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Moving to university. With three seats upright and the rest of the space flat for cargo, we were easily able to transport all of our son's worldly goods in one trip.
2005 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT Road Trip
Caravanning Down the Road
By Bill Roebuck
Sept. 8, 2004 -- One thing you learn quickly when you have a family is that you need a vehicle with lots of space, especially if you like to travel. That's why minivans are so popular, despite a general hatred of the concept, particularly among dads.
We were recently reminded how ongoing developments in minivan design -- yes, they do continue to evolve -- take into consideration the needs of families. Last weekend, we took our son to his on-campus residence at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., for the first time. We joined hundreds of other families who were making the same move at the same time. Sunday, Sept. 5, was the official residence move-in day for first-year students -- and Queen's has 3,400 of them starting off this year.
That figure makes up part of the 18,000 students at the university, many whom are from out of town. So you can imagine the scurry of jam-packed minivans, SUVs and cars transporting students and all their worldly goods into downtown Kingston on the weekend.
All kinds of vehicles were arriving throughout the day -- many with roof-rack storage boxes attached -- plus some families in two cars when everything wouldn't fit into one. Some even rented huge U-Haul trucks and trailers. Of course, there also were dozens and dozens of minivans pulling up to the residences.
I think we had one of the best choices for the move, a 2005 Dodge Grand Caravan with the new Stow 'n Go seating system, loaned to us for the occasion by DaimlerChrysler Canada.
This seating system is totally flexible. We were able to completely fold away the third-row seats and one of the two second-row captain's chairs completely into the floor, leaving seating for three -- me, my wife and our son -- and a vast cargo area for all of his stuff. We used just one of 250 possible seating configurations you can set up. Handily, the rear-seat headrests don't have to be removed to stow the seats.
Before leaving home, we loaded clothes, supplies, a computer system and printer, a small fridge, an office chair, a guitar, a multitude of storage bins and an uncounted number of smaller boxes and bags. It all fitted in perfectly and nothing had to be left behind. Total storage space with all the seats folded is 4,688 litres or 165.6 cu ft.
Best of all, the Stow 'n Go design meant that after we unloaded at our destination, we could set up all the seats again, returning the Dodge to seven-passenger capacity, and then take our Kingston relatives out to dinner with us in comfort. Three-zone air conditioning kept everyone comfortable despite the 30-degree day and the high humidity.
Aside from the benefits of Stow 'n Go seating, this particular model of the Grand Caravan, the SXT, was topped up with a few option packages that gave it many practical features for the move. Notable are the dual power sliding doors and power rear liftgate, power front seats, second-row seats that slide back to increase legroom, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, a tire-pressure monitor, side-curtain air bags, power pedal adjustment, and a rear-seat DVD video display system with wireless headphones (my son watched the remake of The Italian Job on the trip from Oakville to Kingston).
The base price of the Grand Caravan SXT is $35,000, while our tester topped out at $45,735 with the options and freight charge added in.
All seats were quite comfortable for our three-hour drive, although I think the seat cushions are too short for the average driver.
We only had a few small quibbles with the van's design. The DVD controls were somewhat complex to figure out. The glove box is fairly small, and the door map pockets are narrow. The passenger seat, though powered, had no height adjustment.
Despite these minor complaints, we loved the handling and performance. Steering is very car-like, making for easy manoeuvring and parking; the ride is smooth; acceleration -- though not outstanding -- was more than adequate, even when fully loaded; and the transmission shifted through all four gears without complaint. I had expected to feel a need for a fifth gear driving at Highway 401's typical high (though not legal) speeds, but the transmission showed no resistance to keeping up, thanks in part to the 3.8-litre V6, which produces a smooth 207 hp. It's the larger of two engines available in the Dodge Caravan lineup.
Along with a quiet ride and good performance, the Stow 'n Go seating makes the Dodge Grand Caravan a top challenger in the highly competitive minivan market.
Looking ahead, we'll have to do this trip all over again next April, when the exam-shocked students must move out of their residences. Because of the innovative seating/storage combination, this minivan would be my first choice for the return trip.
© 2004, Bill Roebuck, CarTest.ca.