Minivan sales are not what they use to be. But while most brands are spending a lot of money ditching the mommy-van segment for trendier crossovers, Chrysler continues to embrace it. After all, they invented the front-drive minivan, and their fifth generation 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country represent nearly 25 years of experience of combining practicality and agility into a single box. But can the latest reincarnation of the minivan convince new buyers that it’s still hip to be square?
Simply improving segment leading icons like the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country is never enough. While the minivan market has shrunk, it is still extremely competitive - simple improvements won’t do.
So except for the basic two-box form, Chrysler started from scratch with an all-new platform for their fifth-generation 7-passenger minivans.
And they’re the biggest yet! Now sitting on a single stretched wheelbase that’s grown to 121.2-inches, the 202.5 overall length beats the Honda Odyssey by an inch and a half.
Both versions wear more slab-sided styling, with the familiar Chrysler wing atop the Town & Country grille, while the Grand Caravan’s nose sports the Dodge crosshairs and Ram’s head.
Inside, Chrysler designers really went to town with a host of new and familiar family-friendly features. One of the most popular with parents may be the YES Essentials stain and odor resistant cloth seat fabric and floor mats.
The popular and still exclusive Stow ‘n Go fold-into-the floor seating comes with uplevel trim, and with new twists. The second row can now be heated, while one-touch power fold can be added to the third row, another first in the minivan segment.
But this year’s biggest seating innovation is the available Swivel ‘n Go seat system. This almost RV-like feature allows the second row seats to swivel 180-degrees, and face a removable table. When not in use, the table is kept in the big second row covered storage bins. An integrated child booster seat comes later.
All but base models have power sliding side doors, now with power windows, and a power lift gate.
The family is protected by all-row side curtain airbags and sit beneath a new overhead console with more storage.
Available infotainment systems include navigation, Surround Sound, satellite radio, hard drive and a 506 watt amplifier with 10-speakers and a subwoofer.
A DVD multimedia system sports twin 8-inch screens, and optional Sirius Backseat Satellite TV, which shows Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, and the Cartoon Network.
All size drivers will fit thanks to a standard tilt wheel, with power driver’s seat and power adjustable pedals available.
And of course there are oodles of cup holders, and a rear seat conversation mirror, two huge glove boxes, and even an umbrella holder.
Plus plenty of luggage space, from 32.3 cubic feet behind the 3rd row, to a maximum of 144.3 cubic feet.
All this family convenience moves thanks to a trio of 6-cylinder engines. The smallest is a 3.3-liter flex fuel V6 with 175 horsepower and 205 pound-feet of torque; next a familiar 3.8-liter pushrod V6 for 197 horsepower and 230 pound-feet of torque; and at the top of the line the new 4.0-liter single-overhead-cam 24-valve V6 that pumps out 251 horsepower and 259 pound-feet of torque.
Automatic transmissions are a 4-speed for the 3.3 and a minivan first 6-speed for the 3.8 and 4.0.
Driving aid comes from standard electronic stability control, tire pressure monitoring, and an available rear backup camera.
We spent most of our miles with a Chrysler Town & Country. While it still delivers a family pleasing ride, there’s less roll in corners than before. The 4.0 V6 gets slightly firmer tuning and we liked it even more.
The steering is light, and very direct, with good feedback for a family hauler.
The 3.8-liter engine is certainly adequate for most uses and likely to be the most popular choice. But the new 4.0-liter engine is a real powerhouse, with an abundance of passing reserve and sharp shifts from the 6-speed transmission.
But here’s the best news. Prices for all Chrysler minivans are reduced for 2008, by an average of almost $2,000. Dodge Grand Caravan prices go from $22,470 for the SE, to $27,535 for the SXT. Chrysler Town & Country prices range from $23,190 for the LX, to $36,400 for the Limited.
The 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country show that the inventor is still the innovator. And as far as minivans go, the more things change, the more they stay the same but for the better.
Long Term Updates
Date: July 2008
If you need the hauling abilities of a big SUV, but want to control your gas appetite, it's time to look once more at the classic minivan. And, our top minivan is the latest generation of the original, the Dodge Grand Caravan.
The Grand Caravan has many of the attributes of trendier crossover utilities, lightweight chassis, efficient V6 powertrain, but can generally carry more stuff on less fuel.
Our 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT can carry 7 passengers, or some 140 cubic feet of cargo. That's almost 50% more cargo room than a Toyota Highlander.
And, even with the biggest engine, a 251-horsepower 4.0-liter V6, is returning a solid 22.1 miles-per-gallon on regular gas after 2 months and 4,000 miles of use.
We love the Caravan's flat floor Stow-And-Go seating. But be warned, the seats are hard and thinly padded for adults. Kids don't seem to mind, however, and they adore the optional overhead video screens.
