2011 Dodge Grand Caravan Review and Prices
The 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan is the best minivan for you if you don’t equate buying American with buying second-best.
The 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan gets major updates with freshened styling, a renovated interior, and – most significant -- the advanced “Pentastar” 3.6-liter V-6 engine. The 2011 Grand Caravan retains the basic understructure it’s used since model-year 2008, but the revisions are Dodge’s answer to more sweeping changes to the 2011 Honda Odyssey and 2011 Toyota Sienna, both of which are new, next-generation designs. The 2011 Grand Caravan shares its structural design and powertrain with the more upscale 2011 Chrysler Town & Country, which is similarly updated. As part of their model-year 2011 revamp, both lose an option that set them apart from other minivans: Chrysler’s Swivel ’n Go seating in which the second-row buckets turned to face the third-row bench, with a table in between. Turns out buyers liked the feature, but tended not to make much use of it.
Should you buy the 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan or wait for a 2012 Grand Caravan? Buy the 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan. The 2012 Grand Caravan might add a minor feature or two but the 2011 Grand Caravan already packs the significant updates that’ll carry this family favorite through until its next full redesign, expected for model-year 2014.
2011 Dodge Grand Caravan Changes back to top
Styling: The 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan’s styling changes aren’t drastic but they do contribute some visual flair to what remains a rather boxy vehicle. The most noticeable modifications are to the front end, which is capped by a more prominent Dodge crosshairs grille over a sportier-looking lower fascia and below a modestly redesigned hood. A revised bumper, new vertical-stack LED taillamps, and prominent Dodge nomenclature highlight cosmetic alterations at the rear. The minivan also rides about a half-inch closer to the pavement, which Dodge says helps fuel economy by improving aerodynamics.
The 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan’s interior gets major improvements. The instrument panel, dashboard, and steering wheel are new, and upgraded materials throughout the cabin contribute to a richer look and feel. A newly optional “super” center console provides generous storage space with ambient blue-green lighting to make finding objects within easier to find at night. Previous Grand Caravan interiors suffered lackluster design compounded by a proliferation of price-conscious unpadded panels and surfaces. Marketed as a “family room on wheels,” the Grand Caravan’s cabin was indeed a room ripe for redecorating.
This seven-seat minivan’s exterior and interior dimensions remain intact. The 2011 Grand Caravan represents the fifth generation of the vehicle that originally compelled millions to replace the family station wagon in the 1980s, and in turn was displaced in the millions by trendier sport-utility vehicles in the 1990s. The Grand Caravan has evolved and endured, however. Its buyers recognize the usefulness of a motorized carton with big doors, low step-in height, decent fuel economy, and a cornucopia of convenience and connectivity features.
The 2011 Grand Caravan is slugging it out with the all-new 2011 Honda Odyssey for the title of America’s best-selling minivan. That Grand Caravan got revisions to help it stay in the game is an encouraging sign that Chrysler Group LLC’s new leadership understands its importance to the success of the Dodge brand. That leadership is an amalgam of Italian and American executives. They’ve been in control of the Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Ram truck brands since Chrysler’s 2009 management takeover by Fiat under U.S. government mandate. Revisions to the Grand Caravan and Town & Country were in the works before the takeover, but following through is evidence of the company’s commitment to the viability of the only surviving domestic-nameplate minivans.
The 2011 Grand Caravan continues to be positioned as the sportier, value-oriented alternative to the Chrysler-badged version. Indeed, the gap in pricing between the two is growing as Fiat attempts to reposition Chrysler as a genuine premium brand. Interestingly, Town & Country outsold the Grand Caravan over the past couple of years, though the Dodge recaptured the first months of 2011. Yet a third version of this basic minivan carries its own brand-specific styling cues and is sold as the Volkswagen Routan.
