A Blast from the Past!
1984 was a standout year for me and for a number of my friends. This was the year that witnessed the launch of Apple Computers and we were bitten by the bug right out of the chute. Computing went from the stodgy world of big business to a more intimate personal world that appealed to a very different demographic. A second milestone event in 1984 was the introduction of the Dodge Caravan, the first vehicle of its kind, which over the past 30 years has been the bestselling minivan in the history of the auto industry in Canada. Akin to the Apple Computer scenario, the Dodge Caravan revamped the paradigm of the van as a tradesman's vehicle and put it squarely in the family domain. This was a vehicle that could grow with your family (seating for 7) and that could haul all kinds of paraphernalia such as sporting equipment, luggage, and the like. Even your pets could be easily accommodated. While historians would likely dispute that there was any direct connection between these two major events in 1984, I like to believe that in some philosophical way there was.
My wife and I bought our first Caravan in 1989 - a base model - shortly after having our first child and liked it so much that we traded it in 5 years later for a sportier edition. This vehicle we took across the United States and Canada on a massive 42- day trek (pulling a full-size tent trailer) hauling along our two daughters along with all of our luggage and of course the girls' favorite toys. We travelled comfortably in the Caravan even on the days that we drove upwards of 800kms and we crafted some great memories that still live with us to this day.
2014 marks the 30th anniversary of the Dodge Caravan (30th Anniversary badging is prominently displayed on the vehicle) and sitting in one today I am instantly transported back to those wonderful family times. The exterior styling has changed a little but it's what's inside that has evolved the most. The 30th Anniversary edition that I've been given to drive for a period of five days is loaded with the latest automotive innovations and with state of the art technology. The Uconnect feature with its generous touch screen display allows access to a whole host of controls and provides a crisp view of the terrain behind the vehicle when the back-up camera is activated upon shifting into reverse.
The gearbox conveniently located on the dash just to the right of the leather-wrapped steering wheel frees up space for a multi-use console between the two double-stitched, leather bucket seats which are as comfortable as any I've been in and which have superior lumbar support for long hauls. The console has several useful compartments for housing all sorts of doodads and of course handy cup holders that easily accommodate my largest travel mugs. Two ample glove boxes on the passenger side dash provide lots of space for maps, vehicle documents, the User Manual, etc. Buttons on an overhead console easily reached by the driver or front seat passenger conveniently control automatic sliding doors for access to the rear seating area and the rear liftgate.
As I drove away from the dealership I was able to make quick and easy adjustments to the rear and side view mirrors. The last thing one needs are blind spots, especially when hauling precious human cargo (kids/babies) and I was impressed with the range of visibility all around the vehicle. There's even a little pop-down mirror so anyone in the front seats can keep an eye on passengers in the rear seats (although I suspect sometimes you really don't want to know what's going on back there!).
You don't buy a minivan to race on the Indy circuit, but snappy acceleration is still important when driving on crowded city streets and with its award-winning Pentastar? engine delivering 283 horsepower and up to 7.9 L/100 km (36 mpg) hwy getting up to speed quickly isn't an issue. At highway speeds the Caravan felt solid and the steering wheel cruise control mechanism was easy to manipulate.
I spent some time with the satellite-equipped audio system and other elements of the Uconnect 430N Multimedia Centre. You can plug in any USB device and download music to the on-board Hard Drive. You can view text files and photographs or even connect your video camera. You can pair your Bluetooth smart phone and enjoy hands-free calling. Not only this, but you can also use Voice Command to 'tell' the system what you want it to do! Finally I lowered the Blu-Ray? DVD monitor (independently controlled Dual Blu-Ray monitors are available as an option), put in a DVD and settled into one of the remarkably comfortable middle captain's seats (the Uconnect screen neatly swings up to reveal the DVD slot) and enjoyed a few minutes of Game of Thrones. Picture quality and sound quality were great and passengers going any distance I'm sure would be well taken care of!
When 'fold-away' seating was first introduced a few years ago one of the biggest complaints was that the rear seats lacked significant cushioning as they were "slimmed down" so as to fit neatly into the floor compartments. This seems to have been rectified in this new Caravan and the rear seats are quite comfortable.
One of the neatest features of the 2014 Grand Caravan is the Industry Exclusive Super Stow 'n Go® feature. In the first Caravan I owned in order to remove the middle bench seat and/or the rear bench seat meant having a tool kit handy and meant physically hauling the heavy seats out of the van - often a two-person job. The second Caravan I purchased had bench seats that were more easily dislodged from their stays but they were still heavy and had to be removed from the vehicle taking up space in the garage. Super Stow 'N Go is a dream. In no time flat (click on the video to see this in action) the two middle captain's chairs and the 60-40 split rear benches all fold away in a matter of seconds - no fuss, no mess - revealing a huge cabin that can haul an amazing array of cargo.
Not only is Stow'n Go® really neat, but I also grooved on the Tailgate Seating System which allows you to sit in the comfort of your vehicle, playing some tunes and enjoying the great outdoors under the canopy of your liftgate.
I thoroughly enjoyed driving the 30th Anniversary Dodge Grand Caravan over the next few days. A trip to the grocery store allowed me to use the handy grocery bag hooks that are prominently placed on the rear bench. My wife and friends who came along for the outing were also thoroughly impressed by the ride and by the sophisticated touches which are in abundance in the cabin. One of my tall friends commented on the ample leg-room and head-room.
The weather was brutal the whole time I had the Caravan with temperatures reaching -40C. Even so, the vehicle started up with no difficulty and the cabin heated up quickly - perfect for our long, Canadian winters.