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2008 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT – Click above for high-res image gallery

Chrysler has had a lot of ups and downs over the years, riding the wave of one or two hot products at a time in a fight for survival. Fads at the Pentastar have come and gone, but the Auburn Hills-based automaker has had one mainstay since 1983: the minivan. Sure the VW Microbus came first, but here in the States it was Chrysler that started the minivan craze. From the minute that first Caravan rolled off the assembly line in the Reagan-era, this family-friendly minivan has been Chrysler's most important vehicle. With Ford and GM bowing out of the minivan segment altogether in recent years, the 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan becomes even more important for Chrysler, as it has the ability to scoop up sales from its domestic competition to counteract the segment shrinking as a whole.

Chrysler has fought hard to remain innovative in the minivan segment with firsts like twin sliding doors, seats that fold into the floor, and now Swivel 'N Go, which allows the second-row seats to swivel around 180 degrees to face the third row. One look at the Grand Caravan's long spec sheet shows that Chrysler also threw every technology on hand into this minivan, but we wanted to see if things like satellite TV and twin DVD Screens translated into a better minivan. Hit the jump to read about the 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT's stay in the Autoblog Garage. We've produced a video tour of the Grand Caravan's many features, as well.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.

The 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT that arrived in our driveway was a completely loaded Inferno Red Chrystal Pearl Best Buy on four wheels. With the astonishing amount of equipment that is available for the Grand Caravan, the exterior looks are almost inconsequential. It's a minivan, style is a secondary concern.

Chrysler did manage to do away with much of the last model's jelly bean styling, instead opting for a squared-off rear end with an extremely low load floor and a more upright face. The Grand Caravan's sheet metal is also cleaner overall, with all plastic cladding removed. While some feel the last generation Caravan looked better in comparison, we're OK with Chrysler's new function-over-form aesthetic.

Most people cross over to minvan land for practical reasons, and the Grand Caravan returns the favor by making life easy for soccer moms and dads. Our Grand Caravan came equipped with premium entertainment features like Sirius Satellite radio, a navgation system, MyGig entertainment system with 20GB hard drive, two DVD players, two LCD displays, and satellite television.

Thoughtful touches abound within the Grand Caravan, as Chrysler has also made remote start, power sliding doors, a power lift gate, reverse camera and a power fold third row seat available. The windows on the sliding door also go down with the touch of a button, and even the third row windows open remotely for added ventilation. To shield passengers from the sun, Chrysler also added an integrated, retractable screen to cover the second row windows.

Our tester also had the optional Swivel 'N Go system, which allows the the second row captain's chairs to rotate 180 degrees and adds a stowable table for family fun on long road trips. Installation of the table is a snap, and the captain chairs pivot with the pull of a handle. The kids enjoyed playing cards in the back, and we loved that they weren't fighting with one another or complaining about our classic rock on the radio. We were disappointed that the third row flip-down LCD screen didn't swivel too, which means that when the kids are done playing cards and want to watch TV, you have to stop the vehicle and un-Swivel 'N Go. Overall, there were so many features inside the Grand Caravan, we had to produce the above video to walk you through all of them.

Not everything was rosy inside the Grand Caravan, however, as cheap materials found their way inside and multiplied like Gremlins. The dash plastics are hard and unappealing to the touch, and the center stack, while well laid out, is very tall and ungainly to the eye. The second DVD player is so low on the center stack that you have to bend slightly and take your eyes off the road to put in a DVD. Luckily, there are two places to enter DVDs, as the first one resides up high behind the nav screen. It's also puzzling that Chrysler isn't using features like heated and cooled cup holders across the model range, instead opting to use the feature in the lame Sebring while omitting it from the more sensible Grand Caravan.

Our least favorite feature of the Grand Caravan was the ridiculous dash-mounted shifter. I'm 5'11" and had to reach to grab the shifter, so the average 5'5" soccer mom will either have to move the driver's seat up on top of the steering wheel or lunge forward to get out of Park. On top of that, it has a completely useless manual shift option. Why would anybody want to manually shift a minivan's automatic transmission? And if you do enter the manual shift mode, the only way to return to automatic shifting is to briefly go into Neutral, which you shouldn't do, or reach sixth gear and click to the right one more time. If one cent was wasted on this manual shift mode that could have otherwise been spent on better materials, it's a real shame.

While minivans certainly aren't meant for track duty, it's nice when the driver is afforded some pop at the accelerator. Chrysler's newly available 4.0L V6 engine with 251 horsepower and 259 lb-ft of torque has as much kick as any other minivan on the market, and it can move the Grand Caravan's 4,400 lbs with ease. Passing on the freeway is a snap, and pulling out of the sub and into traffic is much less stressful than in the previous model.

