Dodge, Road Test Reviews

2007 Dodge Grand Caravan STX – Road Test

This review of the 2007 Dodge Grand Caravan is just one of three minivan articles that we’re presenting. You’re probably wondering – why on earth there’s a minivan review on – the racing news website?’ – It seems crazy to me too, but my wife came up with this idea, and before I had time to think about it, I was in too far in to back out! I’m not a van person, but most of my friends/family/neighbors are unfortunate individuals that have families, so they need to have minivans. Falling on the sword, I’ve buckled to their requests – nay demands – for Road Tests featuring minivans. Not only that, but I’ve arranged for a head to head, one-day minivan challenge!

The stigma associated with minivans today is why we see so many SUV’s on the roads these days. I personally include myself in the category of people who would own anything BUT a minivan. However, after having to live with not one, but two for a week – my attitude has certainly changed. I don’t think anyone would ever say they love their minivan in the same way an owner of a Mustang GT would say he loves his car, but for adaptability, comfort and out-and-out value – a minivan cannot be beat. Just make sure you buy the right one, – cause there are a couple of dogs out there.

No minivan comparison would be complete without the king of the minivans – The Dodge Grand Caravan – so we’ll start there. Our second comparison vehicle and Road Test article will be the all-new Hyundai Entourage. From there, I will compile a final review of our minivan showdown that will include input from myself and four other families that have been kind enough to assist us. Our goal is to equip you the reader with enough knowledge to empower you to make a wise decision when, or if you are in the market for a new minivan.

Now, on to our review…
Ever since Chrysler launched the minivan in 1984, the rest of the world’s manufacturers have been playing catch up. Chrysler always seems to raise the bar just as the competition catches up to them. Competition has become fierce in the last couple of years and it’s looking like the crown is tilting and ready to fall off. After spending a week with the Grand Caravan, I can honestly say it’s still a great van, but it’s only a matter of time before someone swipes the title of ‘best minivan’. Fortunately for Chrysler, they have a new model in the works, but there’s currently no word on when it will be a reality.

First Impressions
The Grand Caravan was completely redesigned in 2004, but the changes were not significant. I can only assume this is why we see sales starting to slow down – that, and the competition is heating up. The Caravan is still very modern-looking – not the usual brick on wheels, – and it’s certainly hot stuff when compared to the butt-ugly Nissan Quest. However, a complete redesign would certainly not go amiss.

The Grand Caravan with the extended wheelbase appears to be smaller than other minivans, but looks are deceiving. In many ways it’s much larger when compared to vans that look considerably larger (this is true with respect to interior space for example). Even though the Dodge is no longer the groundbreaking, curvy and attractive minivan of the past, I think it’s still one of the best looking minivans available.

The key and fob is a single-piece unit that has a total of six buttons; there is the lock and unlock for the entire van, plus two buttons for the sliding back doors, one for the rear tailgate and of course the usual panic button. Thankfully they are all very clearly marked and easy to use. When I first saw the power operated doors on Dodge Caravans a few years ago, I thought they were a stupid idea and would only be an expensive option to buy and repair, but after playing with the door like a kid with a new toy, I have to say they’re a great idea and worth the added expense.

Getting in and out of the Caravan is very easy with credit going to the convenient ground clearance of only 5.6 inches and driver’s seat sitting at just the right height. The front seats in the Grand Caravan are very comfortable and easy to adjust to get into that sweet spot. The doors open nice and wide for easy access, but I found the grab handle to close the door a bit too shallow and therefore easy to let slip from your fingers.

The leather-wrapped steering wheel is tilt but is not telescopically adjustable, which is immaterial because the vehicle is equipped with power-adjustable pedals that make it very easy to get into the perfect driving position. The steering wheel incorporates the over-complicated cruise control buttons that are NOT lit up at night, rendering it quite useless. Sadly, the power window and lock buttons also lack illumination, so at night there’s an awful lot of fumbling around to find the correct buttons. In a vehicle in this price range I think this is totally unacceptable. Also missing are audio controls on the steering wheel – a grave oversight in a 2007 model.

Immediately in front of the driver is the speedometer to the left and the tachometer to the right, with the fuel and temperature gauges flanking them. The faces on the gauges are a very pleasant white, but my wife considered them ”old school” and felt they didn’t fit the vehicle. The headlight and outside mirror controls are on the dash to the left, with the wiper control on the same stalk as the turn signals. The gear shifter is column-mounted, and that being the case you’d think it would free up a lot of space and enable a lot of storage bins etc. to be incorporated in the centre console. Alas, this is not the case.

