Virginia Dodge drivers love the new Dodge Grand Caravan R/T
Testosterone and minivans might not be
mutually exclusive after all
Auto shows are showcases for vehicles that push the boundaries of what is considered possible. Buzz is generated; speculation abounds over which models will make it to showrooms and which ones are only fantasies. Amid the exotic and futuristic, Safford Chrysler Jeep Dodge of Fredericksburg is proud to announce that one of the most talked-about vehicles at this year’s Chicago Auto Show was the Man Van….. I mean the Dodge Grand Caravan R/T.
Yes, it’s a minivan. But it’s a minivan with an interesting distinction: It wears an R/T badge, signifying membership in Chrysler’s Road and Track performance fraternity. One of four new R/T treatments at last February’s Chicago auto show, this Grand Caravan was initially greeted with polite skepticism. But when Ralph Gilles, Dodge’s design chief and now head of all things SRT, revealed that his product planners were calling it the “man van,” polite skepticism gave way to outright mirth.
You won’t see the phrase “man van” in any formal marketing messages. But once we’d grappled with the incongruity of the notion—manliness and minivans are concepts that don’t willingly juxtapose—we could see the underlying logic. After all, who drives minivans? Parents – many of them unwillingly; they’d rather be driving an SUV. But when families reach a certain size, there is no more rational all-around tribe hauler than a minivan. For those who acknowledge this fact, the bottom line is that a guy is going to be driving the minivan at least some of the time.
The idea of the man van is to make that guy feel as good as possible about what he’s driving. Making its debut in our R/T line for 2011, the Dodge Caravan R/T packs a Pentastar 3.6-liter engine delivering a best-in-class 283 horsepower and 260 lb/ft of torque under its hood. Our engineers also added R/T-exclusive black leather seats with red stitching, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a premium sound system and a performance-tuned suspension that will make you want to strap on a helmet and hit the race track.
So, definite distinctions in panache (a word rarely used in minivan descriptions). And to the credit of the Gilles group, there’s a little substance to go with the style, thus setting this R/T minivan apart from previous versions. This applies specifically to roll stiffness. The R/T team prescribed modest spring-rate increases in 2011 models and then, feeling they’d been a little too cautious, more dramatic increases for 2012, particularly at the front. They also decreased the front anti-roll-bar diameter, from 28 mm to 27, and installed auxiliary front springs that come into play when the van is loaded, again for increased roll stiffness.
Gilles and crew deserve a gold star or two for trying to add a dollop of drama to a vehicle that is simultaneously the zenith of practicality and the nadir of sexiness. The tires are obviously a concession to autodom’s obsessive preoccupation with efficiency (the EPA ratings are 17 mpg city/25 highway.) But at least there’s a slightly livelier feel to the van’s behavior and no real penalty in ride quality, although the stiffer suspension does magnify the excessive flexibility of this chassis.What this adds up to is a level of overall transient response that’s a little quicker than that of the standard Grand Caravan, as well as flatter cornering attitudes. Add these to steering that was already best in class, and you have a minivan with elevated testosterone levels when the road gets a little kinky and the driver wants some fancy footwork.
Inside Man Van
The interior looks good and feels better, and of course there’s the usual array of infotainment features, including family peacekeeping options like the second row’s nine-inch video screen with wireless headphones and remote controls. In fact, even though it wears the R/T badge, the man van is actually the new lux leader for the Grand Caravan lineup. And it might just be that a product designation reflecting that status—luxury rather than manliness—would make van men at least as happy, if not more so.
We know what you’re thinking: “I’ll never get away with bringing this beast home.” We understand. Tell your Mrs. that the Caravan R/T has a new driver-selectable fuel-economizer mode: At the flick of a switch you can change the shift schedule, maximizing MPG. Tell her that the lower ride height and sweet spoiler give the Caravan R/T great aerodynamics and fuel economy. The 100,000-mile powertrain warranty won’t hurt either. Then bring her to Safford Chrysler Jeep Dodge of Fredericksburg and let her drive one for herself. It’ll work, we promise.
One final note: If you find the man-van stuff to be a little silly, consider an earlier Chrysler Corporation foray into gender-specific marketing, That would be the 1955 Dodge LaFemme, a version of the Custom Royal Lancer distinguished by a pink (Heather Rose) and white exterior, tapestry upholstery with pink rosebuds, and a pink calfskin purse.
Now that was silly.