New Chrysler minivans have enough fun video and seating features to keep everyone amused on trips
September 6, 2007
These are uneasy days at Chrysler: new ownership, a new boss and a new union contract in the works.
One thing is certain, though: The company that invented the minivan still builds the best minivans you can buy. Take that to the bank. Chrysler will.
The new 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country minivans are equal parts vehicle and playroom, with a distinctive and attractive new exterior design wrapped around the kid-friendliest features on the road.
Minivans are serious business for Chrysler. It builds about 4 out of every 10 minivans sold in the United States and relies heavily on the kid carriers for profits.
Serious, grown-up stuff, but a minivan succeeds on its ability to keep the munchkins and moms happy.
Nobody does this better than Chrysler, as its new minivans prove.
Open the sliding doors and children's faces light up like they just cleared the turnstiles at Cedar Point.
The 2008 Grand Caravan and Town & Country have so many unique and appealing features the kids barely know where to begin. It's like choosing which roller coaster to ride first.
Should they face each other and play cards in the one-of-kind swiveling second-row seats? Or they could have lunch at the removable picnic table between the second and third rows of seats.
Or watch "High School Musical 2" on the two video screens, since the new minivans are the only ones equipped to receive three different channels of kid-friendly programming from Sirius' new satellite TV service.
Or watch a DVD on the same video screens. A third small screen in the dashboard also shows the video when the van is in park.
It's a tough choice for kids, but nothing like the challenge parents may face getting the little ones to leave the minivan at the end of a trip. The plea for "five minutes more" may have just moved from the TV room to the driveway.
I took a Grand Caravan SXT to the homes of several friends with young children. The responses were identical every time. The kids loved it. The parents were pleased but nervous, afraid their children were developing Champagne tastes on a juice-box budget.
Not so much.
The minivan I drove sells for $32,390. Not spare change, but you can easily pay thousands more for a Honda Odyssey, Nissan Quest or Toyota Sienna.
And none of them even offers the swiveling seats, picnic table or satellite TV.
Prices for the 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan start at $21,740 for an SE model with a 175-horsepower 3.3-liter V6 engine. The Grand Caravan SXT comes with a 195-horsepower 3.8-liter V6 at $26,805. All prices exclude destination charges.
The Chrysler Town & Country lineup starts at $22,460 for an LX model with the 3.3-liter engine. The Touring model gets the 3.8-liter engine and a $27,700 price tag. A top-of-the-line Limited stickers at $35,670 and features a 251-horsepower 4.0-liter V6. The 4.0-liter is available as an option on the Grand Caravan SXT.
The 3.8- and 4.0-liter V6s come with Chrysler's new six-speed automatic transmission. The Grand Caravan and Town & Country are the only minivans with a six-speed automatic. The smooth gearbox provides excellent performance and helps the minivans achieve good 16 m.p.g. city/23 m.p.g. highway in EPA fuel economy tests.
Despite the weight added by the new features, the Dodge and Chrysler's fuel economy matches the Odyssey, Quest, Chevrolet Uplander, Hyundai Entourage and Kia Sedona.
The front-wheel-drive Sienna averaged 1 m.p.g. better in the EPA's city and highway tests. That would save its driver $126 a year, according to the EPA's calculations.
An all-wheel-drive Sienna has slightly worse fuel economy than the Dodge or Chrysler, which offer only front-drive models.
The 3.8-liter in the Grand Caravan I tested provided plenty of power that was complemented by firm brakes with good pedal feel, responsive steering and a smooth, quiet ride.
Interior room is excellent, particularly head and shoulder room, both of which increase dramatically thanks to the vans' crisp and upright exterior design. That styling is a notable departure from the egg-shaped body Chrysler pioneered and other successful minivans have followed.
The vans' solid and substantial new look drew appreciative comments from men and women alike. The new design fell short in one place, however. A crease in the metal of the D-pillar -- between the rear window and the tailgate -- looks good, but leaves the trailing edge of the rear windows raised slightly above the metal. It's a design issue rather than an assembly problem, but the result is the same: a piece that looks poorly fitted.
In addition to the unique new Swivel 'n Go rotating second-row seats, the minivans can be ordered with Stow 'n Go seats that fold out of the way under the floor or with a removable second-row bench seat.
All three seating arrangements come with the big under-floor storage bin Chrysler introduced. The rotating Swivel 'n Go seats are easy to manipulate and scored five stars -- facing either front or rear -- in crash tests.
I had to move the front seats forward to turn the Swivel 'n Go seats around. That's not a problem, but the lack of memory for a seat that's likely to be moved frequently is a small drawback, as is the lack of twilight-sensing headlights.
A one-touch power folding rear seat is optional, and the manual rear seat can be flipped over to face out for tailgating. The optional picnic table can be attached to the rear bumper or between the second and third rows of seats.
There's not much leg room for adults when the middle seats face rear, but the layout works brilliantly up to at least 12 years old.
The optional rotating seats are available in all models for $225. Getting those seats and the removable picnic table costs $495.
The driver's seat is very comfortable. The controls and gauges are all within easy reach and the materials look and feel good, particularly a soft, wide area at the base of the windows that's ideal for resting your elbow as you drive.
The overall feel of space and comfort is reminiscent of a luxury sedan more than a minivan.
The new Town & Country and Grand Caravan won't relieve all the stress at Chrysler these days. No one vehicle will. But if Chrysler brings this level of innovation and excellence to the rest of its new vehicles, its workers should be as happy and secure as a child in one of its new minivans.lick thumbnails to zoom
The vans' solid and substantial new look drew appreciative comments from men and women alike.
2008 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT minivan