Test Drive: 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan

I didn?t expect to like the new Dodge Grand Caravan as much as I do. I am just simply not a minivan driver, but the 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan has all the bells and whistles of any car or SUV, and I thoroughly enjoyed driving it.

The smooth ride in this van makes you feel like you?re in a car. The brakes are not too sensitive, so there?s no jerkiness ? you just stop when you need to stop, without having to step hard on the brakes.

Dodge made a good decision to put the shifter up on the dashboard so it?s out of the way. This allows for more storage space, which is great for a family van. The Grand Caravan also has lots of cup holders, which is also great for family use? and that?s why most people buy vans. Going on with the family idea, the auto-opening side slider doors are a great feature when your hands are full of groceries or a baby.

Driving the Caravan at night, ?the gauges and controls are bright and easy to read, and the interior lights work very well to light up in the inside when you need to see around the interior. In general, the cabin features are well laid out and easy to use. Items like the stereo, wipers, lights, and parking brake are all easy to use, which is an important feature for women ? who make up the majority of minivan buyers.

On the downside, I noticed that the rear seat headrests reduced rearward visibility, but later I discovered that you can flip these down, which really improves your field of view. The side-view mirrors also could be larger to improve visibility.

The 2011 Dodge Caravan comes with a reasonably potent 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine? and a 6-speed automatic transmission, and the van provides 17 MPG in the city, and 25 MPG on the highway, with a combined real-world mileage of 20 MPG. You can put the van into fuel economizer mode with the push of a button. This changes the way the transmission behaves to maximize your mileage, and it?s not obtrusive as long as you wait until you?re on the freeway to use it.

Safety and security features on the Grand Caravan include a full suite of air bags, electronic stability control, tire pressure monitoring and remote keyless entry. Additionally, the optional Safety Sphere package of features includes a rear parking assist system, rear backup camera, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross path detection system to alert you if someone?s coming when you?re backing out of a parking space, rain-sensitive wipers and automatic headlamps.

The 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan starts at about $25,000 and you can get a fully loaded van in the low $30s.

The bottom line on the new Grand Caravan is just this: the stigma of uncoolness usually associated with a minivan is gone from this vehicle ? it?s an enjoyable drive.