Full 2006 Dodge Grand Caravan Review
What's New for 2006
Starting with December 2005 production, the 2006 Dodge Grand Caravan benefits from a strengthened roof and side structure and updated side curtain airbags to improve its performance in side-impact crashes.
Back in 1984, Dodge's Caravan introduced America to the modern minivan. Within its relatively compact dimensions, it offered seating for up to seven, and with the second- and third-row seats removed, enough cargo space to handle a kid's move off to college. Still, some folks wanted more space, so late in 1987, Dodge brought out a stretched-wheelbase version dubbed the Grand Caravan.
The Grand Caravan has taken heat since its last full redesign (in 2001) for not having a fold-flat third-row seat, a key feature now found on virtually every competitor. Finally last year, Dodge has bowed to the pressure and introduced its new Stow 'n Go seating and storage system. This system enables owners to quickly and easily fold both the second- and third-row seats into the floor. Also, the third-row split bench may be flipped completely rearward to provide tailgate seating. This new level of flexibility should allow owners to get the most out of what was already the most expansive interior in the minivan segment.
The Dodge Grand Caravan has always impressed us with its peppy performance and carlike ride and handling qualities. The Grand Caravan has been Chrysler's biggest success story of the last two decades and has always been at or near the top on the segment's sales charts. But this corporate darling has its share of problems, as various mechanical woes have tarnished its reliability reputation. Although quality has improved greatly in the last five years, this Dodge minivan still tends to have more repair issues than import rivals. An extended warranty is a good idea if you're planning to keep the van beyond its basic three-year/36,000-mile warranty period.
Apart from the versatile seating system, the 2006 Dodge Grand Caravan has many charms, among them a comfortable interior, good looks and an available power liftgate. Depending on what trim level and options are selected, driver and passengers can be ensconced in soft, gathered-leather seats while triple-zone climate controls keep everyone comfortably cool or warm. In spite of the Grand Caravan's strengths, the Odyssey and Sienna offer something else that Dodge won't be able to simply bolt in: a long-standing reputation for exemplary reliability and build quality. Still, we don't feel sorry for Dodge, as plenty of folks will be won over by its combination of agile handling, comfy ride, spacious interior, stylish looks and iconic presence in the minivan segment.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The Dodge Grand Caravan is available in two main trim levels -- SE and SXT (there's also a cargo van version, the CV, which offers several options for configuring a Grand Caravan as a work vehicle). The SE comes with 15-inch steel wheels, antilock brakes, a second-row bench seat (for two passengers), a 60/40-split third-row bench, dual manual-sliding doors, cruise control and a tilt steering wheel. The SXT adds the Stow 'n Go fold-flat seating feature, dual power-sliding doors, a separate rear heating and air conditioning system, a power driver seat, 16-inch alloy wheels, a larger V6 engine, keyless entry, and power windows, mirrors and locks. A variety of options are available on all Grand Caravans, including automatic climate control, leather upholstery, an Infinity sound system, a rear DVD entertainment system and a navigation system.
Powertrains and Performance
A 180-horsepower, 3.3-liter V6 powers the SE. The SXT includes the more powerful 205-hp, 3.8-liter V6. A four-speed automatic transmission is standard on both models. A Grand Caravan with the 3.8-liter V6 is a sprightly performer, with crisp response down low and through the midrange. Towing capacity maxes out at 3,800 pounds with the optional towing package.
Antilock brakes are standard across the line, but the SXT comes with an upgraded four-wheel disc set. Stability control is not available. Side curtain airbags with coverage for all three rows are optional on both models. All Grand Caravans include a driver knee airbag. In government crash testing, the Dodge Grand Caravan posted a full five stars in all NHTSA frontal- and side-impact crash tests. Frontal offset crash testing conducted by the IIHS produced an overall "Acceptable" rating (the second highest on a scale of four). IIHS side-impact testing also resulted in an "Acceptable" rating on a Grand Caravan with the optional side curtain airbags.
Interior Design and Special Features
The star of the show is definitely the Stow 'n Go fold-flat seating and storage system. In-floor compartments swallow up the second- and third-row seats when you don't need them and double as storage areas when the seats are in use. Other useful features include a movable center console equipped with power points and a power rear liftgate. The seats are generally comfortable, and drivers will find most controls within easy reach. The Dodge Grand Caravan has 26 cubic feet of cargo capacity behind the 60/40-split third-row seat, and a maximum of 161 cubes with all second- and third-row seats folded into the floor.
The Grand Caravan's most endearing qualities continue to be its agile handling and supple ride characteristics. We suspect that the 2006 Dodge Grand Caravan will surprise and win over a lot of folks who expect the minivan driving experience to be an exercise in lethargic vehicle dynamics. The 3.3-liter V6 engine provides adequate acceleration, but larger families and those who tow a trailer will prefer the added power of the 3.8-liter V6.