• Oct 12th 2007 at 12:02PM
  • 43
click above image to view high-res gallery of the 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan

The minivan is dead, so says GM and Ford. They've all but given up on the sliding-door people movers. But where two-thirds of the Big Three see a dead end, Dodge sees an opportunity. And so do Toyota, Honda, Kia and Hyundai, which means it takes more than a smooth ride and a full set of cup holders to compete in this tricky segment. Chrysler has therefore packed its latest Grand Caravan with a family-sized list of innovations.

Relying on a laundry list of features is a good thing, because if the Grand Caravan depended only on its looks for sales, then the minivan might be dead meat. The last time we saw sheet metal this flat and unadorned was on a UPS truck. Surely it wouldn't have cost that much more to put in a curve or character line here and there. And is that the same grille as on last year's Dakota? But as my wife points out, "It's a van. You don't buy a van for the aesthetics." True. It's what is inside that counts, and the Caravan has interior goodies galore.

Continue reading about the 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT after the jump.

Live Photos Copyright ©2007 Chris Tutor / Weblogs, Inc.

At the top of the Caravan's options list for 2008 is, of course, the Swivel 'N Go seating seen first at the Detroit Auto Show in January. The van's second row captain's chairs can turn 180 degrees to face both the third row bench and a small table on which passengers can play games or eat or do homework. The table and swiveling seats are certainly attractive features that will probably get quite a few families looking at minivans again.

The second row seats can also be stopped halfway in their turn to face either of the two sliding rear doors, making rear-seat entry much easier for elderly passengers. Grandmother opens the door, swivels the seat to face her, sits down and swivels it to the front of the car. We see it as a bonus feature for parents of infants and toddlers, too. Swivel the seat halfway for super-easy child-seat access.

The center table, however, has its drawbacks. When removed, it and its pedestal conveniently stow beneath the center row seats. Removing the table ain't all fun and games, though. Dodge's people even had a little trouble getting the table top off of the metal pole. Maybe with practice it gets easier, but try it out yourself before taking one home. One other drawback to the Swivel 'N Go system is leg room. With the second-row seats turned backwards and the table installed, there's not really any good place to put your feet. Put four twitchy kids back there and a calm game of Go Fish can soon turn into a familiar match of "He Kicked Me!" But with only two rear passengers, those swiveled seats make great ottomans. Daddy could learn to like this.

The third row has a double personality, too. Open the rear hatch and use a series of numbered pulls on the seatbacks to fold the split bench into the floor. Pull them in another order, and the bench flips backwards for tailgate seating that's more comfortable than any bare-metal pickup truck bed.

All seats can be ordered covered in leather and, even with standard cloth, can be heated. The unheated cloth surfaces in our van looked like they'd be easy to keep clean and Dodge says they're stain and odor resistant, which all parents know is always good with kids. Rear passengers can also get optional rear climate controls and vents for each row.

But enough about tables and spinning seats – let's talk electronics. The Caravan's got that covered, too. There's an LCD screen for both sets of rear seats, and each can display different entertainment. The teenagers can sit in the way back and watch "High School Musical" while the toddlers can enjoy "Dora" on the other LCD thanks to dual DVD players in the dash, each with their own remote control. Through the magic of wireless headphones, Mom and Dad don't have to listen to any of it.

If the trip lasts longer than it takes for Dora to find whatever the heck she's looking for, two sets of A/V plugs let the little ones bring along their favorite video games. There's even an AC plug right there, so no transformer is needed. Mobile satellite television is also an option that our van didn't have.

Up front, parents have their own entertainment options. Our tester was equipped with a touchscreen satellite radio interface that also had the currently-fashionable in-dash digital storage. Put in a CD or plug in a USB device and the system rips the songs to build your personal in-car 20 gigabyte jukebox. The touch screen is one of the easiest we've seen, allowing listeners to not only tune the satellite stations by genre or by number, but also by seeking within genres or even groups of genres. Another cool feature sure to appeal to families is the ability to transfer photos into the system from USB devices like digital cameras or hard drives and then display them as either screen-saver-type slideshows or as the dash-screen's wallpaper.

Our van was equipped with the backup camera that engaged anytime reverse was chosen, but using it was worse than trying to watch football on one of those 6-inch TVs sold at drug stores. We could vaguely distinguish the outline of objects, but weren't sure if we were about to hit the curb or make a touchdown. Maybe the camera lens was dirty, or maybe it was aimed badly, but it wasn't all that much help in guiding our back-up operations. It would have helped us avoid toys, animals or kids in the way, but didn't do much for navigation. Oddly enough, our van's enjoyable touch-screen interface did not come with navigation, an option that costs an additional $1,500.

Other gadgets include a removable, cordless, rechargeable flashlight in the cargo area, power sliding doors and rear hatch, adjustable pedals and overhead LED reading lights for all three rows of seating. Multitudes of cup holders have rubber, dishwasher-safe liners and it seems no interior surface goes without some sort of storage bin – a huge bonus for our toy-loving family.

Caravan buyers can choose an optional 4.0L V6 combined witt the first ever 6-speed transmission in a minivan or the standard engine with which our tester was equipped, a 3.8L engine mated to a 6-speed auto. While it drove alright for a vehicle that weighs around 4,300 pounds, it's no tire-smoker, that's for sure. But if you're shopping minivans, you better come to terms with that already. It's a smooth rider, and will accelerate well enough to merge with highway traffic, but don't try to take on the Volvo V70 in the next lane.

