February 25, 2009
Before the world knew it needed minivans, Chrysler had it figured out. Take a box, add wheels, make it accessible via sliding doors and adorn the interior with more storage nooks than any mortal could imagine necessary. Of course, as we inhaled the new minivan concept of utility, we coughed up the image of pure functionality it embodied. This is the sort of vehicle our parents would buy. Alas, we have now become parents ourselves.
Attempts over the years to remove the stigma of boring responsibility inherent in the minivan have been in vain. Station wagons tried. Crossover utility vehicles tried. Neither could quite match the capability of the box on wheels. And with this notion in mind, our long-term test of the 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT began.
Why We Got It
Our primary reason for acquiring the Dodge Grand Caravan SXT was the same as for anyone else in the market for a minivan: utility. Inside Line compared minivan versus crossover versus SUV, which proved to us that swinging doors don't stand a chance against those on sliders.
For 2008 the Dodge Grand Caravan was all-new and we were optimistic it was a good fit for us. Swivel 'n Go seating and Sirius backseat television to keep the kids occupied. A 251-horsepower 4.0-liter V6 to appease our lust for power. And there was a six-speed transmission to put that power to use. These elements provided a strong foundation for what might be the reemergence of Dodge as a contender in the minivan world.
We ordered up a Grand Caravan with all of the options we could conjure and cleared a space for it on the long-term blog pages. This test would begin with a brief stay at our Detroit office.
One month into its term, we decided the Caravan would serve as a support vehicle for photo and video shoots in California. Odds were good (1:1) that Senior Editor Daniel Pund would be volunteered to drive the Dodge west. On Day Two of his cross-country slog in the Caravan, Pund shared, "I'd been dreading the trip through the Rockies in this big boat. Oddly, the Caravan proved a pretty faithful companion on the steep, twisty grades. It was more relaxed here than out on the open prairie. Like all Caravans powered by the 4.0-liter V6, our test van comes with a handling package. Yes, this sounds laughable. But the joke's on you. The big ol' Dodge can be eased down the mountain quite smoothly and securely. But she likes to be eased into it with a slow hand."
Photo Editor Kurt Niebuhr was second only to Pund in Caravan seat time. One such stint was over a three-day, 1,500-mile road trip from L.A. to Bonneville to photograph the Dodge Viper ACR on the salt flats. Through bloodshot eyes, Niebuhr enlightened us: "Fully loaded, the Caravan rides much better than it does when empty. The endless rear end porpoising goes away but is replaced by a noticeable nose-up attitude when driving down the highway. I should mention that we probably added 600 pounds of weight, including two passengers, to the van. This has the load-leveling suspension, right? Now the motor sounds decent but it couldn't push the Caravan past 110 mph on the salt flats. We attribute this to one of the sliding doors being open at the time while we took video. Fear not: With the door closed, we tapped the limiter at 114 mph."
Inside the cabin, the 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan left us unimpressed, however. Inside Line Editor in Chief Scott Oldham put his disappointment into words: "This van feels like it was designed and assembled by apes. Apes that were pounded mercilessly by bean counters to get more cost out of the poor resulting van's interior. Apes that have never been in a Honda Odyssey. Apes that have no respect for their customers. Apes that have no problem sleeping at night after selling people a plastic-y, poorly assembled crapmobile for the ridiculous sum of $40,200. Instead the Grand Caravan feels like Dodge just doesn't care. Like the company has given up."
Nevertheless, our Caravan took on the persona of Rocky, the hero of all those boxing movies. This van took a beating. It failed to start in an early loss to Apollo Creed. But before Mickey could cut us, we were back on the canvas with radio failure and prematurely warped brake rotors. One defeat after the next stifled our heroic Caravan. Clubber Lang seemed to fit the role of a rear bumper mohawk and inevitable power tailgate failure. Thunderlips represented the essence of the sliding door failure and ultimate replacement of the front rotors and brake pads. This minivan was perpetually pummeled, sometimes by the elements and oftentimes from within. Over one stretch we visited the dealer four times in just three months and were questioned by a service advisor, "I thought you said this was a 2008 Caravan?" But just when we were certain Rocky IV was it, our Caravan pulled out of the service bay and back onto the road for another chapter. It was a true workhorse.
Total Body Repair Costs: None
Total Routine Maintenance Costs (over 12 months): $111.15
Additional Maintenance Costs: $17.18 for flat tire repair
Warranty Repairs: Reprogram sliding-door modules; resurface brake rotors; replace front brake pads and rotors; replace retainer door trim panel; replace rear bumper skin; replace power steering hose
Non-Warranty Repairs: None
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 4
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: 2
Days Out of Service: 2 spent waiting for parts on order
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: None
Performance and Fuel Economy
The first Caravan we put through its paces proved to be the quickest minivan we've tested. It ran from zero to 60 mph in 8.2 seconds and completed the quarter-mile in 16.3 seconds at 85 mph. But when we tested our long-term van, it proved fractionally slower. Specifically, our Caravan was 0.2 second slower to 60 mph and 0.3 second slower to a quarter-mile. A complete stop from 60 mph in this 4,700-pound van required 133 feet.
When it comes to handling dynamics, the 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan is about average among its peers. It records 0.70g of lateral grip on the skid pad and a speed of 57.9 mph through the slalom. Chief Road Test Editor Chris Walton remarked following these tests, "There is lots of body roll. So much, in fact, that the inside front Bridgestone Turanza comes off the ground, especially in a clockwise direction around the skid pad. Steering is slow and body motions are, too. Light steering is a good thing here, and it's usably precise. Quick turn-in for such a large minivan."
Best Fuel Economy: 30.8 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 12 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 18.6 mpg
Our new Grand Caravan arrived with options galore and a $40,200 MSRP. Over 27,000 miles and 12 months down the road, its value depreciated by half. This seemed extreme until we considered our last long-term minivan, the Kia Sedona. Edmunds' TMV® recorded depreciation of 41 percent after 25,000 miles.
By contrast, a similarly equipped Honda Odyssey Touring depreciates roughly 10 percent under similar conditions.
True Market Value at service end: $20,258
Depreciation: $19,942 or 50% of original MSRP
Final Odometer Reading: 27,538
We added more miles to the Caravan than any long-term car before it. High mileage contributed to depreciation that accounted for half of its original value. We verbally and physically assaulted our 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan. It took everything we could throw at it and with some elbow grease from a local dealership, continued to deliver.
Our experience with the reliability of this minivan was mixed. We wanted to give the van credit for its strong, hard-working spirit and the kind of all-around utility unmatched by any SUV. But then we realized that all minivans offer this same level of utility. And when it came to reliability, the Caravan was a disappointment. None of our six dealer trips was for scheduled maintenance alone. Each visit included a list of items requiring attention.
Minivans remain the kings of utility, and we proved as much with our Caravan. But our need for versatility doesn't excuse Dodge for poor initial build quality. Numerous minor mechanical ghosts haunted our test, none of which gave us much confidence in the overall reliability of the van. We will give Dodge credit for inventing the minivan. But when it comes to perfecting it, we cast our vote for the Honda Odyssey.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.