As some of you may have read on the Dashing Dad Facebook page, my car was stolen from my driveway, the night after I published my non-award winning blog 4 signs that you might need a minivan(http://dashingdad.com/2013/05/27/do-you-need-a-minivan/). It was a 2002 Honda CR-V. I am pretty good about locking it when we go out and about, but at home, sometimes I get distracted. Like carrying the baby in her car seat into the house, or I hit the lock button to early and the Dashing Son hadn’t closed his door yet, or any other myriad of reasons. Nonetheless, the Dashing Wife pulled out of the garage the next morning, and my car was gone.
Luckily, its insured. My local Progressive agent told me that they will cover a rental car, as long as it is less than $30 a day. Well, Enterprise didn’t have any compacts, and the full size was getting an oil change, so guess what I got? Yep, a minivan (at no extra cost). Not 36 hours after my blog about needing a minivan, I get one as a rental. It is a white 2013 Dodge Grand Caravan, probably a Crew trim level (2nd best) with about 21,000 miles on it.
Now, before I give you my review of this thing, I want to say that I am not a fan of Chrysler(Dodge/Jeep) vehicles. Their trucks are great trucks, especially the diesel ones, and I absolutely love the look of the Dodge Challenger. I have had many a Chrysler vehicle as a rental, both for work and on vacation, and they have never impressed me. The PT Cruiser I rented 7 years ago was abysmal, the Durango for work was a POS, and the Chrysler 200 I rented last year was un-impressive. But my parents have a big ol’ Dodge truck with a diesel engine for hauling sheep around across the country, and it is awesome. They put 20,000-30,000 miles a year on that thing and it keeps going.
So, back to the 2013 Dodge Grand Caravan: It has quite a few bells and whistles, power locks, power windows, power driver seat, and power doors. The power windows include the side doors, which roll down about ¾ of the way, and the rear wing windows, which pop out an inch or so at the back to create airflow. While there are window controls on the sliding doors, there is no control in the rear for the wing windows. Also, it is either both wing windows open or closed, you can’t open just one.
The power doors are pretty cool. You can open and close the sliding doors and the rear hatch with a push of the button on the remote, the center roof console in the van, or buttons on the frame for each door. While being able to open the doors would be awesome for getting the Dashing Daughter in and out of her seat, and good for helping small children close the door, it is something that could break down the line. Knowing my luck, it would probably break on me after the warranty expires. These doors will also power open when you grab the handle. Also, if you get in the way, they will stop like an elevator door and reopen.
The steering wheel has controls for cruise control, the odometer/computer readings (which has odometer, trip A, trip B, miles to empty, mph, and mpg), and the stereo. You can jump between presets (only up), control volume, change band/mode, and seek (up and down) between radio stations (this probably allows you to go forward or backward on a CD as well – but I haven’t tested it). I did accidently change the radio station while turning several times because I accidently hit a button, but only on the first day.
I drove it 750 miles, with a mix of city and highway driving, and averaged 18 mpg. When I was on the freeway (doing the posted 65 mph speed limit, of course), I was probably getting close to 24 mpg. They say 17/25 city/highway mpg, but I think it might be a bit lower (they always are). It had front wheel drive, and if I put my foot down on the gas pedal, it would spin a little until the traction control kicked in. Not sure if that was because of the 20,000 miles on the tires, or I am just not used to driving a V6. Nonetheless, it had a fair amount of acceleration.
In the front there is a decent amount of storage space to put stuff. The doors have map holders (who has maps these days?) with molded cup holders. There are two more cup holders in the center console, plus two storage compartments with sliding covers. One had two 12volt adapters and could easily store a couple smartphones, cords, and possibly a wallet. The other compartment had the Dodge change holder, and more space for whatever you wanted. I could almost get a big digital camera into that compartment and close the lid, but not quite.
The center console also had an open space on the floor for a first aid kit, a lunch bag, a ladies purse, or a bag of chips.
For the middle seats, the console has a big drawer with two cup holders and a large compartment for coloring books, snacks, or whatever. But it is big enough for a big bottle of liquor (just as a size reference only). You could probably get at least 3 bottles of wine in there too.
There is a glove box, and a compartment above the glove box for whatever.
