no such thing as an ‘obsolete car’, just one that functions properly. And the used car lot a mile and a half from my house has a Ram C/V (Caravan with rubber floor mats and nothing behind the front seats) available. Perfect for my needs, but I’m at least a year away from being ready to buy.
Careful on that old Leaf, especially if you live in a temperate climate. Old Leafs are notorious for a steady reduction in battery capacity, i.e., range. I know a couple old Leaf owners and one of them is down to ~50 miles.
I’m limiting my search to a 2015 or newer, due to the upgrades. Also considering a Volt, C-Max Energi, MiEV, Spark EV, etc. and, actually 50 miles would work fine for the uses I have in mind.
Hell, I could make a Sebring-Vanguard CitiCar work with newer batteries. And I drove one of those heavily back in the ‘70’s.
As with everything, caveat emptor on that old Leaf. That guy I know with the degraded 50-mile range battery has a 2015 he paid $8k for. He figures a new traction battery will run another $6k and is fine with those numbers. I guess if he’s going to keep it forever (and a new Leaf running >$35k), $14k is okay, but even a new battery is going to degrade over time, esp. in extreme FL summer heat.
There is no more quintessential fleet vehicle than a white Grand Caravan. I can think of several public agencies and private companies near me that maintain herds of them.
“Stack of Black Cats”.. yes! When we were looking at new minivans, we briefly looked at Grand Caravans, but weren’t too impressed. One of my kids, though, commented that the interior looked “creepy.” Definitely true… it makes me appreciate the dull gray interior of other cars — at least that’s just dull, not creepy. As far as I know, GC interiors come only in black, which I find odd, because I’d be surprised if we were the only ones put off by interior’s (lack of) ambiance.
An excellent counterpoint. Yes, these Dodges do a lot of things well. One thing I noticed – was that the rear seat area in your vehicle? The tan side panels in the back with black seats is unusual – I believe the one I rented was all black inside.
Those Stow N Go seats are a dilemma for me. In my rental they were perfect, allowing me to go to full cargo to a take everyone to dinner vehicle. But for trips, as you note those rear seats are not great. I liked the removable seats in my 99 better, but the changeover was not as quick.
Did yours still use the big fat plastic Playskool key? I doubt they would change that system with as close as this one is to being retired.
Yep, it has the key you mention.
The lighter part of the interior is actually some form of gray, I think. It was late in the day and the van was pointed west when I took these pictures. But the all black as you mention would make for a really drab interior.
Stow ‘n Go is really a compromise between comfort and utility. Kids are okay but the seats are not suited for adults of any size.
With that said, while the Daimler era at Chrysler was not great, the GC they came up with holds the potential of being this generation’s Plymouth Valiant. They seem to be holding up well for a low-price people/cargo mover.
“but the seats are not suited for adults of any size.”
I think this is quite a bit of an overstatement. Are they lower to the floor and less comfy than a Sienna’s seats? Sure. Did 4 adults and an infant make it 4 hours out to Michigan with no notable discomfort this summer in my Town & Country that was packed to the gills? Yes.
I’ve sat in those Stow ‘n Go seats and, personally, they’re uncomfortable for even a brief period. The problem is the the angle of the back cushions. They seem to be quite a bit less than 90 degrees and are non-adjustable.
You as a single person represent “adults of all sizes” then? I don’t disagree the angle is less than optimal, but they are hardly torture devices for most healthy normal adults.
Devil’s Advocate kicking in….do you and three other adults constitute “adults of all sizes”?
Rudiger found the seats uncomfortable. Why are you being argumentative about that?
Pedantic about the verbiage “adults of all sizes,” at least my sample size is that of four versus one? Apologies for seeming overly argumentative, Jason.
You already know how big a fan we are of the Chrysler-platform minivan, but I did want to additionally point out that out of all the vehicles mentioned in this piece, only the “pregnant goat” would be capable and appropriate for carrying a … pregnant goat.
The experience you described of two relatively new vehicles having a/c issues, and my own recent experience with the a/c in my 2017 Flex, brings up a frustration of mine.
