2006 Caravan New Car Test Drive
Dodge Caravan and Grand Caravan are large vehicles, but not outrageously so. Measuring 200 inches long and less than 5-feet, 9-inches tall, even the Grand Caravan will fit just about anywhere a full-size sedan will fit. The standard Caravan measures 189.3 inches bumper to bumper. Grand Caravan's extra 11 inches makes a big difference in the amount of cargo it can carry with all three rows of seats in place. Caravan rides on a wheelbase of 113.3 inches, while the Grand Caravan stretches across a wheelbase of 119.3 inches.
Grand Caravan and Caravan are sleek and attractive with steeply raked windshields and aggressive grilles. The tracks for the sliding side doors are cleverly camouflaged under the rear side windows for a clean appearance. The D-pillars and rear window are steeply inclined for a sporty look, and a discrete spoiler rises from the trailing edge of the roof. Flared wheel openings add strength to the appearance. Headlamps and tail lamps are big, the latter wrapping around to the sides. The optional roof rack is hunkered close to the roof, stylistically less obtrusive and perhaps less likely to generate wind noise, but also offering less clearance for the thicker hooks of some tie-downs.
For 2005, Dodge freshened the Caravan's appearance with a new U-shaped grille featuring black bars behind Dodge's trademark body-color crosshairs, a design cue shared with the new Dodge Magnum. Also new was a molded-in license plate pocket and revised fog lamps, while new body-colored side moldings protected the door. These details have continued unchanged for 2006.
Models with power sliding doors on both sides add convenience when moving passengers. They're particularly useful when you find yourself herding children while carrying two armloads of gear. Press the button on the remote transmitter twice and the door slides open; press it twice again and it slides closed and seals. From the second-row seat, the power sliding door can be opened and closed by pressing a button; it can also be opened manually. A safety lock switch hidden on the trailing edge of the door can be engaged to prevent a child from opening the sliding door from inside. The power sliding doors can be fussy when passengers are in a hurry to get out, however, and passengers usually are in a hurry. Pulling on the outside lever opens the power door manually, with just slightly more effort than opening a regular manual door.
The standard manually operated sliding doors are easy to operate, smoothly gliding open and closed with the pull of a nicely designed lever. The outside door handles are comfortable and well designed; they impart a feeling of quality in appearance and operation. All door handles should be this good.
A power rear liftgate is available that adds convenience when picking up groceries or supplies. Press a button on the remote control and the liftgate opens or closes automatically. It's a great feature for those times when you approach the van with an armload, especially when it's raining.
Dodge Caravan's interior is comfortable and convenient. Both Caravan and Grand Caravan can accommodate seven passengers in a 2/2/3 arrangement.
The seats in our Grand Caravan SXT were nicely finished in light-colored leather. The material is soft and appears to be durable. The seat bottoms are nicely finished on all sides; we mention this because some manufacturers don't finish the inboard side panels, which leaves an unattractive, unfinished look that you don't notice until after you've bought the vehicle. Faux carbon fiber trim added a touch of high-tech to the cabin.
The seats in the Grand Caravan seemed more bucket-like than those of the similar Chrysler Town & Country, and not as comfortable. The Dodge has a manually adjustable lumbar support, however, and the seatbacks seem to have more side bolstering than in the T&C. The power seat adjusters have exposed screws on them that do not feel aesthetically pleasing. The seating position is higher than that of a sedan, which enables drivers to see over traffic. But you don't have to climb up into the seats, as you do in SUVs.
The Stow 'n Go seating system, standard on Grand Caravan SXT and optional on Grand Caravan SE, is the best seating setup on the market. The second and third rows of seats fold flat into the floor leaving a perfectly flat platform for cargo. Folding and unfolding the seats is a quick three-step process. Pull one strap to drop the seatback, then pull two other straps to tuck it into the floor. This leaves a perfectly flat platform. Very few seats fold perfectly flat and no one else (except Chrysler) has a second row that does this. The system is also flexible. The third row is split 60/40 and either or both of the second-row captain's chairs can be stowed. So, for example, you could stow the right one-third of the third-row bench and the right-hand second-row seat for loading something long, while still leaving seating for yourself and three or four passengers. Alas, the front passenger seat does not fold down, so you may want to secure that kayak to the roof rack.
The second-row seats move fore and aft to optimize legroom for rear passengers. Getting into the third row is a little awkward, but easier than in most SUVs. Once back there, the third-row seating is comfortable, though the seat bottoms are steeply raked.
Grand Caravan SE and both Caravan models come standard with the traditional seating setup instead of the new Stow 'n Go system, so the seats must be removed to turn them into effective cargo haulers. We found the second-row bucket seats and third-row split bench easy to remove, however. All or any one of the four seats can be popped out and rolled away in three quick steps, providing a wide variety of seating and cargo configurations. Reinstalling them takes a little more practice, as you need to learn how to line them up before snapping them into place. Each seat is heavy enough that care should be exercised when lifting it off the garage floor; you may want help. Most of the time what you'll do is leave the seats in the van but fold the seatbacks down to form a continuous load floor for large items.
The low floor makes getting in and out through the side doors easy. Caesar the 160-pound mastiff requires a ramp to get into an SUV, but he stepped easily and without hesitation through the rear and side doors of our Grand Caravan. Likewise, the low load height makes loading cargo easier, and the Grand Caravan can carry more stuff and bigger items than any SUV. There's a fair amount of cargo space behind the third row. When the seats are in place for passengers, there are wells behind the third-row seats that are perfect for groceries. A pair of cargo nets can be suspended from hooks, providing well-designed bags to keep your melons from rolling around. Another net can be secured between either the second-row or front-row captain's chairs. Hooks on the backs of the seats are useful for h.