To emphasize the 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan’s renewal, Dodge has expanded the model lineup and given each a new name. It also introduces the first dedicated sport edition under Dodge’s hallowed R/T badge. Gone for 2011 is the low-volume cargo model, along with the SE and SXT labels for passenger versions. The 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan comes four models: the base Express, family-value Mainstreet, fancier Crew, and sporty R/T. The last is visually distinguished by a body-color grille and exclusive 17-inch alloy wheels.
Mechanical: The 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan’s overriding mechanical change is adoption of Chrysler’s newest six-cylinder engine. Named for the company’s five-pointed corporate logo, this “Pentastar” V-6 is now the only engine available in the Grand Caravan and Town & Country. It effectively replaces three less advanced V-6s used in these minivans and is being phased into more than a dozen new Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep vehicles. The dual-overhead-cam 3.6-liter is designed for better performance and fuel efficiency than the engines it replaces. Among its advances is variable-valve-timing, though it lacks the latest tech trick, direct fuel injection.
In the 2011 Grand Caravan and Town & Country the 3.6-liter Pentastar is rated at 283 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. By comparison, the top engine available in the 2010 Grand Caravan and Town & Country was a 4.0-liter V-6 with 251 horsepower and 259 pound-feet of torque. The Pentastar also replaces two other V-6s used in these minivans, a 3.8-liter V-6 with 197 horsepower and 230 pound-feet of torque and a 3.3-liter with 175 horsepower and 205 pound-feet. The 2011 Grand Caravan retains as its sole transmission a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic, but it gains a driver-selectable “economizer” mode that alters the transmission’s shift points to help improve gas mileage.
The 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan, along with the Town & Country, continues with a front-wheel drive layout. A key to efficient packaging, front-wheel drive groups powertrain components in the nose of the vehicle, freeing the rest of the body to accommodate passengers and cargo. And by concentrating the weight of the engine over the wheels that propel the van, front-drive promotes good traction in snow. The only minivan to offer both front-wheel drive and grip-maximizing all-wheel drive is the 2011 Toyota Sienna.
Features: A minivan’s job is to carry people and parcels efficiently. The 2011 Grand Caravan continues stellar execution of that duty while making available a long list of comfort and infotainment features.
The dual sliding side doors feature power windows, and like the rear liftgate, are available with power opening and closing via the remote keyfob or buttons inside the van. A heated steering wheel, something typically offered only on higher-end luxury cars, is added to the 2011 options list.
One of the 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan’s niftiest features remains Chrysler’s Stow ’n Go seating system. It’s standard and enables the second-row buckets fold neatly into the floor, eliminating the need to remove them to create more cargo space. In the seats’ upright position, the floor wells become large covered storage bins. The three-passenger third-row bench seat folds into its own floor well – power operation is available for that – and folding both the second and third rows creates a long, flat load surface and some 140 cubic feet of cargo volume.
The no-longer-available Swivel ’n Go seating utilized second-row buckets that could be turned 180 degrees to face third-row passengers; a plastic table fit between the two rows. Chrysler says owners liked the idea of the swivel seats but didn't actually use them much in the table-and-chairs position. On the upside, the 2011 models’ second-row seats are more heavily padded for added comfort, and there’s a new one-touch release lever for easier access into the third row.
Occupants of the 2011 Grand Caravan will have at their disposal a wide range of electronic servants and diversions. These include Chrysler’s Uconnect system that bundles a hard drive for digital media storage and playback, USB iPod and Bluetooth interfaces, and a voice-activated navigation with real-time traffic. Also available is a dual-screen DVD entertainment system offered in conjunction with a choice of two subscription-based satellite streaming video systems. One is Sirius Backseat TV, which provides three channels of kid-friendly programming. The other is FLO-TV, which offers a larger and more diverse assortment of sports, news, and entertainment channels. Mobile Web access is provided via a dealer-installed Wi-Fi modem that turns the minivan and its perimeter into an Internet hot spot.