The centre console is attractive, but has so many tiny buttons – illogically placed – it just might drive you crazy! For starters, there are three huge air vents – that can’t be closed completely – sitting prominently at the top of the dashboard. Below them are the buttons for the heated seats, rear-window defogger and rear window wiper buttons. Below that is the stereo, just above knee level, with the HVAC controls even further below that. Still lower is the 6-disc DVD/CD changer and lower still, is the cup-holder drawer and two power outlets. What looks like a handy garbage or storage bin finishes off the centre stack and takes the console down to the floor – unfortunately, that bin is nothing at all – a real disappointment and waste of valuable space.

When I’m belting down the highway at anything over 5 mph I don’t like to take my eyes off the road to read tiny little words printed way down by my knees. I almost drove off the road trying to find the button to change the radio station! Why do American vehicles have to have words spelled out to tell people what the button does? For example: we all have CD and DVD players, and we all know the little symbol for ejecting the CD/DVD – so why does this stereo system have ”EJT CD” on the button? Or why does it have a mode AND an AM/FM button AND a tape button AND a CD button!? A single Mode button that toggles through the options would have been far more efficient and easier to use.

As for the climate control, while it’s actually very legible, it’s also unnecessarily confusing. The controls are easy to manage as long as you have a few minutes to look down to see what you’re doing. In general, I like the controls on the HVAC system, but they’re too far away for comfortable operation. The system includes a dial and a tiny button for the rear heating/cooling – why? One would have been enough. The temperature up/down buttons for driver, passenger and the rear passengers are tiny and indistinguishable at a quick glance. I’ve got good eyesight, but there are a lot of people out there that have bi-focals or such, and this would present them with a very interesting and scary proposition to handle. Maybe it’s not people on cell phones that are the problem on the roads – it’s people trying to figure out why their bum warmer is on, their feet are freezing and they can’t change the radio station! I’ve seen plenty of blondes driving Dodge minivans – if I’m confused – God help them!

The console between the two front seats is very flimsy and seems to be a complete after-thought. It’s as though the designers completely forgot about the space between the seats and decided they had to throw something in there at the last minute. The console is very deep and made out of the cheapest plastics I’ve seen outside a dollar store. It even rocks sideways when you touch it. Inside, it’s just a big hole – completely useless! Oh wait, it has a fold-out thingy for your cell phone if you need something like that, and it has a power outlet inside and one near the floor for the rear passengers. Sadly, this feature was a real let-down. Perhaps it was made that way because it’s designed to be removed and for some that would be a bonus, but the execution was sub-standard. Thankfully the Caravan redeems itself with a small covered storage bin under the front passenger seat.

The audio system is very good with six Infinity speakers located throughout the cabin. I wasn’t really expecting much in the way of sound quality – after all it’s a minivan – but it surprised me. That being said though, I shouldn’t have been surprised – the optional system has a significant price tag.

The second row of seats were surprising comfortable, although you would never know it to look at them. Because they fold and tumble into the floor they have to be somewhat smaller than a traditional captain’s chair, and Chrysler engineers have done a great job of making them small while at the same time comfortable. One thing I noted however, was that the extreme angle of the seat made it a little awkward to sit down, but it contributes to the comfort once seated. There is a bit of a step up and over to get to the seat – it’s not like getting into a car, and it’s probably one of those things you wouldn’t even notice if you were living with it on a day-to-day basis. The cup holders for the second row are located on the side of the captain’s chairs – I give it two weeks before the kids have broken both of them accidentally. If they are left out, and someone is climbing in or out, it looks to me like it is way too easy to damage them and break them off.

The second-row passengers get their own limited heating and air conditioning controls, and for some reason Chrysler strangely saw fit to include these in the same unit as the DVD screen that folds down from the ceiling. The basic controls for the DVD player are located on the side of the screen instead of a more logical place like the space that is occupied by the heating controls just mentioned. The screen itself it perfectly placed for second and third-row viewers, but is a bit on the small side. The unit comes with a remote control and two cordless headphones. I couldn’t get the headphones to work, but the sound quality out of the rear speakers was very good. I didn’t have enough time to read and learn about the operation of the player, but it wasn’t exactly intuitive and easy to operate. On a positive note, you can load up to six DVD’s in the changer, which is located in the front of the vehicle, and never have to worry about changing short discs on a long drive. One downside to having an entertainment system is that the screen blocks the rearview for the driver, but that’s just the nature of the beast, there seems to be no way around that unless you have screens in the back of the front headrests.

