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2012 Dodge Grand Caravan ReviewThe Good
Class-leading cargo space, a roomy cabin, Stow n’ Go rear seats and some reasonably capable handling habits remain winners in Dodge's 2012 Grand Caravan.The Bad
Compromised ride comfort, seating for only 7 passengers, some sluggishness in the powertrain and limited driver legroom again keep the 2012 Grand Caravan minivan from its true potential.
The CarGurus View
Staid and stolid, Dodge’s 2012 Grand Caravan retains its aura of past accomplishment melding with almost up-to-date polish. Lagging its competitors in overall refinement, this outclassed people-hauler nevertheless remains family- and cargo-friendly, not to mention the only minivan produced by the former Big Three domestic automakers. Despite its faults, it deserves a look, especially if plans include lots of interchange between hauling people and cargo.
At a Glance
There’s no question the folks at Dodge have improved its products since their brush with insolvency. The automaker still has a way to go, however, in regaining customer trust and satisfaction. The 2012 Dodge Grand Caravan is proof of both propositions. This 7-passenger minivan, while not as elaborately appointed as its Chrysler Town & Country cousin, nevertheless offers a tolerably adorned and decently performing soccermobile boasting tolerably comprehensive standard features and best-in-class cargo capability that dovetails nicely with a price the average consumer can live with.
That said, the 2012 Grand Caravan suffers a rather dowdy exterior look and low-rent interior presentation, while overall reliability of this last domestically manufactured minivan remains questionable. Honda’s top-shelf Odyssey, after all, as well as Nissan’s improved Quest, Toyota’s classy Sienna and Volkswagen’s Euro-styled Routan in the opinion of nearly all reviewers beat Dodge’s rather staid mini in refinement, ride comfort and performance, though at a significantly higher cost.
In any case, the Grand Caravan follows up a comprehensive re-working in 2011 with a revamped trim lineup for 2012. Look for a new base trim, the American Value Package—AVP for short—while this year’s recast SE and SXT midlevel trims join the traditional Crew and the redesigned R/T in rounding out the breed. The 2012 R/T has been given a more masculine profile, especially in the grille, while the interior sports a few tweaks to upholstery and cabin accents in a further effort to attract more family guys. The AVP, meantime, is designed from the ground up to provide a lower-cost, more family-friendly base trim. Finally, Grand Caravan SE and SXT trims simply seem more diction-friendly than the awkwardly named Express and Mainstreet editions from 2011.
In its debut year, 1984, this unique Dodge mini, then simply named the Caravan, became an instant sensation, a true family vehicle for its time. Doubtless providing value and a certain practical attraction, this latest iteration relies on a long-overtaken though heady past to justify its presence in a dwindling market. Yes, the one-touch Stow n’ Go seating is a definite deal-maker, as is the 143.8 cubic feet of cargo space available with the rear seats folded (33 cubic feet when all seats are upright), but when all is said and done, it would be wise to check out the competition before settling for the present Grand Caravan’s faded glory.
A single variable-valve-timed 3.6-liter V6 powerplant is offered in all 2012 Grand Caravans. Mated with a 6-speed shiftable transmission, the six-banger throws down 283 hp at 6,400 rpm and 260 lb-ft at 4,400 rpm. An auxiliary transmission cooler is standard across the lineup, with towing capacity maxed out at 3,600 pounds when the available towing package is installed. Payload, as with the 2011 edition, stands at a hefty 1,540 pounds. Look for 17 mpg city/25 highway from the ethanol-capable (FFV) V6, and be advised that this practical people-hauler is offered only in rear-wheel drive (RWD).
In one acceleration test, an identically equipped Town & Country scooted from 0-60 in 8 seconds, which is accepted as average for the class. Reviewers find the V6 to be a bit more sluggish than anticipated, though power is adequate for most ordinary driving scenarios. The 6-speed automatic is described by most reviewers as competent enough, though with a disconcerting tendency to occasionally hesitate on needed downshifts when passing and merging in full automatic mode. Furthermore, reviewers note that the 6-speed, again when in full automatic mode, seems prone to some wince-inducing thuds up and down the gear range. Finally, engine noise is present, according to the majority of reviews, but not intrusive.
Ride & Handling
A front independent suspension is bolstered by MacPherson front struts in the 2012 Grand Caravan lineup and complemented by a torsion beam rear suspension with stabilizer bars fore and aft. All this leads to passable, if not especially adroit, handling, with the lower trims especially exhibiting a distinct body lean in fast corners. Steering in all trims, even the sport-tuned R/T, is described as a tad on the heavy side, though an admirably tight turning radius comes in handy when maneuvering in city traffic and crowded parking lots.
All trims except the Crew and R/T are equipped with standard 16-inch wheels (steel on the AVP and SE, alloy for the SXT) which, according to a number of reviews, provide a decently smooth ride, but have a tendency to deal out some considerable chatter on rough roads. The Crew and the R/T, with their standard 17- and 18-inch alloy wheels, respectively, as well as the R/T’s sportier suspension and the load-leveling system available to each trim, together cause the ride to become noticeably more firm in the opinion of most reviewers. In the case of the R/T, this is in keeping with its more athletic moves.
Brakes in all Grand Caravan trims but the R/T are described by many reviewers as competent enough, with an average stopping distance of 130 feet from 60 mph. The R/T, on the other hand, sporting beefier rotors, calipers and pads, achieved a surprisingly impressive stopping distance from 60 mph of 119 feet, pretty much the best in its class.
