If there is a perfect family vehicle in existence, it is the Dodge Grand Caravan. What's the data say? The average American has two kids and spends a little more than $20,000 on a new car or truck. The Dodge Caravan fits into this scenario better than Velveeta in a grilled cheese sandwich.
We like the Grand Caravan SE because it is the most flexible trim level. You can go with the bare-bones edition, or add luxury items like remote keyless entry, CD player with premium sound and a security alarm. A third way to spec an SE model is with a Sport Option Package, which includes a firmer suspension, alloy wheels, foglights and monochromatic trim. Oddly, the 3.8-liter V6 engine cannot be purchased on an SE model, which means the most sport your Sport can attain uses the 158 horsepower churned out by the 3.3-liter V6 that comes with the package. Still, a Caravan Sport is the raciest minivan you can buy, short of popping an extra four grand for the LE model and its 3.8-liter V6.
Step up to LE trim level, and you buy your ticket to a stronger engine, traction control, trip computer, snazzy trim and leather seating. At the top is the ES, which adds alloy wheels, foglights and a monochromatic paint scheme.
Grand Caravan offers several thoughtful details, but the most important are the easy-out rolling seats and the innovative driver-side sliding door -- a feature that makes so much sense, it's amazing that no one tried this before. Chrysler Easy-out seats are a snap to release and remove, though lifting the seat from the rear of the van may still require two sets of biceps. The driver-side sliding door offers the convenience of loading kids and cargo from either side of the Caravan. Also intriguing is the windshield wiper de-icer, which also comes standard on the LE.
Cupholders not only are numerous, they "ratchet down" to a smaller size. Except for an overabundance of climate controls and an oddly shaped column gearshift, the attractively curved dashboard is a pleasure to consult. Seats are soft but reasonably supportive, with moderate side bolstering.
Light steering response gives the Grand Caravan an undeniably carlike feel, with an exceptionally smooth ride. Highly maneuverable and easy to control, the minivan delivers just a hint that you could exceed its capabilities, as when rounding a sharp curve. A 3.0-liter, 150-horsepower V6 serves as the base engine, with a 180-horsepower, 3.8-liter V6 optional.
With its combination of innovative features and carlike ride and handling qualities, the Grand Caravan deserves consideration from anyone looking for a family hauler.