Review: 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT

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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