Bluetooth hands-free cell phone integration is present with Dodge's UConnect feature. We found this to be a pretty capable hands-free system. It's operated by voice command, with just a little onscreen feedback. The drawback of UConnect is that it doesn't make your cell phone's phone book available, so it works best for receiving calls or dialing numbers you have memorized.
Navigation was not included in our Grand Caravan, although it is available. More interesting, the option sheet details that Sirius satellite traffic comes with the navigation system. We haven't had a chance to test out Sirius' satellite traffic service yet, but it looks very similar to the XM traffic service. It provides traffic flow information for freeways and major roads in specific metropolitan areas, along with incident information.
We were quite happy with Grand Caravan's automation of doors and seats. You can open the side doors and rear hatch from the key fob. Even better, the third-row seats can be stowed away in the floor at the push of a button. There's nothing like a little automation to make us feel powerful.
Under the hood
As mentioned above, the 4-liter V-6 in our Grand Caravan provides plenty of power, with 251 horsepower and 259 lb-ft. of torque. It's enough to chirp the front wheels and open up some distance from the cars around you. Unfortunately, the power comes at the cost of fuel economy. The EPA rates the Grand Caravan with the 4-liter V-6 at 16 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. We averaged around 17 mpg overall, with our mileage dipping well below 16 in the city.
The 4-liter engine is an option, though, with a 3.8-liter V-6 the standard at the SXT trim level. We find it strange that Dodge makes engines so close in displacement available on the same car. But the 3.8-liter V-6 only produces 197 horsepower while getting the same EPA-rated mileage. That big horsepower difference indicates that the 4-liter is a much more efficient engine. We wish Dodge could apply its engine tech a little more evenly, giving the 3.8-liter V-6 a little better mileage and horsepower.
But there's more--at the SE trim level you get a 3.3-liter V-6, which produces 175 horsepower. The EPA hadn't published fuel economy estimates for the SE trim level at the time of this review.
The SXT trimmed Grand Caravan, with either the 3.8-liter or 4-liter V-6, comes with a six-speed automatic transmission, while the SE trim comes with a four-speed. We like how the six-speed performs. Under acceleration, it downshifts easily. As we hit the brakes on approaching a corner, it downshifted almost as well as a sport automatic. You can also select gears manually by pushing the shifter to the right or left.
We were really surprised at the lack of significant body roll during cornering. Although we didn't push the Grand Caravan too hard on mountain roads, we got up enough speed to test its grip, attacking some good 30 and 40 mph turns. We hit the brakes, dove into the corner, and shot out the other side without too much complaint from the car.
Emission ratings haven't been published for the 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan at the time of this review.
The 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT we tested came pretty well loaded. Its base price is a very inexpensive $26,805, but ours was optioned up to a total of $36,910. The MyGig entertainment system came as part of the Customer Preferred package, which also includes creature comforts such as UConnect, power liftgate, and a rear-view camera, all for $3,785. The rear-seat dual DVD system was a separate option, coming in at $1,720, while the Sirius TV was only $495. The premium 4-liter engine added $630. You can get MyGig as an a la carte option for $675, while MyGig with navigation runs $1,300.
We're not too happy with the gas mileage, and Sirius TV is only useful if you have kids, but other than that we were impressed by the 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan. It had plenty of power and some useful tech, although we also would have liked the navigation option, with live traffic reporting. We also wish the stereo system had sounded better. We haven't looked at very many minivans here at CNET Car Tech, so we can only suggest a couple of crossover SUVs as good alternatives. Although neither are quite as roomy, the Toyota Highlander is worth considering. The Highlander can be had with third-row seating, which might meet the occupancy requirements of anyone considering the Grand Caravan, and it has almost as much technology on offer.