As before, the 2011 Grand Caravan includes a laudable list of standard safety equipment, including traction control for better grip on takeoffs, antilock brakes for better control in emergency stops, an antiskid system to combat sideways slides, and front-, front-side, and side-curtain airbags that extend across all three rows of seats to protect outboard passengers’ heads in side-impact collisions. A driver’s side knee-blocking airbag is added for 2011.
Driver assistance is available via camera and sensing systems to detect and warn of vehicles in adjacent-lane blind spots and of unseen objects when backing from a parking spot.
2011 Dodge Grand Caravan Prices back to top
Base price range for the 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan is $25,830-$31,430, not including options but counting Dodge’s $835 destination fee. (All base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s destination fee.)
Base prices for the 2011 Grand Caravan are $1,120-$1,980 higher than for roughly comparable versions of the 2010 Grand Caravan. Attribute the increase in part to a different mix of standard equipment and the added cost of the more advanced Pentastar powertrain, and toss in a $15 hike in the destination fee.
The 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan Express is the new base model and it starts at $24,995. That’s an increase of $1,835 over the previous base model, the 2010 Grand Caravan SE. Standard equipment on the 2011 Grand Caravan Express includes three-zone manual climate control, heated power mirrors, remote keyless entry, tilt/telescope steering, CD audio with six speakers, and 16-inch steel wheels.
The 2010 Grand Caravan offered just one alternative to the base SE version and it was called the SXT model. Base price of the 2010 SXT was $27,550. The 2011 Grand Caravan offers three alternatives, starting with the Mainstreet model. Starting at $26,830, it adds to the Express model such features as power second-row windows, power third-row vents, one-touch down driver/passenger windows, body-color mirrors, and 16-inch aluminum wheels.
The 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan Crew is the luxury leader of the line and its base price is $29,530. To the Mainstreet model, the 2011 Grand Caravan Crew adds such features power sliding side doors, eight-way power driver seat, power adjustable pedals, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and three-zone automatic temperature control. It comes with an enlarged and compartmented “super center console,” Homelink remote garage and gate opener; and a vehicle-status display. Crew models upgrade audio features with HD radio with a 6.5-inch touchscreen, a 30-gigabyte hard drive that holds approximately 6,700 songs, Gracenote music identification, audio jack, and a rear backup camera. Crew exteriors dress up with fog lamps, the Stow ‘n Place roof rack system, bright trim work, and 17-inch aluminum wheels.
The 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan R/T base price is $31,430. It had no directly comparable 2010 Grand Caravan model. However, a $2,760 sport-type option package was available for the 2010 SXT, which raised that model’s price to $30,310. Touting its upgraded suspension and macho appearance details, Dodge is pitching the 2011 Grand Caravan R/T as the “man van.” Standard on the Grand Caravan R/T are exclusive 17-inch alloy wheels and a body-color grille. It has an all-black interior with unique perforated black leather seats with red stitching, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and shift knob and premium nine-speaker audio with subwoofer and a 506-watt amplifier.
Leather upholstery is not among the 2011 Grand Caravan options; it’s exclusive to the R/T model, where it’s standard. However, DVD rear entertainment with a 9-inch overhead screen is optional on all but the base Express model.
As noted, despite price hikes to the 2011 Grand Cavavan, the cost-gap and standard-equipment gulf between it and its upmarket corporate sibling is widening. The 2011 Chrysler Town & Country’s model line begins with a higher level of standard equipment than the Grand Caravan’s, primarily because the Town & Country includes in base prices some features that are optional on the Dodge. Some versions of the Chrysler also feature items unavailable on the Dodge, such as special perforated leather upholstery. The 2011 Town & Country’s base-price range is $30,995-$39,495. The gap between the average base price of the two minivans has widened for model-year 2011 to $6,300, up from $4,600 for model-year 2010.
