A family looking for a practical, all-purpose vehicle that is comfortable, has room for 7 and can easily convert into a cargo van without removing any seats.
Comparable models in this class:
Buick Terraza, Chevrolet Uplander, Chrysler Town & Country, Ford Freestar, Honda Odyssey, Kia Sedona, Mercure Monterey, Nissan Quest, Pontiac Montana, Saturn Relay, Toyota Sienna
Stow 'n Go seats revolutionize the interior
Minivans are all about seats. You need seats for up to seven people, yet the seats get in the way for carrying large items. Balancing these needs is tricky.
About four years ago, the Honda Odyssey threw the industry a curve when it introduced a third seat that collapsed into the floor. Other manufacturers noted the popularity of this seat and quickly began to incorporate folding third seats into their vehicles.
Now DaimlerChrysler has raised the ante with an industry first: second- and third-row seats that fold into the floor. Called Stow n Go, these seats mean the entire cargo area can be opened for hauling without having to take one seat out of the vehicle. This feat required a complete redesign of the minivans floor pan. In a stroke of serendipity, when the second-row seats are upright, the under-floor storage bins for the folded seats are big enough for up to 12 cubic feet of additional storage. This is great for those who want to keep valuable items out of sight.
Storing each second-row captains seat is fairly simple. First, the front seats have to be moved completely forward. The second seat collapses and pivots forward into the open compartment. It looks like it wont fit, but it does. When the seats are not folded, nets inside the storage compartments keep your goodies organized and in place.
The second-row seats slide fore and aft as well as reclining up to 40 degrees.
The split-folding third seat can be folded one side at a time or all at once. The headrests do not have to be removed before folding. When I wanted to tote my bicycle, I found it was very useful to fold one side of the third seat. My bike rolled right in and the small net in the rear floor indentation was great for holding helmets and shoes.
The third seat reclines 39 degrees or it can be flipped around for tailgating.
Stow n Go seats will be standard on highline long-wheelbase minivans, which include the 2005 Chrysler Town & Country LX, Touring and Limited, and the 2005 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT. Stow n Go is optional on the 2005 Dodge Grand Caravan SE.
The test vehicle was a Grand Caravan SXT. It was a true family wagon because, in addition to the Stow n Go seats, it also had leather seats, adjustable pedals, power sliding side doors, a power tailgate and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system.
Safety items included side-curtain airbags that run the entire length of the vehicle and an inflatable drivers-side knee-blocker that helps keep the driver in place during an impact. Child-seat anchors are provided for second and third seats.
The Grand Caravan SXT is powered by the Chrysler 3.8-liter V-6 that generates 215 horsepower and 245 pound-feet of torque. This engine is marginally down on power compared to some of its leading competitors, and it felt a bit sluggish in certain passing situations.
The Grand Caravans interior has a number of thoughtful touches. One is an overhead rail console with three removable storage bins and the optional DVD screen. Another is a removable console between the front seats. This large storage bin has a fold-out holder for a cell phone, and that corresponds nicely with the UConnect Bluetooth communications system. UConnect enables hands-free use of a Bluetooth cell phone, and it works through the vehicles audio system. Control buttons are located on the rearview mirror.
The test vehicle was equipped with a navigation system, but I found the display screen was quite a bit smaller than most, and that made it hard to read. In addition, the system was tedious to operate because of tiny buttons. A navigation system can be very helpful, but I find many of them are not very user-friendly.
Minivans seem to have fallen out of vogue because so many people think of them as mom-mobiles. I think they are the single most versatile vehicle out there. DaimlerChryslers Stow n Go seats are a welcome innovation that expands the vans utility even more.