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Old 06-27-2007, 08:30 PM   #1
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2007 Grand Caravan SE

Review: 2007 Dodge Grand Caravan, 3.3L V-6, 7-Passenger

+ Lots of Clever Storage
+ Comfortable, Easy to Drive
+ Inexpensive

- Rotten Transmission
- 3.3L Struggles with Load (does OK with driver only)
- Perceived Reliability

Introduction: The last time I rented this model, it was just me and suitcase in Indianapolis. This time, the vehicle was tested as intended: 5 adults and their stuff on a road trip: Kansas City – St. Louis – Kansas City.

We all know the Mini-Van. It saved the Chrysler Corporation from imminent doom in 1984. Others have copied the design, but the Chrysler models have remained the most popular since their inception.

At the latest auto show, I was really impressed with a fully-loaded Nissan Quest, and the Honda Odyssey. Both of those are pretty pricey. If you want a people-hauler at a good value, then look no further than Dodge or Chrysler. Ford is focusing on cross-overs and GM really never took the design seriously – so I can’t really give the stamp of approval on either of those. The Kia Sedona is great for the same price, but the DOHC 3.8L is not at all economical.

In the past, I’ve been a bit disappointed in the Caravan (and the Town and Country counterpart). The same interior with the 3 center vents, age-old radio in the center stack, and white-faced gauges gave the impression of a tired design. After really using the vehicle for its intended purpose, this revealed the true utility of this car-based hauler.

On the Outside: We’ve seen the same for years. Nothing much has changed. Now and then, you can find a Dodge with sporty alloys, but for the most part its business as usual. Nothing exciting here.

On the Inside: Despite the depressing appearance, once we delved into using the features, it became apparent that it just worked and you didn’t care what it looked like.

Seating is 1-1 up front, a 2-seat bench in the middle, and a 3-seat bench in the rear. Access to the rear seat is easy and doesn’t require any movement of seats or belts. It turns out this base model had some hidden surprises…

Between the front and middle seats is the “Stow-N-Go” system. This is essentially a huge hole in the floor with 2 access panels. Simply lift up on the double-hinged panel and a sizable amount of storage is available. This is brilliant. For families, this might be a great place to store a stroller, collapsing crib, or whatever.

What’s even better is the fold-flat rear seat. Instead of busting a gut with removing the rear bench, 3 easy steps results in a flat load floor as the seat falls into a large well. When it’s not being used, the well is perfect for additional cargo room: luggage, groceries – anything you don’t want squeezed in the back. Cargo finds a good home in the floor, where it won’t slide around.

The added wells in the floor created a design challenge for Chrysler. As a result, the exhaust is re-routed around the wells. In addition, the spare tire is somewhere under the front seats, down below. These are inconsequential in the big scheme.

Once everyone and everything is loaded, further strengths were revealed. Cupholders were everywhere, and each seat reclined. Belts were thoughfully placed where you wouldn’t trip on them on exit. Rear heat and A/C allowed those passengers to choose the temp – no more complaints about it being too cold. There was plenty of room to stretch-out, including the driver.

I’m pretty hard on the opinion of the driver’s seating position. I’ll admit, I have lower back problems. Certain seats just irritate the daylights out of it, and others are fine. This one was perfect. A high riding position and armrests gave the driver an ideal cruising posture. This is one of the best seats I’ve tested. Steering wheel controls allowed for no-reach operation of the radio and cruise.

Safety: Not really a strong point. The van received “Acceptable” crash ratings, and only a lap belt for the middle, 3rd row seat. Standard: ABS, usual airbags, including a driver’s knee airbag. The SXT model with the 3.8L offers side-curtain airbags.

Efficiency: For our long trips, the fam requests a 3rd row. I’m sure there are other models out there that offer this feature, and slightly better FE. If you need to seat 7-passengers, then this is the probably the least expensive, most efficient option. There are 3 engines available: a 2.4L 4-cylinder, and 2 V-6s: a 3.3L and 3.8L. I’ve driven the 4-cylinder and frankly, it’s terrible. It’s only found in the short wheel-base versions. Once you get it loaded, it doesn’t do well on the highway and really uses the fuel. The 3.3L is a good, middle-of-the-road option, but also struggles when loaded. The 3.8L is probably the best option – the EPA rates it with similar figures as the smaller 6. Honestly, a Blue-Tec Diesel would be a good item – that is if Chrysler was still a Daimler-Benz company – I guess we’ll have to drop a Cummins in there???

