Full 2009 Dodge Grand Caravan Review
What's New for 2009
The base model Grand Caravan SE gains more standard equipment for 2009, including Stow 'n Go seating. The upmarket SXT gains more optional equipment, including a dedicated iPod interface, rain-sensing wipers, a blind-spot monitoring system and the new Rear Cross Path System. All Grand Caravans get improved brakes, while the SXT with the 4.0-liter V6 gets a sport-tuned suspension derived from the European version of the van.
You know that guy you meet at a party who seems really cool? Then you hang out with him for a whole weekend and that cool guy is actually a loudmouth sexist who chews with his mouth open? Well, the 2009 Dodge Grand Caravan is the automotive equivalent of that guy.
If you happened to read our reviews of last year's Caravan, we were quite high on Dodge's all-new minivan, chock-full of innovative, family-friendly features. We also found its engine to be strong and its interior comfortable. We thought cabin materials could be better, but we could live with them given the van's other high points.
But that was based on our typical two-week evaluation period with a new car. Then we received a Grand Caravan as a long-term vehicle -- and our tune quickly changed. We encountered a host of problems, from a finicky radio and passenger sliding door to constant creaks and rattles. Build quality was terrible -- the "+" marking on the shifter was wiped off by someone's finger, the tan leather quickly showed signs of discoloration and the rear bumper plastic warped to the point where we couldn't open the tailgate. This was all after only six months, and you'll find similar experiences in our consumer reviews of the Grand Caravan.
In other words, the Grand Caravan is not a quality product, more a perfect example of cost-cutting and half-hearted design from a company just trying to survive. As we found on our initial experiences with it, the Caravan has some unique and useful features like Swivel 'n Go seating, a dual-screen rear entertainment system, Sirius Satellite TV and hard-drive audio storage. It also boasts the usual minivan attributes of abundant passenger and cargo space. Unfortunately, it's all sloppily executed.
As you can tell, we do not recommend the 2009 Dodge Grand Caravan. The Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, Kia Sedona/Hyundai Entourage and several full-size crossovers like the Chevrolet Traverse would be much better choices for your family.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Dodge Grand Caravan minivan is available in three trim levels: C/V, base SE and SXT. The C/V is a stripper intended for commercial use only. The more common SE comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, full power accessories (including second-row power windows and third-row power vents), air-conditioning, cruise control, keyless entry, tilt steering column, Stow 'n Go second-row seats, stain-repellent cloth upholstery, a flip-down kiddie mirror and a CD/MP3 player. The SXT adds a larger engine, 16-inch alloy wheels, foglamps, eight-way power driver seat with manual lumbar, power-adjustable pedals, power and remote-operated sliding side doors (optional on SE), rear manual climate control (optional on SE), an overhead console with storage bins and ambient lighting, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, and satellite radio. With the optional 4.0-liter V6, the SXT gets a sport-tuned suspension.
Optional equipment is plentiful but typically grouped in a confusing array of packages. The SE can be equipped with a second-row bench seat, while both trim levels can be optioned with a power tailgate and Swivel 'n Go second-row seats that include a removable table. Integrated child booster seats can also be added to Swivel 'n Go. Both trims can also be equipped with an upgraded audio system with 30GB hard drive for digital music storage, touchscreen controls, satellite radio and a rearview parking camera. A rear DVD entertainment system includes the upgraded stereo plus a 9-inch flip-down screen, remote control, two wireless headphones and 115-volt outlet.
With the SXT, the rear DVD entertainment system includes a swiveling second-row flip-down screen. Also optional on the SXT is the Premium Group that adds rain-sensing wipers, automatic climate control, a power-folding third-row seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, uconnect Bluetooth phone connectivity with iPod interface (also a stand-alone option on all trims), and a nine-speaker audio system. The Family Value Group adds second- and third-row sunshades, sliding front center console and remote ignition. Stand-alone options on the SXT include a sunroof, heated front and second-row seats, a navigation system with real-time traffic, and Sirius Satellite TV with Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and Disney Channel presently provided. Sorry, Dad; no NFL Network.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2009 Dodge Grand Caravan can be equipped with one of three V6 engine choices. The base SE trim gets a 3.3-liter V6 good for 175 horsepower and 205 pound-feet of torque. A four-speed automatic is standard. Fuel economy for this engine is disappointing given its meager output at 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined.
The SXT comes standard with a 3.8-liter V6 that produces 197 hp and 230 lb-ft of torque. Optional is a more modern 4.0-liter V6 making 251 hp and 259 lb-ft of torque. Both SXT engines come with a six-speed automatic. Despite their differing power outputs, they also get the same fuel economy at 16 city/23 highway and 18 combined. The 4.0-liter Grand Caravan goes from zero to 60 mph in 8.8 seconds, which is rather quick for a minivan. All Grand Caravans are front-wheel drive.
The Grand Caravan comes standard with antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, and full-length side curtain airbags. Optional on both the SE and SXT Caravans are second-row integrated child booster seats (requires Swivel 'n Go). Optional on the SXT is the Security Group, which adds rear parking sensors, a blind spot monitoring system and Rear Cross Path. The latter item aids drivers any time the vehicle is in reverse by warning of cross traffic in both directions to prevent getting your Grand Caravan T-boned. A rearview camera is also available.
In government crash tests, the 2009 Grand Caravan scored a perfect five stars in all frontal- and side-impact categories. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the Grand Caravan also scored the best possible rating of "Good" in the frontal offset and side-impact crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Grand Caravan's design theme can be described as appropriately plain and utilitarian. Audio controls are mounted very high for easy viewing and use (although the optional touchscreen and its menus can be cumbersome). The climate controls are located a little too low and require a downward glance away from the road.
Like all minivans, the 2009 Dodge Grand Caravan has its fair share of innovative interior features. The most notable are the various second-row seating choices. Standard Stow 'n Go features a pair of captain's chairs that disappear into the floor (as the third row does) creating a perfectly flat load floor and up to 140 cubic feet of cargo room with no hernia-causing seat lifts. Unfortunately, Stow 'n Go's short seatbacks aren't as comfortable as conventional chairs -- like those found in the optional Swivel 'n Go. As the name suggests, these can be spun around to create a trainlike face-to-face traveling experience for second- and third-row passengers. Fittingly, a pole-mounted table can be fitted in between both rows with Swivel 'n Go. Other innovative features include two rear video screens (one that swivels), a power-folding third row, huge under-floor storage, Sirius Satellite TV, ambient cabin lighting, a pop-out cargo-area-mounted flashlight and a driver-seat umbrella holder.
Despite these highlights, as earlier described, the Grand Caravan's materials quality is worse than all its competitors, while build quality is shoddy at best.
The Grand Caravan's handling is certainly adequate for most owners. For 2009, the 4.0-liter SXT gets the sport-tuned suspension setup from Europe's Chrysler Voyager, which improves the van's responsiveness. Still, the SXT remains a step or two behind the Honda Odyssey in terms of ride and handling refinement. The interior remains quiet even at highway speeds, and the 4.0-liter V6 makes the Grand Caravan one of the swiftest minivans available. The 3.8-liter V6 delivers adequate, if not spectacular, acceleration. Grand Caravans with the 3.3-liter engine, meanwhile, are sluggish and don't deliver any corresponding increase in fuel economy.