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…