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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.
The tiny navigation and stereo screen is made even worse by a poor interface.
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 CD/DVD changer unit has RCA jacks for video and audio input, which can be used with an MP3 player.
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.
Folding down the seats is a relatively easy, albeit clunky, process. One concern is the speed and force with which the second-row bucket seats collapse when pressing the release button, which could be dangerous for small children. The bench seat stows and reassembles smoothly; numbered tabs on the back of the seat explain the process.
The 2006 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT gets average marks for performance. Our test vehicle came equipped with a 3.8-liter, 215-horsepower V-6 engine with 245 pound-feet of torque--the most powerful available for this model. While the power train was adequate for city driving and at cruising speeds, we found the car hesitated to accelerate on freeway on-ramps and uphill. Part of the problem can be attributed to the four-speed automatic transmission, which shifts on the sluggish side. Another factor is the car's bulky 4,252-pound base curb weight. We tested the car with only one adult passenger and a small amount of cargo, so the vehicle could be even less peppy with a full load.
The Dodge Caravan's V-6 works OK for cruising, but it's hampered by a sluggish four-speed automatic.
Our test model came with an optional trailer-tow prep package that included load leveling and height control, a heavy-duty radiator, a trailer-tow wiring harness, and an upgraded 600-ampere battery. Towing capacity for the 2006 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT is listed at 3,800 pounds, which is enough to pull a trailer carrying a small recreational vehicle such as a Jet Ski or an ATV.
Handling is average for a minivan of this class. Steering felt on the loose side and was not as responsive as we would have liked. The four-wheel, antilock disc brakes stopped the car quickly on both on wet and dry roads but felt a bit mushy underfoot.
Listed EPA fuel economy for the 2006 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT is 18mpg in the city and 25mpg on the highway. Gas mileage wasn't as good in our car. A mix of freeway and city driving averaged just better than 18mpg. By the end of a long freeway trip, we peaked at about 19mpg. On the plus side, the large 20-gallon fuel tank kept us from stopping too often to fill up.
Emissions ratings for this vehicle are reasonable; it produces an estimated 9.1 tons of greenhouse gases annually and has a smog index of 0.5, for a LEV II/BIN rating of 5.
The 2006 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT has all the safety features one would expect from a modern family car. Front advanced multistage air bags, antilock brakes, traction control, and a LATCH-ready child-seat anchor system come standard on all models. Our vehicle came with optional three-row supplemental side-curtain air bags. Integrated child safety seats are also available. We were immediately fond of the automatic rear hatch and the sliding doors on both sides. One or two easy clicks of the remote eliminated the risk of strained arms or pinched fingers.
Both of the Dodge Caravan's side doors and its rear hatch open automatically with the key fob.
Adjustable pedals are a nice touch for drivers of smaller stature. Moving the pedals closer allowed us to safely operate the car with the driver's seat farther away from the steering wheel, which could potentially reduce the risk of injury from air-bag deployment. However, the extra seat distance made it more difficult to reach the climate and navigation controls.
The available ParkSense rear park-assist system was helpful when attempting to parallel park or back up in tight areas, but we found the warning beep a little on the late side. We prefer the gradual warning signals of other park-assist systems.
One feature we particularly disliked was the autodimming rearview mirror. Although it's designed to reduce eyestrain from bright headlights, we found it too dim. In fact, we had a California Highway Patrol car behind us for two miles before we could see the outline of the light bar on top of the car.
The 2006 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT includes a three-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper limited warranty with towing assistance. Brakes, wiper blades, clutch discs, windshield, rear, window, and wheel alignment/balancing are covered for 12 months or 12,000 miles.