Third rows seating is comfortable once you’re back there, but it’s extremely limited because of the Stow ‘n Go captain’s chairs. To get in, you have to tip the seatback down, but then you have to reach around to the back of the seat and pull a strap to release it and then the seat tips up against the back of the front seat, while sliding towards the centre of the van at the same time. Once back there you have zero foot space and very little knee and leg space if the middle seat has been slid all the way back to make the middle passengers comfortable. With the second-row seats pushed forward, knee and headroom are average, but I definitely wouldn’t put three people in the third row – adult or child – it’s just too cramped for shoulder and hip space to provide comfort for anything more than a quick trip around the block.

Getting out of the rearmost seats is easy for children but next to impossible for adults. For kids it’s just a matter of walking between the two middle seats, for adults you’ll require assistance from someone outside the vehicle. To get back out, someone has to do the tipping and folding of the middle seat for you because it can’t be done from the back seat. The seat can be tipped forward but not folded and if you try getting out by yourself you’ll catch and cut your leg on the plastic valance that covers the bottom of the second-row seats. Another point worth mentioning is the absence of grab handles to help you get out of the seat that sits at an acute angle – you have to grab onto the top of the middle seats to haul yourself out. The two outboard passengers in the third row get three-point seat belts but the middle just gets a lap belt. The rear quarter windows can open and are power operated by the driver.

The third row 60/40 split seat tumbles forward with the pull of a couple of straps, and then you pull it into the huge hole in the cargo area floor, where it resides flush with the floor. It’s extremely fast to convert the seating space into cargo space, but keep the little ones away when doing it because the seats pretty much flip, fold and store by themselves once you’ve got the momentum started. They can be stowed independently of each other, offering numerous options and versatility for cargo/passengers.

The cargo area is quite large. With all the seats up, there’s 26.4 cu/ft (I measured: 42” x 22” x 47”) of storage space behind the rearmost seats. The bin that stores the rear seat is 12 cu/ft. With the third-row seats stowed away, the volume increases to 54.9 cu/ft (I measured: 57” x 48 1/2” x 42”). The second-row Stow ‘n Go bucket seats fold into the storage bins located behind the front seats. The two captain’s chairs tumble forward and fold right into a covered storage space, making the load floor completely flat. When the seats are in their upright position, the bins give you a combined 6 cu/ft. of storage space. Likewise, the rearmost seat’s party trick goes in the opposite direction by tumbling backward into their storage area. With all the rear seats tucked away, the cargo capacity expands to an incredible 160.7 cu/ft. (I measured 94” x 48 1/2” x 42”) with the van set up to its maximum cargo capacity. Additionally, the third-row seats can be flipped over completely to face the rear to offer covered seating while enjoying your tailgate party.

The tailgate is easy to lift and can be opened by several methods; a button on the key fob, a button on the ceiling by the driver and a latch release just above the license plate. It can be closed using either of the buttons or you can just pull it closed manually.

On the freeways and highways the Grand Caravan was exceptionally well behaved and quiet. With it having a longer wheelbase, unpleasant bumps were virtually non-existent, with noise and vibrations being well muted too. Getting it up to 60 mph required a bit of patience as the Grand Caravan is no Dodge Viper on the drag strip. With only 180 horsepower on tap, the Caravan is becoming one of the more under-powered minivans of late, with the competition such as the Chevy Uplander (200 hp), Ford Freestar (200 hp), Honda Odyssey (244 hp), Hyundai Entourage (242 hp), and Toyota Sienna (215 hp) offering much more horsepower. When it comes to torque, the Grand Caravan at 210 lb/ft @ 4,000 rpm closes the gap considerably, but still falls short of the Chevy Uplander at 215 and well short of the Entourage at 251. To be fair though, it never felt like it was overburdened and underpowered. The gas pedal and forward progress were just as I’d expected it to be, so there were no surprises or disappointments there.

The Grand CARAVAN SXT has one engine available: a 3.8L V-6 connected to a 4-speed automatic transmission. Standard equipment includes: remote keyless/illuminated entry, HomeLink Universal Transceiver with alarm and Sentry Key immobilizer system, two power outlets, cruise control, power windows and door locks, tilt steering, 4-wheel antilock brakes, low-speed traction control, air conditioning with 3-Zone temperature control, power rear quarter windows, driver’s one-touch window, AM/FM/CD with an input jack for an MP3 player and four speakers, steering wheel mounted audio controls, leather-wrapped steering wheel, drivers manual lumbar adjustment, fog lamps, 16” aluminum wheel and tires, rear three-passenger 60/40 split-folding removable bench with fold in-floor and tailgate position features, heated power mirrors, power-adjustable pedals and a cargo net that sits between the front seats for models without the centre storage bin or when it’s removed. There are second-row Stow ‘n Go intermediate removable buckets that come standard in the Grand Caravan STX (optional on the Grand Caravan).