Cabin & Comfort
There’s little doubt that the 2012 Grand Caravan is intended for the frugal family with equal need for passenger- and cargo-toting capabilities. But even the base AVP sports a pleasantly diverse and frugally comprehensive list of standard comfort and convenience features. Cloth upholstery, front bucket seats, reclining Stow n’ Go second-row seats and a couples-oriented third-row seat all come standard on this entry-level trim, with remote power door locks, power windows and heated power-adjustable mirrors thrown in for good measure. Cruise control and telescoping tilt-wheel steering also adorn this base trim, as does dual-zone, manually adjusted air conditioning. And let it not be said that this lower-end trim is techno-light, with the standard (and basic) UConnect multimedia center complementing an MP3-compatible single-CD player and 6 speakers.
The on-again/off-again midlevel SE tacks on tri-zone air conditioning with rear-seat controls, sunscreen glass, upgraded audio, three rows of floor mats and a larger center console with cupholders.
Not to be outdone, the SXT adds aluminum wheels, power-operated second-row windows and rear vent windows, a power liftgate, power-adjustable pedals and power-sliding rear doors. This higher-midlevel trim also boasts upgraded UConnect with a 6.5-inch screen as well as standard satellite radio, with the first year complementary.
The high-end 2012 Grand Caravan Crew sports a standard power-operated fold-down roof rack, 8-way power driver’s seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, automatic climate control, a rear-view camera, remote engine start and a universal remote garage door opener.
In addition to its standard sport-tuned suspension, the reworked Grand Caravan R/T, as the flagship trim of the lineup, boasts standard interior and exterior trim upgrades, including the unique crosshair grille and upgraded 17-inch wheels, as well as leather-trimmed front and rear seats with power-adjustable front seating positions. And don’t forget the brushed aluminum cabin accents that frame the 506-watt stereo from Infinity with features like an MP3-capable single-CD player and 9 premium speakers including a subwoofer.
Of course, lower trims are eligible for a number of available features that come standard in upper-level editions. Meantime, a USB connection and upgraded Bluetooth-integrated UConnect multimedia technology are available, depending on trim selection. Higher trims can additionally be delivered with available rear-seat DVD entertainment, a trailer towing package, heated steering wheel, heated front and second-row seats and, for the Crew and R/T trims, a hard-drive-based navigation suite and the UConnect Web that’ll allow occupants a WiFi hotspot anywhere on the road.
Though conceding an airy cabin with nearly unlimited visibility to the front and sides, reviewers note that this year’s version of the Grand Caravan again presents some challenges to rearward sightlines. Additionally, in the opinion of many reviewers, Dodge simply hasn’t gone far enough in overall modernization of its cabins. The debuting AVP trim, for instance, in the opinion of most reviewers is troubled by cheap cloth upholstery, while all trims remain mired in acres of hard plastic surfaces. Driver’s side legroom also remains limited in all trims, as well, according to virtually all reviews, while most also suggest that cabin ambiance throughout the lineup remains more working class than upper class. The UConnect multimedia suite can, in the opinion of most reviewers, be frustrating to master, while its small buttons often prove an unhealthy distraction for drivers while under way. Most controls, on the other hand, are noted by reviewers to be logically placed and easily accessible, while gauges are described as large, well-lit and legible. Additionally, according to virtually all reviewers, the 2012 Grand Caravan offers a pleasantly accommodating third-row bench seat designed with two average-sized adults in mind.
To give credit where it’s due, the 2012 Grand Caravan offers a safe environment that puts to rest rumors of less-than-satisfactory safety performance and equipment in previous generations. For starters, 4-wheel antilock brakes (ABS), with electronic brakeforce distribution and emergency braking assist, are complemented by traction and stability control. The traditional 3-row head curtain airbags, dual front side-mounted airbags and active front head restraints, meantime, are bolstered by a driver’s side knee airbag and a post-collision safety system throughout the lineup, while the Crew and R/T trims boast standard front/fog driving lights that are optional on the SXT. Said SXT and above trims also offer an available blind-spot warning system, as well as rear parking assist with cross-traffic alerts.
Awarded the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) Top Safety Pick for 2012, Dodge’s minivan lineup scored the Institute’s highest score of Good in front-offset and side impact testing, as well as roof-strength tests.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), meantime, gives the Grand Caravan its second-highest 4-star rating for overall safety, with 5 stars given for side-impact testing and 4 stars awarded in front-impact and rollover tests.
What Owners Think
Those considering Dodge’s 2012 Grand Caravan ought to know that several of their fellow purchasers think little of this minivan’s overall build quality. The 6-speed automatic transmission garners a number of complaints regarding leaks and pokey downshifting, while a frustrating reluctance by Dodge to honor warranties for repairs contributes to owner dissatisfaction. Persistent blind-spot issues also lead to a number of owner complaints, with several insisting that the optional rear-view camera become standard equipment aboard all trims. Finally, cramped driver's-side legroom generates some grousing on the part of many owners, while others continue to question the reliability of this revamped minivan.
On the positive side, a majority of owners compliment the Grand Caravan's cabin room and cargo capacity, while the unique and practical Stow n’ Go second row seats continue to gather just praise. Mileage numbers for the V6 remain a source of owner satisfaction, meanwhile, as does a feeling of overall value generated by the reasonable sticker price. Finally, there remain owners who, while duly impressed with the competition, simply appreciate the no-nonsense styling and workman-like practicality of the Grand Caravan.
Have Laptop, Will Travel. I'm retired and travelling the country in a 34' motor home. I'm really digging meeting people . . and sometimes their cars . . . getting a sense of what makes this nation tick. The plan is to visit all the national parks in the continental US, then cruise to Alaska to visit Denali, and to Hawaii to check out Haleakala and the Hawaii Volcano's national parks. Anyhow, when I'm not horsing the motor home around the roadways, I'm tooting around in the 2012 Ford Focus that we tow behind, or making runs to Home Depot and various malls with the 2004 F-150 that just won't die.
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