2006 Caravan New Car Test Drive
The Dodge Grand Caravan and the shorter Caravan are family friendly vehicles offering the features and flexibility most buyers want. Smooth riding and responsive, most come with a powerful V6 engine that delivers strong acceleration for merging onto hectic freeways. Anti-lock brakes and side-impact airbags are available. And there's a model for every budget.
Dodge redesigned the seating system last year, and the result is one of the most versatile interiors available for a family vehicle. Called Stow 'n Go, the optional system features second-row and third-row seats that flip down into the floor, leaving a huge, perfectly flat cargo compartment behind the front seats. With the seats folded down, the Grand Caravan offers more cargo space than sport-utilities, including the mammoth Chevrolet Suburban. And its cargo space is more accessible and more convenient than that of SUVs.
With the seats in place, the Grand Caravan can carry seven. Selectively folding away the seats allows versatility in hauling a mix of passengers and cargo. No need to pull the seats out and store them in the garage or to try to put stuff on top of them.
The current model dates back to 1996, but Dodge has continuously improved it since then. The 2005 model year brought substantial upgrades. Changes for 2006 are minimal.
Caravan is the short van, Grand Caravan is the long van, 6 inches longer in wheelbase and 11 inches longer overall.
Caravan SE ($18,380) is the base model powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. It comes with hand-crank windows, manually adjusted mirrors, and a limited list of options, although rear-seat video entertainment is now available on all Caravan models. It does have standard air conditioning, variable intermittent wipers, AM/FM/CD stereo, and 215/70 tires on 15-inch steel wheels. The tire-pressure monitor is standard, but Stow'n Go seats are not available.
Caravan SXT ($22,225) is the short van equipped with a 3.3-liter V6 and a higher level of standard equipment, though it does not get Stow 'n Go. SXT does add second-row bucket seats, dual-zone manual air conditioning, tilt steering, cruise control, power windows, power heated mirrors, power locks with remote keyless entry, an upgraded AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo, a rear window defroster, sunscreen glass, 215/65 tires on 16-inch aluminum wheels, and other niceties, plus an expanded list of options.
Grand Caravan SE ($22,920) is a long-wheelbase base model similarly equipped to the Caravan SE. But it's powered by the 3.3-liter V6 engine, and comes with more sophisticated airbags with Occupant Classification System (OCS) and driver's side inflatable knee blocker. It also comes with a rear defroster, speed control, tilt steering column, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, and a few other appointments not included in the short-wheelbase SE. Standard second-row seating reverts to a bench with covered storage bins, although Stow 'n Go is optional.
Grand Caravan SXT ($26,680) is powered by a 3.8-liter V6 and comes standard with Stow 'n Go, along with second-row adjustable seats, a 60/40 split third-row bench with tailgate feature, dual power sliding doors, fog lamps, three-zone air-conditioning system, roof rack, eight-way power driver's seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, steering-wheel audio controls, and an overhead console with trip computer and HomeLink universal transceiver.
Option packages are available in a dizzying array of combinations.
Safety features that come standard include the required front airbags, which feature multi-stage inflators designed to automatically compensate for the severity of an accident. Front seatbelts use pre-tensioners to take up slack during a collision. Middle- and third-row seats include child-seat anchors for a more secure installation. Optional side curtain airbags are designed to offer head protection for outboard occupants in all three rows.