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Weidel on Wheels: Minivan creator keeps them coming

Dodge Grand Caravan offers good room, versatility and decent power, gas mileage
By: Jeffrey Weidel
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For a generation that grew up between the 1950s and ’70s, the vehicle of choice for large families was the station wagon.

It was certainly family-friendly, seating six to nine people thanks to an extended rear cargo area, or an extra row of sometimes rear-facing seats.

The death of the station wagon came about in the mid-1980s, when the innovative minivan came to prominence. Car shoppers quickly discovered these multipurpose people-movers could carry a full load like a station wagon, yet were more versatile.

Much like the station wagon, minivans were the rage for about a 20-year period, but are slowly getting fazed out.

Although the Honda Odyssey and the Toyota Siena remain top sellers, many American companies are dropping production. Right now, only the very similar Dodge Grand Caravan and the Chrysler Town & Country remain.

The Odyssey and Siena are considered the industry standards, but these two American minivans continue along because they have many solid traits and can be purchased at a reasonable price.

This is the 25th anniversary of the Grand Caravan (Chrysler invented the minivan), a van that is spacious and provides considerable comfort.

The upper-end trims, such as the 2010 SXT model, even have a fine-performing engine that has more power than one expects from a minivan.

Yet for some guys, a minivan is so associated with the soccer mom crowd that it’s not an option when they go looking for a people mover. Many men will choose a less practical vehicle, typically going with an over-sized sport utility vehicle that is more macho.

The front-wheel-drive Grand Caravan driven here featured a fuel-efficient 4.0-liter, V-6 engine with 251 horsepower and was clocked from 0 to 60 mph in 8.8 seconds, which is fairly quick for a minivan.

It gets decent gas mileage at 17 to 25 miles per gallon, and the sticker price of $28,660 is pretty agreeable as well.

What some people won’t like about the Grand Caravan is the hard plastic interior material, a weak base engine (3.3-liter, V-6, 173 horsepower) and option packages that are somewhat confusing.

But the positives are what keep these two minivans from disappearing. While the handling may not be as nimble as the Toyota and Honda models, the Grand Caravan has terrific cargo space and provides seating configurations like the “Stow ‘n Go” second row that shows off its versatility and its overall comfort.

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2010 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT

Price: Starting at $28,660

Power: 4.0-liter, V-6 with 251 horsepower

Mileage estimate: 17 mpg city, 25 mpg highway   

Standard features include: Antilock disc brakes; traction and stability control; brake assist; center console; remote keyless entry; rear defogger; eight-way power driver seat with lumbar adjustment; power sliding rear doors; satellite radio; outside-temperature indicator; universal garage door opener; rear privacy glass; roof rack

Where to buy

Get it here:
Magnussen’s Dodge Chrysler Jeep

Where: 1901 Grass Valley Highway, Auburn

Call: (888) 806-5067

On the Web: Auburndodge.com