Chrysler created the modern people mover when it introduced the first front-wheel drive minivan back in 1983. Since then, the minivan segment has become one of the most competitive in the auto industry, as models like this new Dodge Caravan fight to offer family buyers the latest in versatility and convenience. And at Chrysler Group, that means the new Stow n Go seating system. What’s that? You don’t know about Stow n Go? Well, watch and learn.
Here is your typical scenario: strap in the kids, cram in the groceries and forget that trip to Wal-Mart, because there’s no room and no time. Well, Daimler-Chrysler has invested $400 million in a solution. It’s called Stow n Go, and it’s genius really. The Stow n Go system allows all of the seats in the back that’s right, both third and second rows to fold out of sight, into the floor. Stow n Go is standard or available on all 2005 Dodge Grand Caravans. You’ll also find Stow n Go standard on all extended length Chrysler Town & Country minivans.
After spending two weeks with a Dodge Grand Caravan SXT, we are convinced that by creating an entirely new underbody, altering seat dimensions, and inventing a new way for those seats to fold, Chrysler Group engineers have reinvented the perfect bay for kid-carrying, furniture-hauling or both.
With the Stow n Go feature, the two captain’s chairs in the second row, and each part of the split 60/40 third row bench, can be independently folded into deep floor wells. No more struggling to remove the seats for more room; simply lift the floor panels and fold. You do have to move the front seats forward to fold the second row seats, but we found that to be only a minor inconvenience. In just 30 seconds, Stow n’ Go makes it easy to go from 17.6 cubic feet of storage with all seven seats occupied, to a maximum of 160.7 cubic feet with the 5-rear seats stowed. And when the wells are not used for seat storage, they can store just about everything else out of sight.
Downsides? Well, Stow n’ Go does eat up space, so all-wheel-drive is no longer offered. And, despite using high density foam developed for NASA, the second and third row seat bottoms feel a bit thin for adult comfort on long trips. But kids probably won’t notice the change.
Traveler’s Aids on our Grand Caravan SXT include a standard power driver’s seat, tilt wheel, AM/FM CD/Cassette stereo, three-zone climate control, with DVD Navigation and rear entertainment system optional. With so much invested in Stow n Go, it will be a couple more years before Grand Caravan sheetmetal is overhauled.
Powertrains are familiar, too. The base Grand Caravan SE comes with a 3.3-liter V-6, and our test SXT with the top of the line 3.8 liter over-head cam V-6. It delivers 215 horsepower, and 245 pound-feet of torque through a column-shift 4-speed automatic transmission. Off the line, there are no surprises, with an adequate 0-60 run of 10.2 seconds. The quarter mile takes place in 17.6 seconds at 79 miles-per-hour.
Handling, too, is familiar. Dodge fits Grand Caravan with very soft springs to help compensate for the solid rear axle on truck-like leaf springs. Slowly pushing through the cones, our drivers experience copious front-wheel drive understeer. Steering is light and quick, but feedback gets lost in the suspension and tires. The van tended to throw its weight around, resulting in a lot of body roll.
Braking is by way of Grand Caravans’ standard ABS 4-wheel disc brakes, which stopped our SXT from 60 in a longish average of 140 feet. Even with little pedal feel, the system works well enough; stops were straight and sure. But the soft springs contributed to much more nose dive than we like. The leaf springs also don’t allow for class-leading ride quality on rough roads, although most families will find it to be acceptable. The Grand Caravan was easy on the ears, however, using new quiet-steel technology to significantly reduce road noise.
EPA mileage estimates are typical for a minivan: 18 city/25 highway on regular grade gas. Our test loop average was 20 miles-per-gallon.
So, how much to break in your own Stow n’ Go? Well, the Grand Caravan SE with optional Stow n Go starts at $23,130. The SXT with standard Stow n Go goes for $27,185. Our well-optioned test van stickered out at $33,915.
That’s very competitive, especially since Stow n Go has no real competition. While we know some buyers may not find Stow n Go reason enough not to consider other minivans, Stow n Go is the most important addition to minivans since Honda introduced the folding third row seat on its 1999 Odyssey. That feature is now an industry standard, and we predict Stow n Go will be as well, for minivans and even SUVs.
As they have done many times in over three decades, Chrysler Group engineers have once again changed the very core of minivan functionality. The 2005 Dodge Grand Caravan’s Stow n Go system is a clever articulation of seats that will not only captivate veteran minivan families, but even cause minivan-phobics to take a closer look at the automotive innovation of the year.
Engine: 3.8 Liter Over-head Cam V-6
Torque: 245 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 10.2 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 17.6 Seconds @ 79 MPH
60-0 MPH: 140 Feet
EPA Mileage: 18 MPG City 25 MPG Highway
Motorweek's Mileage Loop: 20 MPG Mixed City/highway