Monday, February 25, 2008

Test Drive: 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan Canada "Value Package"

2008 Dodge Grand Caravan CVP
2008 Dodge Grand Caravan CVP. Click image to enlarge
2008 Chevrolet Uplander
2008 Honda Odyssey
2008 Hyundai Entourage
2008 Kia Sedona
2008 Nissan Quest
2008 Pontiac Montana SV6
2008 Toyota Sienna

Manufacturer's web site
Chrysler Canada
Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

Photo Gallery:
2008 Dodge Grand Caravan

Oshawa, Ontario - For 2008, Chrysler completely redesigned its venerable stable of minivans, the Dodge Grand Caravan and its upscale Chrysler Town & Country sibling. I was along for the launch of those, and the first thing I noticed was that every model sported a long wheelbase.

The company officials on hand seemed a little unsure if dropping the short-wheelbase model was really a good idea, especially since that version accounted for half of all sales in Canada. The official report was that customers bought the "shortie" mainly for its price, not its length, and that the new long-wheelbase model would attract buyers with an extensive list of features at value pricing. (Now that it's available, the new Dodge Journey is poised to fill the size gap, although it's more crossover than minivan.)

At $26,495, the base 2008 model is still priced above the last-generation short-wheelbase's official price of $25,555 (and even more if you account for sell-off prices, which went as low as $17,495), but it's still a reasonable amount, considering its features and roomier interior. That puts its tag below the $30,995 Hyundai Entourage and $29,745 Kia Sedona, and the extended-length versions of the Chevrolet Uplander at $27,620 and Pontiac Montana SV6 at $27,930. The short-wheelbase models of those two, the only full-size shorties left in the market, come in below the Grand Caravan at $24,390 and $25,060, respectively. The Canada Value's price is also $2,300 under the Grand Caravan SE Stow 'n Go model, and $4,000 under the top-line SXT trim line. Since many buyers in this segment base their purchases primarily on price, it's ideal for those who want a roomy and well-equipped van but are willing to forego some of the bells and whistles.

That base price gets you the Canada Value Package, an (obviously) Canuck-specific version that trims some items off the SE model. Most obvious is the standard two-passenger second-row bench seat: the disappearing Stow 'n Go and the spinning Swivel 'n Go seats cannot be added to this base model. If you want a flat cargo floor, it's got to be done the old-fashioned way by unlatching the heavy seat and rolling it out. As with the other models though, the 60/40 third-row seats fold easily into the rear, and the floor directly behind the front seats contains the large covered bins that would normally hold the folded Stow 'n Go seats. Here, they can be used to add a considerable amount of hidden storage.

In its favour, the second-row bench is also more comfortable than the Stow 'n Go seats, which have thinner foam so they'll fold up, and which can get plenty hard on a long trip. As with the other models, the third-row seats can also be flipped backwards, "stadium-style", and their backrests used as cushions for al fresco seating.

Like the SE, the Canada Value uses the base 3.3-litre V6 engine with four-speed automatic. Overall, it's a good fit, although it can get huffy on steeper inclines, especially if you've got a full load; for most buyers who need it as commuter transportation, it will be fine. There's a touch of torque-steer, but overall, the steering is nicely weighted and the van is easy to manoeuvre, with a fairly tight turning radius. The official figures are 12.6 L/100 km on the city and 8.4 L/100 km on the highway; my combined fuel use, in cold weather, was 13.9 L/100 km.

The interior is a vast improvement over the last-generation Grand Caravan; it still could be somewhat better, but it's far more forgivable in the inexpensive model than it is in the pricey Town & Country. The gearshift lever now moves to the instrument panel, while centre stack controls thankfully remain large, simple and easy to use. The Canada Value doesn't have a centre console, but I didn't mind, since it gave me plenty of space to park my briefcase between the front seats. There are numerous storage spaces throughout the van, including a massive double glovebox, and grocery bag hooks on the rear of the front seats.

Although this base model doesn't have all the creature comforts, it still contains numerous items that are standard on all Grand Caravans, including air conditioning, curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, power locks with keyless entry, tire pressure monitoring system, CD stereo and power windows, including a one-touch-down feature on the driver's door.

Available extra-cost options on the Canada Value include cruise control, YES Essentials stain-resistant fabric, eight-way power driver's seat, a stereo upgrade including satellite radio, and integrated child seats in the second-row bench.

The base package doesn't come with power mirrors, which it really needs; heated ones can be added as a stand-alone feature for $150. Unavailable options are mostly limited to entertainment: this trim line also can't be outfitted with MyGIG hard-drive music system, a backup camera or a second-row DVD player.

Still, even without those, the Canada Value is a sturdy and very comfortable choice, and well-geared toward those who never need to fold seats into the floor, or screen films for rear-seat passengers. I remember when a base van had one sliding door, three rows of hard seats and a steering wheel, and that was about it. Roomy and relatively inexpensive, this is a value-packed vehicle for those who don't need to check off every option on their daily transportation

Pricing: 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan Canada Value Package
Base price: $26,495
Options: $125 (Easy-clean floor mats)
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,350
Price as tested: $28,070

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