There is a center roof console as well, which has the sunglass holder, but it also has a big fisheye mirror so you can watch the kids hit each other as you drive down the road. The roof console also has the controls for the side and rear doors, and some versions come with some buttons to control your garage door. (Security tip, if you don’t plan on parking your car in the garage 99% of the time, don’t program you garage into you car. If thieves break into your car – because you left it unlocked – they can gain access to your garage, and possibly your house.) There is a cup holder in each of the sliding doors, and a couple more cup holders and other trays for the third row of seats.
The 2013 Dodge Grand Caravan (which is virtually identical to the Chrysler Town and Country) also has the stow and go seats, which is kind of cool. The two seats in the middle and bench seat in the back all stow away into compartments within the van. This is great if you need to carry more stuff to a vacation spot (say camping), but will need to transport more people when you get there, you didn’t leave the rear bench seat in the garage. The rear bench seats fold away into the back with four pulls on four different straps (in the video, I didn’t grab the fourth strap, but you’ll see it).
The middle seats are a bit more difficult. You have to move the front seats all the way forward, then lift up the floor boards, which, when you fold them in half will kind of stay up, but not really. Then pull the strap, and it folds in half and rolls into the compartment, that part is pretty easy (I didn’t take a video because I didn’t want to take out carseats).
When the seats are up, these compartments are for storage. You can fit coolers in the back (I think you can get a fairly big cooler into the back, I just didn’t have one), or a stroller, or a bunch of other stuff I am sure.
The compartments for the middle seats are a little bit smaller, and have less access, but you can fit a few 12 packs of soda (or beer) in there. These compartments would also be good for camp chairs, snacks for the kids, toys for the kids, etc.
With all the seats down, you can fit a 4 ft by 8 ft piece of plywood into the back with room to spare.
I only needed one sheet, but I think you can get 4 or 5 more until you might restrict the ability to move the front seat back to a comfortable driving position. It may be okay if you only have to go a couple miles, but driving with the steering wheel touching your chest is not good. In addition to the plywood, you could easily get some 2X4s or other posts to build something really cool in your back yard. Now, why doesn’t Dodge, or any of the other companies market that they can get a bunch of lumber into the back of their minivans, I don’t know. But if you want to get more males to buy minivans less begrudgingly, show them that they can do “manly” stuff with it, not just haul the family to the beach, but fill it with lumber and construction material.
We drove the van to the drive-in (yes there are still drive ins around!), backed it into the spot, lifted the rear gate, folded the rear seats down, spread out blankets and pillows, and watched a movie. There was plenty of room for four people and the baby (Dashing Son brought a friend), and the Dashing Wife could feed the baby whenever she got fussy. We could have easily had 2-3 more kids in the back, and could have put in an air mattress for more comfort.
So, my overall impression of the 2013 Dodge Grand Caravan is that it is not all that bad. The things I don’t like: There is no place to store emergency supplies (tools, jumper cables, flares, etc.), especially if all the seats are stowed. There is a compartment for the jack in the rear of the car, but the other side is not used for anything. That could have been a storage compartment for a few things. Even if you have that stuff in one of the compartments, they would slide around. They make small emergency road side kits which would probably work, but they usually don’t have all the tools that I like to have available. While I liked that the middle seats stow away, rather than having to pull them out of the van, they were a bit of a pain to get in and out of the storage compartment. But they were probably easier than removing them completely from the van.
Things I did like: I liked the fact I can get a full sheet of plywood into the car. I could get 8 ft 2x4s in my CR-V, but they were sticking out the rear window. I liked that with the seats down, the whole back was pretty much flat. I could carry a lot more stuff if I needed to with this van. I could easily put a couple of bikes in the back with the third row down. I could also rearrange car seats and still have both kids in the car and still carry some larger stuff, like 2X4’s or bikes. The stow and go seats would be good if we drove somewhere with a bunch of stuff (like camping), and once the back was unloaded, we could pop the seats back up and carry more people if need be. The van also drove well, with not too much road noise, and it handled a cloverleaf onramp at a decent speed. I didn’t get a chance to test its cornering, but it’s a van, with kids inside, so I probably wouldn’t drive like a jackass anyway.
At this point in time, I am indifferent about the van. I can’t say I would buy it, but I wouldn’t tell somebody not to buy it. I haven’t compared it to any other brand, so I can’t say how it stacks up against the rest. Here is what Yahoo! Autos has on it: http://autos.yahoo.com/dodge/grand-caravan/. But would my manliness be threatened driving in 6 years with the Dashing Daughter and several of her friends to ballerina camp? Absolutely not.