Car guys are culturally required to hate minivans. If you love cars, you're supposed to want the BMW M5, or a Chevy Camaro, or Dodge Challenger Hellcat. Of course, the M5 costs as much as a house. The Camaro--even the $60,000 ZL1 version--has a remarkably shitty GM interior. And don't even get me started on the Dodge Challenger. It weighs, like, ten thousand pounds, so you have to slow to 20 miles an hour just to negotiate the turn in a freeway cloverleaf, or risk sliding into the armco sideways. Car enthusiasts are also allowed to like odd, quirky cars like the British MG roadsters or mid-80s Alfa Romeo GTV6's that, that, even in their heyday, would only start seven days out of ten. You're even allowed to like the Subaru WRX STi, which may the ugliest automobile ever produced, because rally car > looks.
But, you aren't supposed to like minivans if you're an automotive enthusiast. Minivans are for slow-driving soccer moms, who need them for the school run. Minivans aren't for manly men who love cars, and who want street cred.
But, the thing is, you can't take street cred on a Costco run. Street cred won't haul three 100-lb. dogs out to the country. Besides, I ride a motorcycle pretty much every day of the week as my primary transportation, so I'm comfortable with the amount of street cred I carry. I don't need street cred, I need a vehicle big enough to haul bins full of plastic bottles to the recycling center.
Previously, that spot in my life was held by my beloved 1999 Volvo V70 XC. I love Volvos. Though they're often driven at a maddeningly slow pace by the elderly, Volvos are rewarding to drive, even at the 200HP slow end of the V70 line. Step up to the Polestar range, and Volvos are a hoot.
But they also have a down side. As they get older, they get expensive to keep on the road. Over the last year, I've spent $3,600 years in repair bills to keep my XC on the road. But, the whole point of having an old car that I occasionally drive to Costco, is that the money I save on car payments can fund expensive, fast, new motorcycles. Over the past 10 years, I've owned 5 new motorcycles, funded by not having a new car with the accompanying payments.
But, over the last year, the Volvo has cost me an average of $300 a month to keep on the road. Which I didn't mind, except that, a few weeks ago, the Volvo started to do this weird, racing at idle thing again, which I thought I had fixed six months ago. Then, it stalled out, and wouldn't restart for several minutes. Eventually, it did start, and since it was a Saturday, I decided that, rather than take it to the shop on Monday for another round of repairs, I'd see if there was something else I could buy to replace it.
After all, If I'm going to spend an average of $300 per month anyway, I might as well spend it on payments for something that wouldn't need repairs--or, at least came with a warranty that eliminated their cost. What I found was a 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT with 62,000 miles on the clock, offered by my local Dodge dealer with a 4-year, 48,000 mile warranty. So, I grabbed it.
It doesn't look, you know, bad, exactly. It looks good for a minivan, I guess. It's in good shape for its age, so it seems to have been well taken care of. Still, it's a minivan, so it looks very...van-y. The interior is in great shape. But, you don't really buy a minivan for its looks, you buy it because it can haul stuff. And haul stuff it can.
I know the Honda Odyssey is supposed to be the Mercedes S-Class of minivans, but I have two responses for that. First, being known as "the best minivan in the world" is, to a car guy, an accolade as desirable as being known as "the world's most amusing child molestor". Second, the SXT spec of the Dodge Caravan has something special that the Odyssey doesn't: Stow-and-Go seating. The seats fold away into the floor, leaving you with a completely flat, unobstructed cargo surface. You don't have to remove the seats and store them in the garage. You just hide them in the floor, where they stay, clean and waiting for the day you need them. I folded them into the floor the day I bought the Grand Caravan, and they haven't seen the light of day, since.
But, I know they are there. Patiently waiting.
Until then, I have this cavernous cargo space that I have so far filled with large dogs, old furniture for a trip to the dump, massive loads of goods from Costco, and much more. I even went to Home Depot and bought a strip of carpet that I cut to size and installed over the floor so that I had some extra protection for the original carpet from--and some extra padding to lie on for--the Big Dogs.
The cargo space is really the key thing about the Grand Caravan. I mean, I thought the XC had a huge amount of cargo space with the seats down, and, with 78 cubic feet of space, it does. But that's nothing compared to the massive amount of cargo space available in the Grand Caravan. Even with all of the seats in place, the Grand caravan has 83.6 cu.-ft. of cargo space, more than the Volvo V70 does with the seats down. Fold the seats away into the floor, and the Grand Caravan's cargo space mushrooms to 140.2 cu.-ft. That's the size of a studio apartment in Sweden. Ikea could furnish this amount of space.
