New look, more features for Dodge people-mover

The company that invented the minivan nearly three decades ago is certainly innovative when it comes to pioneering new features.

The Dodge Grand Caravan enters the 2011 model year with a new look and a full slate of new “first” for the vehicle that single-handedly rescued the Chrysler Corporation back in the 1980s.

As we all know, history has a way of repeating itself.

While the 2011 Grand Caravan is new and innovative, I won’t go so far as to say it will have the game-changing impact it did 28 years ago.

But I will say it is a pretty impressive vehicle for young families and anyone who frequently needs a flexible platform to transport up to seven passengers.

In addition to the new look, Chrysler engineers spent a lot of effort refining and retuning the Grand Caravan’s driving dynamics to deliver a true sedan-like ride on the highway.

There’s also a new powertrain that covers all four trim levels in the 2011 Grand Caravan lineup that provides both performance and enhanced fuel economy.

Available in Express, Mainstreet, Crew and R/T trim levels, a new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine that delivers 283 horsepower and 260 lbs.-ft. torque powers all four Grand Caravan models. The engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that also features a new driver-selectable fuel economizer mode allowing the driver to change the shift schedule with a flip of the switch to maximize fuel economy.

Other fuel-saving measures include a lower ride height, the addition of premium, lower-rolling resistance tires and a new spoiler, and a “Stow ‘n Place” roof rack, to name just a few.

Rated as an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle, the new Grand Caravan is recommended for use with mid-grade (89 octane) gasoline (regular unleaded is acceptable).

It has an EPA fuel economy rating of 17 mpg city, 25 mpg highway. A marked improvement, but not game changing.

However, the safety and convenience features are what differentiate the Grand Caravan from the other models in the segment.

There are a lot of them.

Many are industry first and exclusive and you won’t find them on any other model on the test drive list.

From a safety standpoint, Chrysler has certainly made sure the Grand Caravan has every item on the list covered.

The 2011 media kit includes a four-page list (single spaced) of standard and available safety features on the new Grand Caravan.

I don’t have the space to detail all the airbag technology, but it is comprehensive. Other features include all-speed traction control, anti-lock brakes with brake assist and brake traction control system, electronic stability control, Enhanced Accident response System and reactive head restraints — and this is by no means close to covering the entire list.

Available safety features include a blind spot monitoring system, rear park assist system, rear backup camera, cross path detection system and Electronic Vehicle Tracking System, also, to name a few.

The Grand Caravan’s comfort and convenient features are equally impressive.

Just to whet your appetite, the Uconnect Web feature turns the vehicle into a mobile hot spot for anyone using electronics in the rear. It also has one of the most sophisticated audio systems on wheels.

And that’s just for starters. For a comprehensive list, well, you really need to visit a local Dodge dealer and see for yourself.

For those in the market for a minivan, the 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan is must for the test drive list.

Neal White has been covering the automotive industry for more than 20 years and is affiliated with the Texas Auto Writers Association.

MODEL:

2011 Dodge Grand Caravan

7-seat minivan 

Front-wheel drive

Trim packages:

Express, Mainstreet, Crew, R/T

PRICE RANGE:

$22,000-$40,000

ENGINE:

3.6-L V6 (283 hp/260 torque)

TRANSMISSION:

6-speed automatic

EPA: 17 mpg city, 25 mpg highway

FUEL: Mid-grade unleaded (regular unleaded acceptable)

SUSPENSION:  Independent MacPherson strut, coil over gas-charged shocks, stabilizer bar with isolated suspension cradle (front); twist-beam axle with coil springs, track bar, gas-charged shocks (rear)

TRACTION CONTROL:

Electronic stability control and traction control

BRAKES: ABS

LENGTH: 202.8 inches

WHEELBASE: 121.2 inches

WIDTH: 88.5 inches

HEIGHT: 67.9 inches

WEIGHT: 4510 lbs.

TRACK: 65.6/64.8

(front/rear)

FUEL TANK: 20 gallons

TIRES: 16-, or 17-inch

CARGO: 33/83.3/143.8 cubic feet (behind 3rd/2nd/1st row)

TOWING: 3,600 pounds (with trailer-tow package