King of minivans gets new jewels

Donning a sportier look, the 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan won’t be boring, Chrysler Group says.

Engineers have redesigned and retuned virtually every system in the new Grand Caravan’s suspension, the automaker says.

That suspension overhaul, combined with a new V-6 engine that delivers best-in-class horsepower, gives Grand Caravan drivers a dynamic driving experience that other minivans in the segment don’t deliver, Chrysler said in a statement.

The new Caravan gets a new 3.6-litre Pentastar V-6 engine mated to six-speed automatic transmission.

This combination replaces all three of the previous minivan engines. Gone are the 3.3-litre, 3.8-litre and 4.0-litre V-6 engines.

With the Pentastar engine, the new Grand Caravan delivers better fuel efficiency and power (283 hp compared with 197 hp in the previous Chrysler minivan), Chrysler said.

Dodge has also redesigned the vehicle with a new front fascia that sports the new Dodge signature “split crosshair” grille, a new hood, quad headlamps, all of which are designed to give the Caravan a more aggressive look.

A new, more-sculpted rear fascia and liftgate, new rear LED tail-lamps and new Dodge badging complete the look from front to back.

“It’s pretty exciting because they’re making it a much sportier, meaner-looking minivan,” said Rick Laporte, president of CAW Local 444, which represents about 5,000 hourly workers at the Windsor Assembly Plant. “I think it will bring people back to the minivan.”

Chrysler has a lot riding on a vehicle which has been described by company CEO Sergio Marchionne as a “sacred cow,” added Laporte.

“As it did in the 1980s, when Lee Iacocca was running the corporation, the minivan kept our corporation alive and it’s doing that again today,” he said.

Chrysler plans to boost production by 60,000 units — “which means good things for Windsor, good things for Chrysler.”

Production of the new minivan begins Nov. 22.

However, the minivan faces formidable competition from the Honda Odyssey as well as the new Toyota Sienna, which was named the Best New Minivan in the 2011 Canadian Car of the Year Awards by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada.

And the Caravan, as well as other Chrysler nameplates fared poorly in the recently released Consumer Reports annual reliability survey.

The Caravan is among 16 new or dramatically modified vehicles Chrysler is launching by the end of the year

The vehicle’s interior features new seats, instrument panels, centre console as well as a heated steering wheel option.

Pricing has yet to be announced.

The 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan will be built at the Windsor Assembly Plant in Windsor, Ontario, and will arrive in showrooms later this year.