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2009 Dodge Grand Caravan

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    Few vehicles out there can literally be described as mobile homes. Take the Dodge Grand Caravan ; it serves as a living room, a playroom or a dining room. Of course, it can't be all at the same time, but the fact of the matter is, interior configurations are nearly infinite.

    The 2009 Grand Caravan boasts the same popular attributes that have helped build its "family hauler" reputation since the mid-'80s. About the only thing that's different nowadays is size; the new generation (introduced for 2008) is huge. Obviously, it makes for an even more versatile package.

    Styling is pretty understated: clean lines, no flash and no fanfare. Overall, though, this Dodge is still attractive considering its minivan body style. Having said that, some exterior details should be revised. For instance, the roof rails on my tester not only had visible screws but the latter had visible threads, thereby suggesting an unfinished assembly.

    Life inside the Grand Caravan SXT is tailor-made for modern families. There are plenty of storage compartments and the interior layout is designed to accommodate multiple occupants at once (up to seven). You can teach math to a kid just by counting the number of cup holders, so I guess the Grand Caravan also has an educational purpose. What's more, everyone is comfortably seated. The driver can even adjust the pedals to fine-tune the driving position. I have to say, however, that rear-seat access and comfort for adults are limited with the folding table of the ingenious Swivel 'n Go system in place.

    In order to maintain competitive prices, Dodge had to make strategic choices. On a daily basis, you realize that cost reduction is not the only thing that explains material selection. Sure, hard plastics everywhere is a cheaper way to trim the interior, but it also makes for a more durable, easier-to-clean environment. Parents will love that! Plus, said plastics are tastefully finished and solidly matched together, which is usually rare in this market segment.

    The driving cockpit of this family hauler is very ergonomic when it comes to limiting distractions and helping drivers settle any dispute in the back. There's so much room inside that Dodge should include an optional PA system to facilitate communication between first- and third-row passengers. Cargo room is reduced when all the seats are occupied but it transforms into a real cavern as you fold or remove the rear seats.

    The "little" engine that could
    My SXT tester was motivated by a 251-horsepower, 4.0-liter V6 producing a comfortable 259 pounds-feet of torque. This mill is quite pleasant to work with and it proves fairly fuel-efficient on the highway, but less in the city, averaging 12.4 L/100 km while on my watch.

    The 6-speed automatic transmission deserves a lot of credit for the engine's performance and efficiency. Meanwhile, braking power is adequate, although the pedal is spongy and little responsive. On the other hand, ride comfort is always part of the equation. The well-mannered Grand Caravan swallows miles and miles of road in almost graceful fashion.

    What's really amazing is that none of the following vehicles would even exist had the Dodge Grand Caravan not pioneered the minivan segment in the 1980s:

    Chevrolet Uplander LT1 ($28,775)
    Chrysler Town and Country Touring ($37,345)
    Honda Odyssey EX ($36,990
    KIA Sedona EX Power ($35,295)
    Nissan Quest 3.5 SL ($37,398)
    Toyota Sienna LE ($33,380)
    Volkswagen Routan Comfortline ($33,975).

    The 2009 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT starts at $31,745.

    The Grand Caravan minivan from Dodge is loaded with family-friendly features. Pricing is significantly lower than the competition; yet, no major sacrifices were made. The extreme flexibility and generous room of the interior make it a smart choice for drivers with a large family and travel on their mind.