Chrysler also tightened up the Grand Caravan's driving dynamics to provide a firmer and more athletic ride. While the chassis of the Grand Caravan isn't as smooth as that of the Honda Odyssey, it's very competent in the city or on the highway. Body roll is nicely composed for a top-heavy minivan that weighs nearly two tons and can carry seven in comfort, though we don't recommend hair-pin turns and stunt driving.

Overall, Chrysler did a terrific job with the 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan. Our fully-loaded SXT model was $39,305, but nicely equipped models with dual DVDs and Sirius radio/TV can be had for $8,000 less. The new Grand Caravan is way more refined and feature-heavy than the model it replaces, and we'd be thrilled to take our families on a long trip in this rolling living room. The one area where Chrysler can improve the Grand Caravan is in the area of interior refinement, but after seeing the 2009 Ram interior, we have high hopes that the company will soon fix the problem across its entire line. Minivans are all about comfort and convenience, and on those two counts, Chrysler scores a 10.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      Decent effort on Chrysler's part but put the shifter back on the floor. Why they did it on the dash I'll never know but its ugly and it looks awful.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Tom, I have had 3 Dodge caravans, and I have only replaced one transmission @ 240k kilometers. No ac problems in any of them. I serivce my own stuff and change tranny oil and filter every year. I have tranny oil coolers installed on them as well. Many people however like you did have problems with the tranny on the dodge vans.
      My current one has 160K kilometers and no problems at all.
      The Honda van had some tranny issues as well. I think it was from 99-2002 models. To my knowledge they have been very good about fixing them under goodwill warranty, something chrysler will NOT do.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I find it intriguing that every vehicle below $60k gets knocked for the interior materials. Thing is, they are all made from basically the same plastic. The only difference is the grain. The new DCX minivans have a bazillion dollar multi-shot soft touch material on the door panels, and nobody has mentioned it once everywhere I have read about the van. Whatever.
      • 7 Years Ago
      The Chrysler minivans came out before the Renault Espace. You may not have seen them until later if you're in Europe, but nevertheless.
      • 7 Years Ago
      In response to some of the comments on here, interior materials aside, it doesn't seem so bad. The shifter is odd, but Honda has one in the same location. I think people see column shifters as dorky - associating them with "old people cars" like Buicks & the Grand Marquis. In that location, some consumers (not auto-enthusiasts) might find it more car-like. There doesn't seem to be any place to put the shifter in that huge, already filled, center console as in the Sienna.

      Also, the boxy exterior styling may allure some people away from their precious SUV's. And it's not so bad, the rear of the Chrysler version in particular reminds me of the 300 and the front has the most upscale minivan face in the business. Too many soccer-moms in Suburbans & Expeditions, even w/today's gas prices. SUVs are the minivans main competition these days, not crossovers. The upcoming Journey will battle those.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I know chrysler is putting the two-mode system in the durango and aspen, but why not make a hybrid version of the town and country/caravan? that would make a lot more sense, imo.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Is this considered hazing for the new guys?

      Like, how do you decide who has to drive it? Whoever writes the least commented on articles?

      Exciting stuff, this minivan is.
      • 7 Years Ago
      A nice vehicle, but ...
      1. Why did Chrysler take 6 full years to re-cycle 90' design and make it such unappealing? Of course minivans are not supposed to be all about the latest fashion, but they are meant for consumer after all. Honda and Toyota did a wonderful job creating appealing and stylish minivans. And why Chrysler decided to do this box on wheels - I cannot simply understand
      2. Cheap interior materials, horrible center console and that shifter on the dash. Why?
      • 7 Years Ago
      I may be in the minority but I think this Dodge is a pretty good looking entry into the market, unlike it's Chrysler sibling.

      Then again I also liked the Caravan R/T concept Chrysler had out at NAIAS and would actually consider it were I in the market.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Considering what a mini will go through with kids, toys, bikes and other messy items, the interior isn't a big deal - however, it needs to improve if only because of preception of quality.

      Having said that, I'm impressed with the new RT twins. I'm not ready for a van quite yet, but I know one day soon I'll NEED one - I can deal with a meh interior if it saves me big bucks.
      • 7 Years Ago
      One thing Swivel n go is great for is baby/toddler seats. You can turn the seat halfway so it face out of the door, pop your kiddie in, and do up the belts without having to reach around the kids or hunch over. Then just swivel back into the forward facing direction. Some people say the seats are great for seniors too but I'm not sure about that.

      • 7 Years Ago
      the materials always get a knock, and its true they are not great. I have an 06 for my wife that fully loaded came in about 10K less than a comparably equipped Honda. I'll say the amterials are better i nthe Honda but not 10K better.

      My father in law has a new one for his work vehicle. He loves it. I'm not as enamored of the inside, dash shifter included. My wife is 5'8 so its not as big a deal for her but dont see why Chrylser felt they needed to 'sport' it up. I agree, spend the money on materials.
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