2011 Dodge Grand Caravan Fuel Economy back to top
The 2011 Grand Caravan fuel-economy ratings are 17/25 mpg city/highway. That’s the same rating earned by the 2011 Grand Caravan with the less powerful, discontinued 4.0-liter V-6. And it’s actually slightly more fuel-efficient than the two smaller outgoing V-6s, the best of which rated 16/23.
Still, while the 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan’s fuel economy is close to that of the competition, it’s not class leading. For example, the 2011 Toyota Sienna is EPA-rated at 19/24 mpg with its 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine and 18/24 with the 3.5-liter V-6. The 2011 Honda Odyssey tops the class at 19/28 mpg with its 3.5-liter V-6 and the six-speed automatic transmission included on its most expensive models; Odyssey models with the five-speed automatic are rated at 18/27.
2011 Dodge Grand Caravan Release Date back to top
The 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan went on sale in late November 2010; the 2012 Grand Caravan R/T follows in Spring 2011.
What's next for the 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan back to top
The good news is that the current ownership group is probably wise enough to realize there’s nothing in Fiat’s portfolio to replace the Grand Caravan. The minivan is a core product for the company, and that should insure its future. Past Grand Caravan lifecycles would suggest model-year 2014 for the next full redesign. But with so many current models being updated and future ones being rushed to revamp the Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep lineups, exactly when an all-new, next-generation Grand Caravan and Town & Country would be released is uncertain.
One big question is whether the new corporate overseers will determine that marketing two minivans essentially identical except for trim and brand position is redundant. Interestingly, sales of the Chrysler Town & Country have inches ahead of those of the Grand Caravan, though together they outsell all other rivals. Which might Fiat consider expendable? Some reports suggest Fiat may seek to reposition Chrysler dramatically upmarket in the coming years. Would a minivan fit this new brand identity?
What’s certain is that any future Grand Caravan design isn’t apt to stray from a successful recipe of space efficiency, industry-leading seating, and tech-gadget innovation. There is opportunity to make the styling less stodgy, the handling sportier, and the powertrains more fuel-efficient. And discontinuation of the Town & Country could compel Dodge to stretch Grand Caravan lineup to reach minivan loyalists who bought the Chrysler for its luxury frills and nameplate status.
2011 Dodge Grand Caravan Competition back to top
2011 Honda Odyssey: The best-selling minivan remains the leader in minivan performance and style with a 2011 revision that features daring new exterior styling. It’s V-6 engine trails the competition with just 248 horsepower, though it does garner an impressive 18/28-mpg fuel-economy rating when mated to the six-speed automatic transmission that comes with the top Touring and Touring Elite models (a five-speed automatic is offered elsewhere in the line and those versions are rated at 18/27 mpg). Prices range from $28,580 to $44,030, with no factory options available.
2011 Toyota Sienna: Holding down third place in the minivan sales race, Sienna is also redesigned for model-year 2011 with new styling, and added features. It’s the only minivan to offer a four-cylinder engine, here a 187-horsepower 2.7-liter rated at 19/24 mpg. Also available is a 265-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6, which gets similar fuel economy at 18/24 mpg. Fully reclining second-row seats, as well as motorized easy-access buckets for the disabled or elderly are other Sienna exclusives, as is all-wheel drive as an alternative to the standard front-wheel drive. Base price range is $25,270-$40,780.
2011 Kia Sedona: This little-noticed minivan from Hyundai’s South Korean corporate cousin is a recession-time value. It’s the oldest entry in the class, and feels it. But Sedona is solid enough and roomy, and its 3.5-liter V-6 generates 271 horsepower and is rated at 18/25 mpg. Driving manners are uninspired, but in keeping with Kia tradition, Sedona offers most of the features available on the competition at transaction prices thousands lower. If you’re shopping for a modestly optioned Grand Caravan, you may find a Sedona with more equipment costs less. Base-prices range is $25,390-$29,990. It’s not certain that Kia will renew the Sedona after this generation’s lifecycle, which suggests model-year 2013 could be its last.
UPDATED BY JIM GORZELANY