2011 Dodge Grand Caravan First Look

Driving Back to Relevance

2011 Dodge Grand Caravan Passengers Side Front

The minivan market has become tough with the new 2011 Honda Odyssey and 2011 Toyota Sienna filling family driveways everywhere. Well, for the 2011 model year, the Dodge Grand Caravan has been refreshed, meaning it has a much better chance than before at keeping and stealing customers back from Honda and Toyota.

The most notable change in the 2011 Grand Caravan is the replacement of all three V-6 engines with one new and modern unit: Chrysler's Pentastar V-6. This is an engine used in numerous Chrysler products from the Chrysler 300 to the Dodge Durango. Now, even base Dodge Grand Caravans will get the same powertrain as the most luxurious trim levels. The 3.6-liter V-6 engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and makes 283 horsepower at 6400 rpm and 260 pound-feet of torque at 4400 rpm. At the pump, Dodge recommends using 89-octane but says 87-octane is acceptable. Towing capacity is 3600 pounds -- if you want more, try the Dodge Durango crossover SUV. Fuel economy on the 2011 Grand Caravan is respectable, with EPA ratings suggesting the minivan gets 17 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway, matching the ratings of the 2010 Grand Caravan with the less refined 4.0-liter V-6 engine.

You could consider the 2011 Grand Caravan the return of the Dodge minivan to relevance, as a number of changes help make the vehicle just as competitive as the Odyssey and Sienna. Aside from the new V-6 engine, the 2011 Grand Caravan receives a new interior that won't embarrass the driver when other kids accustomed to minivans from other brands enter the minivan. Significant changes to the suspension actually make the Grand Caravan more fun to drive.

Motor Trend magazine tested the mechanically similar 2011 Chrysler Town & Country and came away with mostly positive feelings.

"Both around our figure-eight course and in everyday driving, the new Chrysler [minivan] has a nimble turn-in that's superior to some of Chrysler's new sedans. Credit retuned shocks, an improved twist beam rear axle, and quicker-ratio steering," the magazine said.

The ride height is lower by 12 mm, but consumers are more likely to notice the redesigned front and rear fascias with LED taillights that feature a design element Dodge calls the "ring of fire." Giving the Grand Caravan a sleeker look are the roof bows in the side rails that can be stowed when not being used.

The seven-passenger minivan can hold 33.0 cubic feet of cargo capacity behind the third row of seats, and 83.3 cubic feet when the second row of seats. Fold down the second and third row of seats and you'll be faced with a sizable 143.8 cubic feet of space.

Prices for the Grand Carvan range starts low, at around $25,000 for the Express model, though the Cargo Van has a base price of below $23,000. The most expensive Grand Caravan is the R/T model, which has an all-black interior and a sportier suspension than you'll find on other Grand Caravans. A body-colored grille and 17-inch wheels make the minivan appear a bit sportier, though it's not as bold as the SE trim on the 2011 Toyota Sienna.

As with any minivan, safety is a priority on the 2011 Grand Caravan. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Grand Caravan a "good" rating in the front and side impact test. With the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Grand Caravan was last tested as a 2010 model, before the newly stringent 2011 model year tests. The 2010 Grand Caravan got a five-star rating (out of a possible five stars) in the front driver, front passenger, side driver, and side passenger categories. A four-star rating was given for the rollover test.

The 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan's predecessors helped invent the minivan segment in the U.S. While the vehicle is no longer a class leader, it has regained its ability to compete without significant incentives.

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