Test Drive: 2018 Dodge Grand Caravan

The Dodge Grand Caravan television advert makes a bold claim: 81 seating configurations. “That seems far-fetched,” I thought.

I know for a fact there is not a single Ikea box you can’t put in a Grand Caravan.

Then I started counting: Front two/middle-row left/rear 60/40 up, front two/middle row two/rear 40 up…. I got to 78 different configurations, but I’m willing to give Dodge the benefit of the doubt. If anything, 78 is a better-sounding number than 81, so I’m sure they are counting something I can’t think of. [Perhaps they’re counting the built-in booster seating in the second-row chairs. –Ed.]

And even if they have made a mistake, and I’m right, 78 is an astounding number of seating configurations. It’s this unparalleled practicality that lands the Dodge Grand Caravan well inside the top 10 vehicles sold in Canada each year. It also helps that the Dodge Grand Caravan is one of the most affordable solutions for mid-large families, coming in at a base price of $30,945 before a hefty amount of seemingly perennial factory discounts are applied.

Our particular tester, a 2018 Dodge Grand Caravan Crew Plus was a bit beyond that, ringing in at $51,545 as tested. Regardless of what trim you go with, however, the result is a car that can carry all your family and friends, all their gear, and then afterwards, all the Ikea boxes you can dream of. In fact, I know for a fact there is not a single Ikea box you can’t put in a Grand Caravan. I know that, because I had a Sektion cabinet that would not fit in my truck. This is the largest box Ikea makes and it did fit in the Dodge. And my daughter could still sit in her seat too! You can even put a full piece of drywall in the cargo area, though in that case your daughter will lose her seat.

But if you’re shopping for a Grand Caravan, you already know all this.

Here’s something you might not know: Despite its age, this is one of the best minivan drivetrains you can get. Dodge’s 3.6L Pentastar V6 is still one of the world’s best mainstream engines. With 283 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, the Pentastar may not be as potent as the Toyota Sienna’s 3.5L V6, but it is a smooth, unfussy engine that feels effortless on the highway, and chirps front tires in the city. Engine noise and drivetrain noise are well within acceptable class limits.

The six-speed auto is an oldie but a goodie, and is well matched to this engine. There’s a manual mode, operated by moving the lever side-to-side in the dash, but it’s of no value unless you’re towing. Even then, this box does its job well enough that you won’t need it.

The only hint that this powertrain is ageing comes in terms of fuel economy. After a week with plenty of highway driving, I landed on 11.5 L/100 km, a little better than the combined racing of 11.8. City and highway ratings are 13.7 and 9.4 L/100 km respectively.

Ride comfort is decent, and I was legitimately surprised by how little harshness and bumping there was. The Grand Caravan performs especially well over large, hard bumps, like manhole cover divots or road cut-outs. If you try to drive it like a car around any off ramps though, you’ll find the Grand Caravan a little skittish. Strange word for a big rig, but it’s tendency to move about on its chassis makes for a busy cockpit if you forget what you’re driving for a moment.

Thankfully, steering weight and accuracy are solid, so your ability to maintain composure when the suspension is under protest is good. In short: You’ll feel the car move around under you, but it will keep itself on the asphalt.

The large greenhouse and big mirrors help with parking, which is good, because the small and tinny back-up camera is no help at all. Its low-res screen is too small and too fuzzy to be properly useful. I was unimpressed by the central screen and radio, but that’s a function of the Grand Caravan’s age, and my exposure to FCA’s more recent, very excellent infotainment systems.

You only get this back-up camera and nav-equipped 6.5-inch radio as part of the $3,000 Customer Preferred Package which includes power sliding doors, power hatch, power seats, and swiveling reading lamps. That package also adds SiriusXM, 115V outlet, and overhead ambient surround lighting.

The bulkhead that leads from the front of the cabin to the rear screen is lined with a surprising strip of lighting. Its blue hue is downright pretty and adds a touch of sophistication to the Grand Caravan. So too, the leather seats also included in the group.

You get rear cross-path detection and parking sensors in the rear as well as automatic headlights and blind-spot monitoring with the $975 Safety Sphere Group.

My daughter was impressed by the rear-seat entertainment system, but then I wouldn’t let her use it and she got upset. But at $1,075, it’s a feature I’d do without. I would fork out for the $100 “Passenger Convenience Group”, which gives you sun shades on the rear doors. Remote start and a security alarm will set you back $595, while that heated steering wheel, Bluetooth, and a remote USB port all come with the $650 Drive Convenience Group.

At this point of the review I expected to be telling you how you don’t need any of these packages, and can easily save yourself some $10,000 on the purchase price of your Grand Caravan – and you probably can. But I’d be hard-pressed to give up the power doors, or the towing package, or even the heated steering wheel.

By the time you start loading up options, it might be worth taking a look at the newer Chrysler Pacifica – but a top-spec Pacifica is climbing well over $60,000. And while we refrain from talking too much about dealer incentives, as these are inconsistent and fleeting, it is worth noting that Dodge Grand Caravans have a pretty long record of substantial discounts. Soon, you can expect this generation of Dodge minivan to be subject to run-out deals as well.

It’s easy to think of the Dodge Grand Caravan as the value proposition in this small segment of the automotive market, but that’s not entirely fair. The Grand Caravan is a worthy offering on its merits, even this late in its life cycle.

2018 Dodge Grand Caravan Crew Plus
Engine Displacement: 3.6L
Engine Cylinders: V6
Peak Horsepower: 283 @ 6,400 rpm
Peak Torque: 260 @ 4,400 rpm
Fuel Economy: 11.8/13.7/9.4 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 934/2,234/4,072 behind 3rd/2nd/1st row
articles_PricingType 2018 Dodge Grand Caravan Crew Plus
Base Price $40,745
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,895
Price as Tested $51,545
Optional Equipment $8,805 – Granite Crystal Metallic paint $245; Customer Preferred Package $3,000; Trailer Tow Group $1,395; Passenger Convenience Group $100; Security Group $595; Driver Convenience Group $650; Safety Sphere Group $975; Single DVD Entertainment Group $1,075; Garmin Nav $475; Compact Spare Tire $295
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.8
6 Styling
8 Powertrain
8 Quality
8 Comfort
10 Practicality
8 Drivability
8 Usability/Ergonomics
6 Fuel Economy
8 Features
8 Value