Let's get one thing out of the way. If you want the best minivan for sale today, you want a Honda Odyssey.
But what if you're looking for the best value? That's where things get complicated, and Dodge has made the decision more difficult with an improved Grand Caravan for 2011.
The Grand Caravan doesn't have the same level of fit and finish as an Odyssey, but it also costs about $3,000 less than the Honda. A basic Grand Caravan will cost $24,995 before any rebates, while the
Odyssey's most stripped-down version still retails for $27,800.
That's a big gap.
The cheaper price looks even more appealing when you consider what Dodge did to make the Grand Caravan more competitive in 2011, a year in which every minivan on the market has been either redesigned or thoroughly freshened.
For starters, Dodge improved the cabin. Whereas last year you might have said, "I'll pay $3,000 just to get out of this plastic hell," the 2011 model has scrapped the cheap plastic in favor of soft, pliable, nice-feeling materials.
Next, they improved the powertrain and suspension so it drives better. Dodge dumped its old lineup of three V-6 engines in favor of a single choice: the new Pentastar V-6 with a six-speed automatic transmission.
The new engine offers plenty of power — 283 horses, if minivan drivers care about that sort of thing — along with improved gas mileage of 25 mpg on the highway and 17 in town. That's better highway mileage than
the Toyota Sienna but not as good as the all-conquering Odyssey.
Dodge has even created a high-performance version for guys — a manivan, I like to call it — that they've named the Grand Caravan R/T.
Try not to laugh.
To go along with the aggressive theme, they gave the Grand Caravan a new "split crosshair" grille and "ring of fire" LED tail lamps. The overall look isn't bad, especially when compared to the Odyssey's controversial "lightning bolt" side profile.