Optional equipment: Trailer Tow Prep Group $528 ($700 Cdn); Dual Power Sliding Door Group $760 ($990 Cdn); Power Moonroof $788 ($850 Cdn); AM/FM/CD/Cassette radio $0 ($195 Cdn); 6-disc in-dash CD/DVD changer (MP3 capable) $488 ($455 Cdn); UConnect Hands Free Communication with Bluetooth $360 ($295 Cdn), Rear Seat Video System $1,043 ($1,190 Cdn) includes remote control, headliner-mounted fold-down 7″ screen and wireless headphones; and the Premium Group $1,439 ($4,200 Cdn) includes: 2-stage heated 8-way power driver’s and 6-way front-passenger seats, overhead console with trip computer, lamps, compass, temperature display, a removable centre console with power outlet, leather-trimmed bucket seats, Infinity speakers, automatic 3-Zone Temperature Control with particulate air filter, rear park assist system, security alarm, automatic headlamps, power tailgate, touring suspension.

The Grand Caravan received the U.S. government’s highest crash test rating of five stars for frontal and side impacts (when equipped with the 3-row side curtain airbags). In addition to dual front airbags, the Grand Caravan comes with: 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS and low-speed traction control, driver knee airbag, keyless entry with alarm and immobilizer system, front seat belts with pre-tensioners and load limiters, all three rows of seats have adjustable head restraints and outboard seating positions get three-point seat belts. There are LATCH system points incorporated in the second and third-row seats. Full three-row curtain airbags are optional.

The warranty is a comprehensive Bumper-To-Bumper 3 years/36,000 miles [60,000 kms] that includes a 5 year/60,000 miles [100,000 kms] powertrain warranty. Roadside Assistance is 5 years/60,000 miles [100,000 kms].
Towing capacity is a maximum of 3,800 lbs.

The Conclusion
The Grand Caravan has a lot going for it – especially those Stow ‘n Go middle row chairs. Even if you went with the bench seat, you still get those huge covered storage compartments in the floor. The flexibility of the third-row seat is also a standout. I’ve driven every generation the Caravan since its inception, and just like the first model, the latest does the job it was designed and built to do. However, I do think that Chrysler should be worried about the completion – they’ve spent a lot of time and money playing catch up, and while Chrysler haven’t stood still, the Caravan can’t survive doing one party trick – the Stow ‘n Go seats.

Related Article: Mini Van Showdown

Pricing for the 2007 Grand Caravan STX:
As tested: $35,535 [$42,465 Cdn]
Base price of the Grand Caravan STX starts at: $28,155 [$33,490 Cdn]

Fuel Consumption: [Regular Fuel]
The Grand Caravan with the 3.8 Litre V-6 is listed at 18 mpg City [13.4 L/100 km] and 28 mpg Highway [8.7 L/100 km]
I averaged 17.7 mpg [13.8 L/100km] in combined driving

The Stow ‘n Go seating is genius
Tons of cargo space with all the seats stowed away
Very comfortable driving position

See my rant on the stereo/HVAC set up
Stupid place for second-row cup holders

Would I Spend My Money On It?: 
Sorry, I wouldn’t – not even at $10,000 off the list price. The king has lost his crown.

Back Seat Driver Test: Second Row: 8 out of 10 / Third Row: 6 out of 10
“Don’t like the cup holder on the seats (second row),” ”There are no grab handles to help you get out! ” / “Third-row seating very cramped,” “Surprisingly comfortable (second row) – you’d never think it by looking at it!,” ”LOVE the Stow ‘n Go seating!!”

Immediate Competition:
Buick Terraza, Chevy Uplander, Chrysler Town & Country, Ford Freestar, Honda Odyssey, Hyundai Entourage, Kia Sedona, Nissan Quest, Pontiac Montana, Saturn Relay and Toyota Sienna.

By The Numbers:
Horsepower: 180 @ 5,000 rpm
Torque: 210 @ 4,000 rpm
Wheelbase: 113.3” / Overall Length: 189.1” / Overall Width: 78.6” / Ground Clearance: 5.6” / Curb Weight: 3,921 lbs

9 – Quality
10 – Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH)
10 – Cargo Area/Trunk Space
10 – Special Features (Climate Control etc)

10 – Ease of Entry/Exit
9 – Front Roominess
10 – Rear Roominess
8 – Driving Position/Controls

8 – Drool Factor
9 – Fit & Finish

8 – Engine
10 – Transmission
9 – Ride & Handling

Ownership Value
7 – Bang for the $$
8 – Fuel Economy

Total 135 / 150

Copyright © 2006 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text: Iain Shankland / Images: Iain Shankland / Gail Shankland

Also Published at: PaddockTalk