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2008 Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country – Back to Boxy

Chrysler invented the modern day minivan in November 1983 for the ‘84 model year. They had created a niche market between big bulky, ‘inefficient’, full-size vans and the station wagon; and they struck gold. In the minivan segment Chrysler has remained the sales leader for the last 23 consecutive years and they don’t plan on coming in second. With Ford and GM hanging up their spurs Chrysler knows that the size of their market share could potentially increase, wrangling in more sales.


The Basics
The 5th generation Chrysler minivans due out around the end of September 2007 plan on knocking some wind out of the competition. They will offer segment firsts, such as a six-speed transaxle, LED interior lighting and a one-touch power folding 3rd row seat (60/40 split bench). Prospective buyers will have their choice of five different models, three seating and storage systems and three V6 engines but short wheelbase versions are no longer available. Chrysler may also plan on offering their Lifetime Powertrain Warranty on their minivans as well and rumor has it that the powertrain options will get even more interesting around 2009 or 2010.


Straightening the Lines
The new Chrysler minivans are much bolder than the last generation. Chrysler engineers have pushed the Tumblehome out about 6”, dropped the DLO (Daylight Opening) an inch and straightened out the D-pillar. It feels a lot roomier inside! If the last iteration’s exterior image was likened to that of a ‘jelly bean’ these could be compared to a ‘jolly rancher’.

Although the Dodge Grand Caravan does not share the same front fascia, headlamps, rear hatch, and tail lamps with its Chrysler Town & Country brethren, both share the unitized body that is 18% more rigid than the last generation.

Chrysler minivans have gone back to boxy with crisper lines, which may surprise the competition and a few customers. Both look more ‘SUV-like’; especially from the rear.The Dodge Grand Caravan looks more masculine than the Chrysler Town & County with it’s geometric front fascia and chiseled nose, while the Town & Country takes on a more sophisticated or classy look.

Upon entry of the Chrysler Town ‘n Country I immediately noticed the great interior door grab bars. You could tell someone spent a lot of time trying to communicate quality, and they succeeded. The grab handles feel ergonomic and solid; without any uncomfortable mold lines/marks. That alone may be worth the premium over the Dodge Grand Caravan, which offered a block of plastic with a cut out as an interior door grab handle. The steering wheel, shifter knob, and most touch points have a quality feel. It wasn’t until you spotted the center console’s hard plastic cubbyhole door or the fit and finish of the dash (on either side of the center stack) that you become aware of some pitfalls.
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Overall, we were pretty impressed with the interior both in terms of creature comforts and build materials. The highlights of my experience were the audio/video system, tri-zone climate control, and overhead console. I really liked the instrument gauges in the Chrysler Town & Country Limited; they looked ‘art deco’ versus the Dodge Grand Caravan’s ‘New Age’ look.
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Driver and Passenger seat firmness may be an issue on longer drives and my co-pilot pointed out that the arm rests were not adjustable. After a few hours in the saddle some drivers and passengers may find that the seats, although providing a few inches of plush material and feeling great upon initial contact, can feel rather firm… Think of a tractor seat with three inches of soft memory foam. Not bad for around town but tough on the bum for the long haul.
Minivans are really about utility, capacity, and versatility, and when talking about Chrysler minivans the story is really in the 2nd row seating. Every 2008 Chrysler minivan has two captains chairs up front while the 3rd row is always a 60/40 split bench seat that folds smartly into the floor, providing a load flat floor.
Three Options for the 2nd Row
A bench second row seat will be standard on the SE or LX models and is preferred by many of the “Empty Nesters” who make up a growing percentage of the minivan buyer population. But most of the Chrysler minivan buyer population, about 70 to 80 percent, will opt for the Stow n’ Go seating. First introduced in 2004 ‘Stow n’ Go’ is back and will most likely remain a best seller. The third option would be ‘Swivel n’ go’ which may be reminiscent of those custom vans we grew up with twenty or thirty years ago. It offers the option to rotate the second row captains chairs 180 degrees to face rearward and set up a removable table that fits between the second and third rows.
Stow n’ Go
We found the Stow n’ Go to take longer than expected… not the prescribed 30 seconds! Perhaps a strap to hold up the ‘floor flaps’ as we stuffed the seats into their respective cargo holds would be helpful? Also, we had to move both the drivers and passenger seats forward to make room for the 2nd row to fold down into the floor. Nevertheless, we can see how this system would be very useful. We’ve heard of people stuffing large sheets of plywood (4ft.X8ft.), even motorcycles into their Chrysler minivans and using the seat mounting points as places to anchor their tie downs; securing that cargo in place.
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Swivel n’ Go – Too close for comfort?
Swivel n’ Go may be a little ‘gimmicky’ for me. With the help of two handles the operation was smooth and seamless but foot room was sparse and seatbacks barely had enough room to pivot past the 1st row (again, we had to move the driver and passenger seats forward). Regarding foot room, the space allowed is really for small children or large elves (but only the one’s without bells on their feet).
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Many of the children I know have trouble enough sitting next to one another; I can just imagine the kicking that would be going on back there. Maybe it really is a place where families can connect? Nevertheless, the functionality is there and there may be some people that buy into the Swivel n’ Go (maybe 10%)… just not me. Besides, if I get the Swivel n’ Go I could NOT get the Stow n’ Go; which I much prefer.
NOTES: The Swivel n’ Go seats employ seatbelts that are integrated into the seat (similar to those in convertibles). They are legally allowed to be in the rearward facing position while the car is in motion.