After 65 years of building a/c systems that are filly integrated into the front of the car and with the heating system, you’d think that these systems would practically bulletproof. Instead, we have compressors in vulnerable positions, finicky evaporator coils and fan motors, and in my case a failed evaporator temperature sensor that shut down the compressor when the temperature hit exactly 90° or above. And in my case, it took multiple trips to the dealer, and finally a visit from a Ford field engineer, to find the problem and fix it. While vehicles will occasionally have defects, all of our experiences point to design choices that seem unacceptable for a feature that’s not particularly cutting edge technology.
Enough of the rant, and onto the Grand Caravan: I’m decidedly NOT a fan of FCA vehicles, and over the past five years I’ve purchased three of these for the division I manage, and all have racked up 60,000 to 100,000 miles without incident. Our employees might not be thrilled with the driving experience, but I’m quick to point out that they’re always available and in good working order when they’re needed. Indeed, Rudiger is right. These are modern-day Plymouth Valiants.
A fun summary from a different perspective. We find the GC great for the highway as you did. In town not so fun.
Funny my wife returned from a weekend away complaining about how the transmission was shifting oddly. She can pushed the green ECO button, I told her the ECO button is basically an “Irritate the driver with bad shifting” button so don’t use it.
Perhaps they should offer a Caravan GTO.
I’ll be the counterpoint on the interior, I think the cream colored side panels do a lot to brighten it up and make it look very rich. The black at least has the ability to hide a LOT of wear and dirt. A five year old Sienna or Odyssey or whatever with gray interior or gray carpets generally looks like it’s been through the wringer. No minivan should have light colored carpets…
I had one as a rental in this color combination, though a GT since it was a rental special, and I thought that the black and tan looked cheap in person, though it certainly made it feel less cave like.
See I’ve found this interior color scheme to be odd since it debuted with the facelift of Grand Caravan/Town & Country. The black seats clash so greatly with the light grey side panels that it looks like they made use of leftover parts.
I will agree with Jason that these are very comfortable vehicles to ride in though. Apart from the sandpaper fabrics used in the generation 4 minivans, Chrysler has usually made pretty comfy base cloth seats in its minivans.
My aunt had a 1999 base model Plymouth Grand Voyager with tinted windows and dual sliding doors being the only options I can remember. I rode in that countless times on many long trips during the 8 years or so she had it. The rear bench seats especially were always a comfortable place to lounge with my feet up as I would sit on a sofa.
Jim, they did offer the GT or the Man Van version for a while…
I agree totally on the black interior or at least a black carpet on minivans; I have an Olds Silhouette minivan that has a gray interior with a gray carpet. When I got the car, it was clear that grandpa and grandma were driving the car, it was pristine. However, I bought it as my daily/toy hauler/pickup truck substitute. My gray carpet is now a different, nasty shade of gray from when I picked it up.
I guess I could buy more of the full size slush mats that I have in the front for the rest of the van, but honestly, a full factory installed rubber floor would be soooo much better.
It’s a strange dream to be sure. Who has fantasized about rubber floors in their car in the last 50 years?
The GC GT was available until recently (maybe it still is?). There might still be a ‘blackout’ package for the GC, too.
One confusing thing was that the Challenger GT was AWD, while the GC GT was not.
“Perhaps they should offer a Caravan GTO.”
heh heh heh, I see where you were going…..
Thank you, I can’t believe it took as long as it did.
I do like these vans. My only catch with these is that they kind of outgrew the original proportions of the Gen 1’s. My 87 was just right, and the Gen 2’s were good also. My 2001 was still garageable, however these new ones are pushing the ability to park inside the garage of my suburban house.
I get it that the early generations of these either carried people, or cargo, but not both, and these new ones are much more able in that regard.
Other than that, these offer a compelling argument to purchase one in terms of utility, halfway decent handling, and style.
The market needs value plays and this looks like a good one. A few years ago, this van was offered in that great metallic Dodge orange that was so wonderfully incongruent with the vehicle’s mission that I thought to myself “I don’t need a van, but if I ever did, there’s the one”.
