Dodge Caravan a 'family room on wheels'
THE RIDE: Four-door, seven-passenger 2008 Dodge Caravan SXT minivan. DOWN THE ROAD: Redesigned for 2008, this fifth-generation front-wheel-drive minivan gains 2 inches in wheelbase and overall length. Also, Dodge has wisely discarded the 4-cylinder engine and offers the Caravan only as a single-length version. A sales leader for more than 20 years, this "family room on wheels" is a smooth, comfortable and secure ride. TECH & PERFORMANCE: An optional 4.0-liter V-6 SOHC engine boasts 251 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 259 pounds-feet of torque at 4,200 rpm. It is mated to a standard 6-speed automatic transmission, which is flawless. Suspension is competently handled by an independent MacPherson strut with coil spring over gas-charged shock absorbers in the front and a twist-beam axle with coil springs, track bar and gas-charged shock absorbers in the rear. A power rack-and-pinion steering system lends stability to the 4,500-plus pound vehicle. LOOK & FEEL: The exterior sports a chrome surround on the crosshair grille with a centered Dodge insignia, body-colored door handles and vertical tail lamps. But it's in the cabin that the minivan truly gives the competition a run for the money. The optional Swivel N Go feature allows the second-row seats to swivel around to face third-row passengers, with a removable table installed between the rows. Cards anyone? Also available is a third-row power-folding seat and the standard Stow N Go if you are looking to fold the second- and third-row seats flat to haul cargo. New for 2008 is the shifter knob on the dashboard. Storage areas are aplenty, including overhead bins above all three rows, dual glove box, door pockets, removable floor console, and, of course, in the trunk area. If traveling long distance with children, the optional satellite TV (Disney, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon) will save you some anxiety.SAFETY FIRST: Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag for all rows, four-wheel antilock brakes with traction control and Brake Assist, Electronic Stability Program, energy-absorbing steering column, three-point lap and shoulder belts, power-adjustable pedals and tire pressure monitoring system are a few of the standard features. OUT THE DOOR: $26,805, plus tax, tag, delivery and destination charges. The $7,290 customer preferred package is a must if you want to try out the all-new Swivel N Go and the second- and third-row removable/stowable table, dual overhead 8-inch DVD screens, three-zone automatic climate, power lift gate and ambient lights, among other goodies. BY THE NUMBERS: Tires, 225/65R16 all season; wheelbase, 121.2 inches; length, 202.5 inches; weight, 4,514 pounds; fuel capacity, 20 gallons; highway, 23 mpg; city, 16 mpg. WHY DIG IT: For functionality and practicality purposes, this "family room on wheels" rules the roost. This minivan has 23 years of history and innovation to back it up.
Nitish S. Rele is an advertising staff writer for The Tampa Tribune.