The Drive: Biggest complaint: 2-1 downshifts. When slowing to a stop, second to first gear seemed to engage pretty oddly: it almost felt like it was getting hung-up as it shifted. A few times, it lurched into gear with a thud and shutter. Otherwise, it cruised the highways pretty nicely. Getting up to speed was a challenge with on-ramp inclines (had to really rev the small 6 to get some momentum), but it held speed well despite the crappy cruise control (it was more of an approximation of speed, especially on hills – too delayed of a reaction often created unnecessary downshifts and high RPMs. The brakes felt a bit spongy and slow to react.

Out on the open road, the soft rear suspension took bumps with ease. It was easy to drive, easy to control, and predictable. It did take quite a bit of throttle input to get it moving – which takes you by surprise when you drive something else later! Handling was as expected: body roll in corners, but it didn’t wallow like most SUVs – it basically felt like a big, tall, car. …and I guess that’s why it’s been a hit all of these years.

Raw Data:
Model: 2007 Dodge Grand Caravan
Class Size: Van – Mid-Size
Trim: SE
Transmission: 4-Speed Automatic with LUTC
Engine: 3.3L V-6 rated @ 170 HP and 200 ft-lbs of torque
Drivetrain: FWD
Curb Weight: 4418 lb.
EPA (Old Estimate Calcs): 19/26, 21-Combined
GasSavers Tested Mileage: 20.3 MPG (ScanGauge Verified)
Fuel Consumed: 33.2 gallons
Speed Avg: 50 MPH
Time of Operation: 13.3 hours
Distance Driven: 675 Miles
Ambient Outside Temp: 75-95F
RPM at 60 MPH: ~2000
FE Conclusion: Good FE for the size, payload.

For the Hypermiler: I can’t say if it’s better to hypermile the 3.3 or the 3.8L. The 3.8 probably doesn’t struggle so much while loaded, but is larger and probably thirstier. The 3.3 can be EOC’d but probably not while loaded. Steering gets VERY hard and braking difficult. With proper technique, you could probably get 22 or better out of it: especially with neutral coasting (engine-on), and avoiding the cruise control. With a large frontal area and abrupt airflow finish, lower speeds could help. If you require the space, I say this may be a good option for FE.


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Old 06-28-2007, 07:11 AM   #2
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We had a caravan, '95 with a 4cyl stripper. Good vehicle 21/27 actual mileage. Replaced trans at 120K, engine developed knock at about 140K so decided to sell it. Decision: Brand new caravan or used odyssey. Drove both, evaluated features, reliability, etc.
Bought a used 3 year old '02 odyssey with 40K for the same price as a new caravan. It is labeled a Lemon due to middle row back seat seatbelt replacement 5 times (doesn't scare me at all, it works fine). Has all transmission updates, hopefully preventing premature death.
The driving dynamics are MUCH better on the ody, power is WAY better (with that fun VTEC kick) and more than we'll probably ever need, mileage is currently 21/27 actual. Wife loves it, we sometimes say to each other, "I'm glad we got the honda instead of the caravan.". No this isn't cheese its real, and I have no affiliation with honda, this is the first honda we've ever owned.
She doesn't always record mileage data but I should put what we do have in the garage sometime.
I'd opt for a used honda, the caravan has a really dated chassis and an old-tech pushrod engine. It just doesn't measure up. If I HAD to buy new though, finances would dictate the caravan.

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Old 06-28-2007, 08:36 AM   #3
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I can vouch for the vtec kick. I rode in an 02 oddy. It was easily quick enough to get the "honey slow DOWN the kids are in the car" with 5 aboard. But alas, the transmission is a thorn. Good luck
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Old 06-28-2007, 11:02 AM   #4
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Good review. Minivans do everything that SUVs do on pavement WAY better. But they suffer in sales because people are vain. The Stow and Go really is a cool feature.
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