At $19,998 for a brand-new 2013 Dodge Grand Caravan, it's easy to see why Chrysler is the dominant player in the minivan market.
In October, Chrysler delivered more than 3,300 units of the Grand Caravan in Canada, three times more than the Chevrolet Orlando, its nearest competitor. The Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey, with 842 and 784 units respectively, were a distant fourth and fifth for the month.
It's easy to get to the top - give buyers the best value in a minivan. With savings of more than $9,000 on the list price, the Grand Caravan easily makes the short list of vehicles to look at.
I tested one of the $19,998 models, known as the Dodge Grand Caravan Canada Value Package (CVP).
The minivan market is in decline. Chrysler sold more than 63,500 Grand Caravans in Canada in 2004. Despite incentives, last year, it only managed to move a little over 53,400. Some models have been discontinued, such as the Ford Freestar in 2007 and Chevrolet Uplan-der in 2009. Many have been reborn as crossovers - vehicles with SUV styling but a seven-or nine-passenger capability.
But the boxy minivan market has endured because it's still the most practical shape for people and cargo. A low price doesn't hurt, either.
Let's start with what $19,998 buys: A four-door minivan with a V-6 engine, six-speed automatic transmission, air conditioning, power door locks with keyless remote, power windows, traction control, antilock brakes, tire-pressure monitoring system, engine block heater and a stow-and-go third-row rear seat. Enough options are available to take the Grand Caravan to more than $35,000, if desired.
The most requested item is second-row stow-and-go captain's seats - the CVP comes with a two-passenger bench seat. Stow-and-go, for those not familiar with the term, is seating that folds into the floor of the minivan. It's a marvel of engineering, and the Caravan is the only minivan that has it. With both rows of seats folded, the space behind the front seats can hold 4,072 litres of cargo.
The CVP's second-row seats don't fold, but the area under the floor where the seats would go can be used for hidden cargo. If you can live without the second-row stow-and-go, read on.
The third-row seats fold into the floor easily. If the seats are left up, the area behind them serves as a bin for groceries. The backs of the seats even have a row of hooks for hanging grocery bags. Loose items are trapped in this area and prevented from rolling under the back seats.
The third-row back seat can be split 60/40 and can accommodate adults. Headroom is decent. While the rear quarter windows can be cracked open for ventilation, only the next model up offers power windows that the driver can operate remotely.
The second-row bench seat is tight for two adults. Its truncated length is a result of creating adequate access to the rear seats without any seat-folding. The sliding rear doors are light and easy to use. The rear hatch is relatively light. A power hatch is available on some models.
Most people who buy minivans have more than one child and some carry up to five. A flip-down sunglasses holder has a convex mirror, giving front occupants a clear view of goings-on in the back seats without taking their eyes off the road.
While more deluxe models come with a handy console between the front seats, the CVP doesn't. This pass-through is actually an advantage for parents, as it makes it easier - and quicker - to get to the back seats.
The dash is quite simple and lacks the electronic eye candy that many vehicles now carry. This is an advantage for some, as there is less confusion and clutter than usual.
Even the radio is a basic unit, with logical push buttons rather than a touch screen with multiple functions. If you want Bluetooth, voice command or other entertainment options, you have to keep piling on the options.
The steering wheel can tilt and telescope, but the seats lack height adjustment. The shifter sticks out of the front dash, freeing up space between the seats. A pull-out cup-holder, storage bin and two power outlets complete the centre stack. My complaint is that the power outlets at the bottom of the stack are a long reach. The Grand Caravan has two glove boxes as well as a little extra storage and another bottle holder on each front door.
The Grand Caravan has a powerplant that's second-to-none, with the new 3.6-litre Pentastar V-6 producing 283 hp and 260 lb.-ft. of torque. When equipped with the optional Tow Package, the Caravan can tow up to 1,633 kg.
On the highway, the Grand Caravan is quiet and relaxed. The six-speed automatic with manual gear selection is unobtrusive and well-mated to the Pentastar.
Obviously, Chrysler wants to outprice the competition with the CVP, and it does so handily, as reflected by sales numbers. The low price is intended to get shoppers in the door. The company is gambling that once shoppers see how basic the CVP really is, they will buy one of the better-equipped (and more expensive) models.
As it sits, the Canada Value Package with the Pen-tastar engine is a compelling reason to shop Chrysler.
THE SPEC SHEET
Type: Minivan, front engine, front-wheel-drive
Engine: 3.6-litre V-6, 283 hp at 6,400 r.p.m., 260 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,400 r.p.m.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Dimensions (mm): Length, 5,151; width, 2,248; height, 1,725; wheelbase, 3,078
Curb weight (kg): 2,050
Price (base/as tested): $27,995/$20,098 (includes $1,500 freight and $100 AC tax)
Tires: 225/65 R16 on steel wheels
Fuel type: Regular
Fuel economy (L/100km): 12.2 city/ 7.9 highway
Warranty: Three years/60,000 km new car and roadside assistance, five years/100,000 km powertrain
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