Because it is the top-level spec of the Grand Caravan, it also has sat-nav, Bluetooth connectivity for my cell phone (though only for calls, not music), and a DVD player with two TV screens that fold down from the ceiling in back, and which can be viewed on the front screen if the vehicle isn't moving. There's also a hard drive for digital music in MP3 format. There is, like I said, no Bluetooth connectivity for music, but there is an Aux jack, so I can play my iPhone's music through the stereo via a Lightning-to-3.5mm Aux cord.
The fully-adjustable steering wheel has a plethora of buttons and levers to operate the stereo, the onboard travel/info computer screen, and cruise control.
The seats are also real leather, but, that's about as sophisticated as the interior materials get. Everything else is just acres and acres of hard plastic. Bottom line: it's not a luxury car. But it's also not completely awful, and, for a vehicle made in 2010, it's loaded with features. And, when carrying around big dogs, having an interior that's largely easily-cleanable, hard plastic is actually a plus. I suppose that, because minivans are designed to carry children easily, and children are notoriously dirty and disgusting, hard plastic is easier to keep from being encrusted with their filth. The same goes--to a lesser degree, obviously--for dogs.
There are two side doors and a big rear hatch, all of which can be opened manually or remotely. I have to say, it's a big plus to open the doors with the key fob while approaching the vehicle with large dogs or shopping carts. The windows are also large, giving good visibility from inside the greenhouse, while, at the same time, being nicely tinted, so that looking in from outside is difficult.
Well, it drives about how you'd expect a Front Wheel Drive minivan to drive. The 3.8L V6 delivers 197HP and 230 torques that push the thing forward with acceptable authority, though the 4,483 lb. curb weight limits the authority somewhat. That curb weight, by the way, is only 13 lbs. more than the Dodge Challenger SRT, though admittedly, the Challenger SRT's 707HP drives it forward with more grunt.
So, maybe that's not a good comparison.
The thing is, the Grand Caravan moves forward with acceptable power. Enough power to make highway passes work without being painfully slow, anyway.
Usually in these reviews I talk about handling, body roll in the curves, amount of brake fade, and all that stuff. Talking about that sort of thing in a review of a minivan would be silly. Suffice it to say it's a large van with more or less car-like handling. It's comfortable to drive, so let's leave it at that.
It's got a lot of cargo space. The dogs positively love it. They can stretch out and be comfy. The windows are set just high enough that they can look out and smell, but are set too high to make it easy for them to jump out if they get too excited. Which is, by the way, an actual thing that has happened in other vehicles. Twice. In any event, the Grand Caravan is rated for 1,000 lbs. of cargo, so, basically, it has the cargo capability of a half-ton truck. It's big enough to haul full sheets of plywood.
Enough about the space.
The seats are comfortable, the rear-view cameras work and make backing up easy. The DVD player, presumably, amuses the back-seat passengers, though I haven't actually used it for that. The sat-nav gets you where you want to go, and the stereo sounds nice.
The Stow-and-Go seating is a brilliant idea that's hugely useful and convenient.
Well, it's not, you know, a lot of fun to drive. At best, the driving experience is sedate and comfortable, which is precisely all it's designed to be. The whole point of the driving experience is to make mommy comfy while she's driving the kids to school. In that, it excels, I suppose.
Because it's a 2010 model, it predates Chrysler Corp's vehicle interior upgrades from hard plastic to more pleasant, yet equally durable materials, so it's plasticky and ugly inside, which the fakewood plastic accents don't improve. The gearshift knob for the automatic transmission sticks out of the dashboard, rather than a center console, so that's weird, but, whatever.
While the seats are leather, the folding armrests are rubber foam over a metal frame, and not very comfy.
So, I now drive a minivan on the weekends, which isn't anywhere near as fun as the 2006 GTO I used to drive. On the other hand, it checks all of the "hugely practical" boxes I need it to check, in exactly the same way that the GTO did not. Chris loves the Grand Caravan way more than she did the Volvo, because it's so much more practical than even the eminently practical V70.
And, really, there are things about it that I love. It has 100,000 miles less than the Volvo, and it came with a bumper-to-bumper 48,000 mile warranty that even covers replacing aging, cracked hoses. I have a $230 per month payment now, but that's not too onerous. Indeed, it's less than I've been spending to keep the Volvo running.
Hopefully, the Grand Caravan will give me 5+ years of service, and the freedom to obtain other motorcycles that catch my eye.
Which is all I really want from it.