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2008 Dodge Caravan SXT Road Test
Versatility for the long haul

Story and photos by Bill Roebuck

2008 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT on New Smyrna Beach, Florida, one of the few public beaches in the world that one can drive on (at low tide, of course). Photo (c) Bill RoebuckIf yours is a family that enjoys weekend getaways and extended road trips, you'll find the 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan has been newly redesigned with you in mind -- and it places particular focus on making any journey pleasant for children.

The latest model has more than 35 new or improved features that make the vehicle even more idea for transporting people and their things.

Some innovative features that are available include the new Swivel 'n Go setup, the Stow 'n Go feature carried over from the previous model, a dual DVD system for second and third-row passengers, a centre console option that slides 21-in. -- almost two feet -- from the front to reach second-row passengers, and YES Essentials stain-resistant fabrics, handy whenever food or drinks are being consumed while on the road. Also, the windows on the manual sliding side doors can be lowered, a nice feature for second-row passengers. Powered sliding doors and rear liftgate also are offered.

We recently drove a Caravan SXT model from Toronto to New Smyrna Beach, near Daytona Beach, for a week-long Florida vacation, and found it an ideal vehicle for such long-distance driving.

Two standard glove boxes made it easy to store maps and brochures during the trip, and the five cupholders and four bottle holders also came in handy.

The new Grand Caravan (Chrysler no longer makes the short-box Caravan) excels with its flexible use of space. Its features also help make it what is probably the most kid-friendly vehicle on the planet. Although our tester didn't have all the available entertainment and seating options installed, such options would further reduce any stress of taking the family on long road trips such as ours.

Even so, with the Stow 'n Go system, we could flip and fold away second- and third-row seats as needed. This proved ideal for the 21-hour drive to Florida, as my tall son could sit in one of the third row seats and stretch out for comfortable naps, while leaving the other seats folded away in order to make space for luggage, knapsacks, computer gear, etc. Cargo capacity behind the third row is 915 litres, behind the second row is 2,330 litres, and with all seats folded reached 4,072 litres.

The Stow 'n Go seating and storage system allows both second- and third-row seats to fold into the floor. When raised, the backs of the seats recline to comfortable angles. Optional is the new Swivel 'n Go Seating System with second-row swivel seats and a removable table, although it wasn't on our tester so we couldn't try it out. We expect it's very kid-friendly.

Such a long drive down (and back) is sure to reveal the flaws of any vehicle, yet the Grand Caravan shone in several areas. Mainly, the front seats proved exceptionally comfortable for long driving stints. There were no sore backs or shoulders on this trip. The fold-up inside armrests are at just the right height, and the doors feature wide armrests.

Visibility out front is excellent (although I'd recommend getting the parking assist sensors for backing up, as the rear of the van is quite a way back from the driver). The optional ParkView Rear Backup Camera is combined with an upgraded AM/FM stereo radio with DVD/HDD/MP3 compatibility and six speakers.

Regarding safety features, the Grand Caravan pretty much has it all --- almost -- there's no active head restraint system for the front headrests. Now standard in 2008 models is ESP (Electronic Stability Program) with all-speed traction control and brake assist, along with side-curtain airbags. Four-wheel disc ABS brakes also are standard.

Surprisingly, even with the optional six-speed transmission and 3.8-litre V6 (a 3.3-litre with a four-speed transmission is standard) we got quite good fuel economy, averaging 9.7 L/100 km -- despite the fact that much of the time we were keeping up with local highway traffic on the U.S. interstates. U.S. drivers often averaged 80 mph (130 km/h), usually a gas-mileage killer, but in this case it wasn't bad at all. The EnerGuide ratings for this van are 13.3/8.7 L/100 km city/hwy (21/32 mpg). They're slightly better for the 3.3-litre engine.

Combined with the large amount of cargo space and flexible seating arrangements, the Grand Caravan was an ideal vacation vehicle. However, as with any vehicle, our long periods in the van revealed some shortcomings.

One flaw we experienced was with the HVAC system. We could never seem to get the front seating area to maintain a consistently comfortable temperature, despite the availability of triple temperature controls for the driver, front passenger and rear seating areas. Both passenger sides needed continual adjustments of the dials as the system would randomly blow hotter -- or sometimes cooler -- air.

Another criticism we had was about the weight of the rear liftgate. It's heavy and very awkward to raise with one hand. The power liftgate option would resolve this problem.

We also found the headlights to be weak -- even the high beams, which seemed to hardly make any difference at all in illuminating the dark highway ahead. Maybe it had something to do with all the power we were drawing from the three 12-volt power outlets onboard (we'd plugged in a Garmin Nuvi 360 GPS navigation system, a cell phone charger and a notebook computer though much of the trip).

2008 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT. Photo (c) Bill Roebuck.The Grand Caravan is quiet enough around town, an exceptional characteristic for such a large vehicle, although on the highway, tire and wind noise intrude. It's not annoying, but, depending on the road surface, it can make conversations between front and rear passengers difficult to hear.

We encountered heavy rain a couple of times on the trip, and found the Grand Caravan has great wipers; they're large and have a very wide speed range, so can keep up with very heavy rains at the fastest settings, and handle light mist as the lowest speed without being annoying.

In the bad weather we encountered on the trip, we used our vehicle's remote start system in order to get the windows defrosted so we could head out right after loading up the van.

The steering has a light feel, especially on the highway, and the vehicle consistently tracks straight, even on varying road surfaces. The turn signal just needs a quick flick to produce three flashes--something likely adopted from European-spec Mercedes-Benz models back when the companies were under the same umbrella.

It's also a good design to have the steering-wheel mounted audio controls on the underside of the wheel so they won't be inadvertently hit when steering around corners.

The Grand Caravan comes in three trim levels, the SE 'Canada Value Package' ($26,495), the SE 'Stow 'n Go' ($28,795) and the SXT ($30,495). Of course, in the current Canadian market, dealers are offering various incentive programs to make the prices more attractive.

The model tested was $33,395 (including freight). It included the optional six-speed automatic transmission (highly recommended); 3.8-litre, 197-hp V6 engine (smooth, powerful and quiet); and 17-in. aluminum wheels.

Bill Roebuck is the editor and senior reviewer for CarTest!
© 2008. Posted Jan. 13, 2008

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