The Inferno Red Grand Caravan SXT we drove through the hills of southern Georgia had a total sticker price of almost $33,000. Considering it can carry seven passengers comfortably and keep them all entertained for miles before the first squabble breaks out, that seems like a pretty good deal. But we need to spend more time with it to see exactly how well that engine does carrying more than a couple of adults and what kind of real-world fuel economy numbers it achieves. We're holding a place in the Autoblog Garage for one and will have a full review as soon as possible.

Chrysler provided the vehicle and SEAMO the location for testing. Autoblog does not accept travel or lodging from automakers when attending media events.

Photos Copyright ©2007 Chris Tutor / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      The Swivel-n-Go system is the biggest selling point to me compared to other minivans, can you say party van!!

      and good looks is secondary in the minivan segment imo, you want good looking car? get a sports car.
      • 7 Years Ago
      >>> Despite a lot of the negative criticism displayed here, I suspect the new Caravan and its sister the Town and Country will do quite well in the marketplace.

      It's exterior design, while not revolutionary, is clean and simple and not unattractive. And all of the useful ammenities on the inside should garner quite a few folks to come in and take a good look at it.

      Remember, this vehicle is a people and cargo mover. It doesn't have to be the fastest or the most powerful ... or even the best looking. It just has to do what its designed to do well.

      I give it a thumbs up.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I disagree with your wife. That thing, no matter how soft the seats, how far they swivel and how many DVD screens it has, I WOULD NEVER BE CAUGHT DEAD IN THAT CREATURE! Who cares WHAT THE INSIDE looks like if you feel sick before getting in? This and the Chrysler are why the van is dead and why I'm happy with the Mazda5 as our minivan. Hideous, horrible, meh.
        • 7 Years Ago
        my impressions are:

        1. the styling is ugly definatly the ultimate birth control

        2. the engine looks like its still in the 90's all the wires hanging out and stuff learn from hyundai cerebrus, covers make engines look beautiful. at least they hide wires.

        3. the materials really still remind you that its a dodge CHEAP!

        nothing like the 3rd gen 1996 -2000 caravans, they looked nice and if well kept they last. my uncle has a 97 voyager with 130k miles and that thing still runs strong. problem free.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Did you just say Mazda5? *Cough*Cough* Ok then have a great day.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Mazda5 is a mini...thing, not a minivan, and it looks like cr*p
      • 7 Years Ago
      Make an SRT version and I'm in!
      • 7 Years Ago
      These are rolling birth control on wheels. If you knew having kids meant you'd be relegated to one of these, you'd tie tubes, vacetomize, pop pills, spray foam, cover in rubber.. ANYTHING to avoid being in a situation requiring the purchase of these bummers.

      From a design perspective, they are blindingly pathetic. Twisting chairs inspired by McDonald's? Big whoop! It's as if Chrysler knew only over-fertile, uptight, conservative people would ever buy 'em -so there was really no point in wasting a dime designing them.
      • 7 Years Ago
      The features are excellent. But that styling is so uninspired that you have to wonder if they did over a couple of beers.
      • 7 Years Ago
      The minivan isn't dead, it's just GM and Ford who suck at making them.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I like it, but the Town and country looks better.
        • 7 Years Ago
        This car is like a Japanese car that was melted in the sun, put in a butter wrapper, and reshaped through sloppy plastic surgery.
        Its design is featureless and bland.

        Repulsive enough to make me throw up.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Sorry, are you talking about the Camry?
      • 7 Years Ago
      It wouldn't surprise me if the Chrysler was the sales leader in minivans--with GM and Ford out of the minivan race--who else are the rental fleets going to buy from?
      • 7 Years Ago
      I agree with the statement above, the T&C looks much better. That is one of the very few examples of Detroit's "just add chrome" mindset actually working. I would actually consider a T&C if i were looking for a minivan.

      And the interior looks great! when was the last time we were able to say that about an american car??
      • 7 Years Ago
      My wife has been driving Chrysler made vans for the past 8 years ..her choice as a company vehicle...she needs the room for easy access to volumes of professional literature used in calling on hospitals, clinics, medical offices, etc plus room for luggage and clothes needed while out of town. The van is very useful for this type work/travel.
      As I write, her 2007 Chryler T&C is having a mirror and widow replaced that was damaged when being vadalized.
      Her temporary rental replacement is the 2008 Dodge Caravan with Stow and Go seats....granted the exterior is somewhat truck-like but not ugly....it IS THE INTERIOR that shines....many more ammenities than the 2007 and the interior lighting is far superior than the 2007. Judging from her opinion of the 2008, she has been highly pleased.....she has put about 900 miles on it in the past 4 days...has noticed a real difference in the more positive acceleraation, the interior is much quieter and the seats much more comfotable than the 2007. Yesterday was a 360 mile round trip day....she was not fatigued like she had expected..she attributed that fact to a more comfortable ride.....so on her behalf...I say to Chrysler, you are doing things right with the mini vans...you seem to be designing and building them better...thats the way it should be..
      Of course the 2008 will be returned this P.M. or Monday when her 2007 is ready but perhaps a 2009 will be her vehicle of choice if the company allows when her 2007 turns 50K miles. Thanks Chysler.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I'm getting the impression that would-be purchasers of family vehicles care more about style and utility and hence all the negative comments about the looks of this one.

      What about the fact that it has more cargo room, better access, better fuel efficiency, and is safer than SUVs with the same exterior dimensions?

      CUVs? Still has more cargo room and better access than those.
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