2006 Dodge Grand Caravan
With lots of high-tech entertainment and communication options, the 2006 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT shatters notions of mundane minivans. A six-disc CD/DVD changer with RCA inputs, an integrated Siruis Satellite Radio receiver, a rear LCD, and wireless headphones ensure neither the driver nor the passengers will be bored on long road trips. DaimlerChrysler's UConnect hands-free Bluetooth cell phone integration with voice recognition enhances safety by eliminating the need to fumble for a phone while driving. Two rows of fold-down Stow 'n Go seating offer flexibility for transporting and storage.
But the vehicle falls short when it comes to performance. Its 3.8-liter V-6 engine and ho-hum four-speed automatic transmission strain to accelerate on highway on-ramps and uphill. With predominantly freeway driving, gas mileage averaged just slightly better than 18mpg--not quite meeting the car's EPA rating of 18mpg city/25mpg highway. Also, the turning radius is less than stellar, which made for tricky maneuvering in and out of parking spaces.
The Caravan's interior space is poorly designed. The awkwardly shaped center console doesn't hold much more than the included remote control for the rear video screen, which would be better placed in the backseat. Three adjustable overhead compartments are convenient for only small items such as sunglasses or pens. The cup holders are shallow and loose, so water bottles and soda cups fall over easily.
The base price of our 2006 Grand Caravan SXT was $27,100. Options included a trailer-tow package with load leveling and height control, a heavy-duty radiator and a trailer-tow wiring harness ($600); an upgraded interior package with heated, leather-trimmed power seats, Infinity speakers, and three-zone climate control ($2,390); a premium package with power-adjustable pedals, a parking sensor, a security alarm, and touring suspension ($1,020); side-curtain air bags ($605); a navigation/front entertainment system ($1,430); Sirius Satellite Radio with one year of service included ($195); the UConnect hands-free phone system ($360); a rear-seat entertainment system with 7-inch overhead video screen ($990); and a $730 destination charge for a grand total of $35,950.The 2006 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT offers a complete array of information and entertainment options. The instrument cluster, while not the most attractive, is well organized and easy to read. But the trip computer and the gas-mileage display are located on the ceiling directly above the rearview mirror, which we found confusing and inconvenient.
The six-speaker Infinity audio system provides good, full sound. The AM/FM radio with integrated Sirius satellite receiver offers seamless switching between terrestrial and digital radio stations. The six-disc CD/DVD changer plays MP3 files burned to disc but does not display ID3-tag information. Front RCA jacks for left and right audio, as well as video make it easy to hook up any MP3 player or video game console with the proper adapter.
We were disappointed in the small navigation screen and the poorly designed controls. Because of the counterintuitive location of many buttons, it takes extra time to operate. Setting a radio preset, for example, took more steps than is normally necessary. We were also frustrated to discover the navigation system does not allow input while the car is moving. We had to stop and pull over to change our destination.
We particularly liked the UConnect hands-free communication system, which is compatible with more than 50 Bluetooth-enabled phones. The system's voice-activation feature turns on and off with a single button located below the rearview mirror, letting drivers keep their eyes on the road at all times. Users can pair a phone, dial a number, or add a contact to the phone book with just a few simple voice commands, although it won't copy over an existing phone book. A polite female voice guided us through the setup and even told us when we were out of our coverage area.
The center console takes up a great deal of space yet holds little. A hinged, built-in remote control holder for the DVD changer sits inside, blocking access to the storage tray underneath.
The rear 7-inch LCD video screen has a wide viewable angle. Included wireless headphones produce good sound and ensure that the driver or other passengers won't be distracted. Multiple 12-volt DC power adapters throughout the vehicle allow for easy access for charging cell phones or other devices requiring power.
Climate-control settings take a while to kick in, and dual climate zones for the driver and front passenger work well only when set within a few degrees of one another. Seat warmers on both front seats offer two temperature settings. The backseat climate controls are easy to use and provide ample ventilation throughout the cabin.
The eight-way power driver's seat is comfortable but doesn't have quite the range of adjustability of other current car models. The two second-row bucket seats offer more support than expected, and adjustable headrests accommodate passengers of varying height. Pop-out, door-side cup holders keep beverages out of the way but are not well suited for any container other than a standard 12-ounce soda can. Back bench seating is cramped; the second-row bucket seats must be moved all the way forward to offer any reasonable legroom. Our rear passengers also complained of a rough ride and excessive sliding around corners.
One of the highlights of the Dodge Grand Caravan SXT is the large amount of storage space under the floor. When the passenger seats are in the upright position, the deep compartments beneath the floorboards are a great place to keep valuables such as laptop bags and jewelry cases out of sight. However, the seams between the floorboards are not well sealed, so dirt, crumbs, and liquid could escape through the cracks and onto cargo below.
One notable flaw is the lack of a console or shelving in the back cabin. This makes it tricky and potentially messy for passengers to eat or access personal belongings on the go. Three sliding overhead storage compartments (one in the front and two in the back) are small and narrow; we couldn't fit much more than a pair of sunglasses in each.