Dodge Caravan: The definition of All-American FAIL.

After 6 days of driving around Atlanta in our rental set of wheels, it’s hard not to have an opinion of the minivan we drove in. Compared to the Honda Odyssey that my mom loves, the Dodge Caravan seems like an archaic relic from the 1990’s.

The car itself just feels downright cheap. The panels are made from basic textured plastic, and the seats and ceiling are clad in second-rate fabric that screams “budget car” (this is the ‘average-joe’ model without leather, mind you). The center dash console is a big, ugly tower of climate controls, vents, and audio options. Even less expensive cars than this tend to have a semblance of style.

The shoddy build quality applies to more than the appearance, it’s physically noticeable. The rear climate controls are mounted in the center of the ceiling, which happens to not be reinforced. When you use the knobs, they entire control box moves. They essentially bolted the console to the flimsy ceiling panel, without securing it to the metal frame of the car. Without a gimmicky DVD player bolted to the ceiling, it’s hard to forgive the car designers for neglecting the ceiling so much.

The doors are paneled in the same ugly, hard plastic as the dashboard, and surprisingly anti-ergonomic. The opening and closing mechanism is a short, stubby flipper thing that gives you very little leverage when closing the door. It’s also inconveniently placed so unless you’re a contortionist, reaching it is aggravating at best.

One of the “features” of the Dodge Caravan is it’s Stow-n-Go storage in the floor of the middle row. The makers of the car are so proud of it that they emblazon the logo on the side of the car door. Stow-n-Go, frankly, sucks. It’s a hole in the floor that, while convenient, is poorly concealed and detracts from the quality of the car. The folding panels that cover the storage space feel flimsy. As you walk over them, they have a little bit of give, and sometimes squeak. Contrast this with the Honda, which has a solidly hinged door and rotating storage compartments all concealed by well-planned floor mats. The only advantage Dodge has here is that you can fold seats into the compartments Which essentially turns your minivan into a de-glorified pick-up. Not that you can’t easily remove the seats in the Honda…

It should be pointed out that Dodge also claims that “no minivan offers better fuel economy than Grand Caravan,” followed by a little numerical ‘see here’ symbol to cover their asses, legally. On paper, 25 MPG Highway is pretty good. Realistically and in practice, it’s no better than the Honda (which is over a year older). Pricing isn’t competitive at all, with about a grand separating the two.

Final Rating: I would pity any family that bought this vehicle… except they did it to themselves.

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