We were surprised that we found so much to write about on a minivan, and very little of it involves complaining. The Dodge Grand Caravan, updated for 2008, proved very drivable and came loaded with plenty of tech for our entertainment.
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Of course, the car still looks like a minivan. The front uses Dodge's tough-look styling, with a blunt drop from hood to bumper.
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The standard engine for the SXT trim level is a 3.8-liter V-6, but for $630 you can option it up to this 4-liter V-6, a much more efficient power plant. The 4-liter puts out 251 horsepower, while the 3.8-liter engine only makes 197 horsepower. Both engines get the same EPA-rated fuel economy.
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Even the most creative designer can't do much with the basic shape of a minivan. It needs an engine compartment, followed by a long box.
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We never got over the novelty of opening the side doors with the key fob buttons. We found them especially amusing when colleagues would reach for the door handle, only to have the doors preempt them.
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As a design element, we like the industrial look of the D-pillars.
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The rear hatch opens automatically, too. There are three rows of seating, with captain's chairs in the front and middle.
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The third row seats can be automatically folded down or up with these buttons in the cargo area.
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The rear seat folds down into the floor, creating a huge amount of cargo space.
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The plastics and color scheme around the dash make the interior of the Grand Caravan fairly bland. But we like that the interior and map lights are LED. There is also ambient lighting.
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Although the steering wheel looks featureless, audio control buttons are mounted behind the lateral spokes.
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The shifter for the six-speed automatic is mounted high on the dashboard, next to the wheel. For manual gear selection, you move the shifter left to downshift and right to upshift.
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One of the most novel features on the Grand Caravan is the Sirius satellite TV. But channels are limited--there is only one package available, and it only has three channels.
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You can only watch TV on the front LCD when the car is in Park. We found reception and picture quality excellent.
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With the optional dual rear-seat video system, you get screens for the middle and rear rows. You can watch Sirius TV or a DVD on them.
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Sirius satellite radio plays through the car's stereo.
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The optional MyGig entertainment system gives you a 20-gigabyte hard drive with about 15 gigabytes of usable space. Plug a USB drive into the port, and you can transfer music and photos to the system.
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You can load eight photos onto the MyGig system. They are intended to be used as personalized wallpaper for the music player.
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With music loaded onto MyGig, you can access your library by artist, album, genre, and song, amongst others.
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The Jukebox feature lets you create six album playlists.
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CDs can be loaded in a slot behind the LCD. You can choose to rip standard CDs, or copy over the music from MP3 and WMA CDs.
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With an MP3 CD loaded, you can see the Copy button. The system will also play the CD as normal, showing detailed track information on the LCD.
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In our testing, ripping a standard CD to MyGig took about 10 minutes.
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Our Grand Caravan also came loaded with UConnect, Dodge's hands-free Bluetooth cell phone integration. This voice-controlled system works well, although it doesn't let you access your cell phone's phone book.
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