Driving Impressions:
The suspension did not feel floaty; it felt collected and solid. We soaked up bumps a lot better than the http:/“>http:/“>Hyundai Entourage. We thought that the driver’s seat visibility was great and added to the good overall driving experience. There was minimal torque steer, almost unnoticeable (even in the 4.0L). The steering didn’t communicate anything to the driver but that’s just fine for a minivan.

It’s the little things:
After the event we stopped and though about the heavy concentration on their audio/ video system (which was outstanding) but less attention paid to the gaps or fit and finish or some of the build materials… all of which play into the ‘perceived quality’ of a vehicle. Chrysler did pay a lot of attention to certain details. The driver’s side sliding door will NOT open if the fuel door is open (this is a good thing if you are ever refueling and your kids try and open the door). The LED interior lighting, although it flushed the pigment out of my already pasty white skin, was noticeably brighter than conventional lighting, while saving amperage and giving the interior a more modern look.

Where Does That Leave Us?
Chrysler definitely ‘leap frogged’ the competition in terms of audio, video, and interior lighting. Their styling is bold, Stow n’ Go is a great selling feature and their ‘Lifetime Powertrain Warranty’ (if they offer it on their minivans) will be very enticing. These 2008 Chrysler minivans seem to have what it takes in terms of ‘value’ and will most likely remain the dominant force in the minivan market, keeping their share around 40%.
Neat Features
Dual glove boxes
LED interior lighting – saving amps and looking more modern
Thirteen cup holders
Some of neat features I’d never use were the ‘umbrella holder’ and ‘integrated flashlight’, but it’s nice to know they’re there.
Neat Options:
DVD system with two screens that pop down from the overhead console where both John and Jane can have their own
Optional projector headlights
“Park View” – Chryslers backup camera option works but we’d like to see some ‘tracks’ to know where the vehicle is headed.
Cupholder sleeves in the center console and bottom of center stack that are dishwasher safe!
Driver can run DVD system from front seat. Two different DVD’s or TV stations can be played simultaneously on the two different screens. Two sets of head phones are also offered
CD/HDD/MP3/SIRIUS Satelite radio
SIRIUS TV (3 channels are currently offered)
MyGig entertainment system offers USB port, iPOD connectivity and the ability to load 1200 songs onto the hard drive. Wow.
506 WATT sound system
NOTE: Unfortunately, SIRIUS Audio and SIRIUS Video would be separate subscriptions.
Value Pricing?
There were a few conversations regarding Chrysler’s new ‘Value Pricing’, Chrysler’s hope is that people will recognize these ‘value’ prices and the need to offer heavy incentives will cease. I’m not sure that will be the case… but it sure sounds like a good plan.
Quick Price Breakdown per Model (Straight from Chrysler)
Dodge Grand Caravan SE starting price of $22,470 (3.3L V6)
SE Model: Swivel ‘n Go is $1,440/$495 (note: some options are required to be packaged with other features, second # noted reflects discounted price with specific CPOS and/or features)
Grand Caravan SXT starting price of $27,535 (3.8L V6)
SXT Model: Swivel ‘n Go is $495
SXT Model: Stow ‘n Go is standard
Chrysler Town & Country LX starting price of $23,190 (3.3L V6)
LX Model: Stow ‘n Go is $795
LX Model: Swivel ‘n Go is $495
Town & Country Touring starting price of $28,430 3.8L V6)
Touring Model: Swivel ‘n Go is $495
Touring Model: Stow ‘n Go is standard
Town & Country Limited starting price of $36,400 (4.0L V6)
Limited Model: Swivel ‘n Go is $495
Limited Model: Stow ‘n Go is standard

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