I poked about a new base trim LE Sienna at the dealership while getting an oil change and it wasn’t impressive. Very cost-conscious materials despite a low-30s price tag and the light tan color did nothing to hide the cheapness and was not going to wear well. “Stack of Black Cats” any day in a minivan. If you can’t fix the cheapness and stains, hide ’em. An in-law has a prior-gen Odyssey, loaded, and that’s a plasticy rubbery mess of an interior as well. Makes the Dodge look like an even better bargain.
What exactly happened to the Sienna’s AC compressor? Road debris impact?
I agree with your assessment of interior quality. When van shopping I thought I was just accepting the fact with the Caravan/T&C that the interior would be notably cheaper than the Sienna/Odyssey and that was the compromise to be paid for the much cheaper price point. Imagine my surprise when the Odyssey’s and (pre ’15) Sienna’s interiors looked/felt no better and actually WORSE than the Chryslers. Most notably I think the door cards on my T&C are head and shoulders above the prior gen Odyssey, and while the Chrysler upper dash may be hard plastic, the way it is mostly a single piece minimizes unsightly misaligned panel gaps (which are in full effect on the 2011-2014 Siennas). The newest Siennas in XLE/Limited trim have a pretty nicely trimmed dash (or at least a nice soft touch vinyl padding surrounded by medocre plastic), but the prices for them just made me tune out. The one obvious place where these older platform Chryslers are cheap is the leather: it is the most rubberized feeling stuff I have ever seen. Awesome for spills though!
Rolling up on 42k in our ’16 Touring-L, it sat in the driveway most of the summer as my wife had a nice long break before starting her new job, zero regrets, we love this thing. Just hauled a queen size foam mattress and adjustable frame home a few nights ago, everything fit inside with ease, popped the stow and go seats down right on the spot, brilliant.
It’s a good family hauler. My 2012 has hauled a tent trailer for 6 summers. The stow and go means you can grab a free couch from the mother-in-law without planning ahead and removing seats. But the reliability is awful. Rear air died after three years. Rear brake cylinders after 3 years. Cylinder head was faulty from the start (valve seats machined to different sizes). Transmission rebuild at 170,000 km. Rust on hood, dog-legs, rear hatch starting after 5 years.
As a throw-away appliance to be abused, it’s fine. Definite value play, and we probably got our money’s worth by not paying full price, and treating it like a rented mule.
Careful there, my father used to plow behind mules.
A great review Jason. I really enjoyed this.
This generation Grand Caravan is so popular as fleet vehicles, it takes away some appreciation for their styling for personal use. Especially in white.
Like the 80s Diplomat/Gran Fury, it looks so much like a commercial vehicle, that it loses some in personality. I’d struggle to not perceive it as an appliance, because of its styling associated with fleets.
Thank you for another write up on these handy vehicles and nice to see that steel wheels are still available even on the 2019s. Contusion Blue is my favorite Grand Caravan color though the name is a bit creepy. May 2020 is the end of the line for the Grand Caravan from what I’ve read.
I remember the color change Mustangs that flipped between purple, green and yellow. I called that color Bruise Metallic.
IMO. The only true minivan was a Mazda 5.
These vans are still on my radar. I had driven one of these when they were new (2008) and was favorably impressed. It’s only been reinforced by many good interactions with these vans, via friends and family who have them. If a tree were to fall on my current minivan tonight, either one of the Mopar vans would be in my driveway tomorrow.
I like the idea of calling these the Valiants (or Darts) of our time, they seem to fill the same niche as those cars did. They’re the background noise of our recent history, the nearly ubiquitous hauler of people and parcels.
I bought a base level GC in 2013 and really liked it. It had a problem banging into gear at around 3,000 miles, but the dealership re-programed the computer and I had no more problems. Being the base model, the center seat was a bench. I liked that because adults could easily enter the third row from the right side without crawling between the Stow ‘n Go seats.
I would’ve liked rear air, but things weren’t too bad back there. The power from the 3.6 was fantastic and the gas mileage was a constant 20 around town and as high as 29 on the freeway.
Aside from the usefulness, my favorite feature was the gear selector. Right out of Chrysler Corp. 1955.
The Grand Caravan is a better vehicle to drive and the Sienna is a better vehicle to ride in. If Oldsmobile was still in business the Sienna would make a wonderful Oldsmobile.
That is an excellent assessment of the two.