So, high gas prices could be a boost for minivan sales, and the Dodge Grand Caravan is hard to top.
Date: September 2008
Recently, sales of the Dodge Grand Caravan have been moving up while virtually all other people movers are headed south. Well, after living with one for 4 months and 9,000 miles we know why.
Where else can you find 7- and 8-passenger capacity, more cargo room than a Chevy Suburban, plus 20.6 miles-per-gallon economy on regular gas, and not need an expensive hybrid or diesel to do it? The answer is only in a minivan.
And, Chrysler's exclusive Stow-And-Go seating can't be beat for versatility.
Still we wish our SXT's interior was more upscale. The dash mounted gear shift looks cheap. But that's a minor thing. So before you spend wads of cash on a big crossover or hybrid, give the Dodge Grand Caravan a thorough drive.
Date: November 2008
One of America's most popular minivans, the Dodge Grand Caravan has been serving us well for the last six months.
As gas prices have gyrated, buyers have become more aware of how well the Grand Caravan does on gas compared to a traditional SUV. After nearly 11,000 miles, our 4.0-liter V6 has returned 19.8 miles-per-gallon of regular. Not bad for a 7 or 8-passenger people mover with more cargo room than a Suburban.
We love our van's Stow-And-Go seating but wish interior materials were of a higher grade. The rear suspension has also gotten quite noisy.
Still, if you need to haul big on a budget, the Dodge Grand Caravan will fill the bill.
Date: December 2008
For some time now we've been singing the praises of our Dodge Grand Caravan as a more fuel efficient replacement for older sport-utes. We continue down that road after 7 months, and nearly 14,000 miles. Fuel Economy for our van's 4.0-liter V6 resides at a solid 19 miles-per-gallon of regular. Good for an 8-passenger anything.
And, Chrysler is hinting at an advanced hybrid Minivan waiting in the wings. Now, that's a smart idea...
As smart as our van's Stow-And-Go seating. It's tops in versatility. We did have a problem turn up one day. No wipers or turn signals. It was a bad switch and quickly repaired.
The Dodge Grand Caravan is a no-brainer for a big family, an idea that's getting better all the time.
Date: February 2009
What is it about a minivan that makes it the perfect family vehicle? Well, when it comes to our 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan it's a lot of things. Like the available Stow-n-Go seating that transforms this 8-passenger mommy mobile into a cargo van in seconds. and the available dual screen DVD system that is guaranteed to keep the peace.
Then there is the hearty 251-horsepower V6 that, after 10 months and 17,000 miles, delivers 19 miles-per-gallon of regular in mostly around-town driving.
Only a broken wiper switch and a suspension that thumps over big bumps has marred its visit. With an extremely generous powertrain warranty, the Dodge Grand Caravan is a family hauler without reproach.
Date: March 2009
We think the same about an even bigger box, this Dodge Grand Caravan. Our Drivers' Choice minivan pick continues to please us with its flexibility, comfort, and efficiency.
On that last point, our average of 18.9 miles-per-gallon of regular with the 4.0-liter V6 is slipping a bit. However, that's due mostly to a switch from interstate to all-local duties. Plus, mileage still compares well to larger crossover utilities which don't have the famed Stow-n-Go seating that makes the Chrysler minivans unmatched in versatility.
After 20,000 miles in only 9 months, our only repair has been to the turn signal/wiper stalk, and the rear suspension is still noisy over bumps. Our biggest criticism, however, is the Grand Caravan's dash. It looks pieced together and cheap. Volkswagen did a much better job in their Routan version of the same van. But, Routan doesn't have the Dodge Grand Caravan's bargain pricing and unlimited mileage power train warranty.
Date: May 2009
When it comes to true versatility, no crossover or SUV can compete with the minivan. The Grand Caravan can carry up to 7 passengers, or 144 cubic feet of cargo. Plus, Chrysler's famed Stow-n-Go seating makes converting from one mission to the other almost a snap.
Minivans also do pretty well on fuel too. After 12 months and 23,035 miles, our van's 4.0-liter V6 averaged 18.9 miles-per-gallon of regular. That's better than most full-size SUVs.
We have groused about interior fit and finish, and the suspension being noisy over bumps. But, the only real mechanical problem we had was a broken turn signal stalk.
That said, we'll miss our Dodge Grand Caravan. It is a jack-of-all-trades without equal.
3.3-Liter Flex Fuel V6175 Horsepower205 Pound-feet Of Torque:
3.8-Liter Pushrod V6197 Horsepower230 Pound-feet Of Torque:
4.0-Liter Single-overhead-cam 24-valve V6251 Horsepower259 Pound-feet Of Torque: