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Made only in Chrysler’s high-quality Windsor, Ontario plant, the 2008 minivans made several steps forward and some seteps back. There were five models, three seating and storage systems, and three powertrains, one of which had the first six-speed automatic installed in a minivan.
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For 2009, Chrysler added blind spot monitoring and rear cross path systems in their first minivan application.
Swivel ’n Go™ seats brought back memories of the 1978 B-vans (pictured below, they also had a sleeper option) and the 1967 Imperial’s Director’s Chair:* the middle row seats swiveled to face the third row, with a removable table between the rows, covered bins in the floor of the second row, and third-row uncovered storage. Seats were safety-tested in both directions.
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Swivel ’n Go options included a child booster seat in the second-row quad chair, and a one-touch power-folding third-row 60/40 bench seat. The second row Swivel seats did not stow, but they were removable (they were on wheels).
Stow ’n’ Go (with seats folding flat into the floor) was standard, and Swivel ’n’ Go was an unpopular option. Third row seats always stowed into the floor, regardless of the seat system you chose; and the second row covered storage bins come with all seat systems. A standard bench middle row would also become available, based on popular demand.
The 2008s were completely new, including a new chassis, with MacPherson struts up front and twist bars in back. The 2007-type short-wheelbase Chrysler Voyager continued in Mexico through 2008, though; it was built at a Mitsubishi joint-venture plant in China.
AutoWeek praised the Chrysler Town & Country after a 32,761 mile test drive. The August 10, 2009 edition started its wrap-up by saying, “If only the ... Town & Country wasn’t a minivan, we’d call it perfect.” They encountered no problems in their journey, and at the end said that “Every single bit of this van still works like new.” Their heavily loaded vehicle performanced nearly all AutoWeek’s past extended test vehicles. The said their front wheel drive van “plugged through snow deep enough to stop buses and close schools” without fuss, with gas mileage averaging 19.7 combined (ranging from 16 to 25). The article said, “it makes us believers in Chrysler quality and technology.” Allpar’s review was not quite as favorable, but was still positive.
There were some downsides to the new vans. Many customers were upset at the loss of the admittedly slow-selling short-wheelbase vans, with their four cylinder engines; these were relatively inexpensive and easy to park. The suspension tuning of Chrysler/Plymouth and Dodge minivans had always been different, with Dodge having a performance tune and Chrysler and Plymouth a comfort tune. For 2008, this differentiation was gone.
The new Ralph Gilles-led styling was also not well received by many, with the Spartan Dodge getting more “dings” than the chrome-embosssed Chrysler design. The squarish exterior shape was echoed inside, where the Chrysler provided more relief in the form of chromed and wood-emulating surfaces. The 2011 models addressed styling of both models, inside and out.
Features (some were optional) included a removable sliding front console; remote start; heated first- and second-row leather or cloth seats; first- and second-row power windows; second- and third-row retractable sun shades; rear-pillar, ambient halo lighting; LED reading lamps; map lights; and a dual- or tri-zone heating and cooling system.
Spokesman Kathy Graham said that engineers tried hard to keep weight down, despite the new features. The wind tunnel process started early and involved the stylists; many changes were made, especially to the mirrors, and windstream studies led to the rear spoiler and holes in the front fascia. This cut drag, helping keep gas mileage stable despite extra features, weight, and power; it also cut lower wind noise.
Parents had been buying flimsy add-on rear-view interior mirrors for years to check on their kids; the built in version (above) provides a clearer picture with more convenience.
The entertainment system could play different DVDs at the same time; a MyGIG™ CD/DVD/HDD/MP3/satellite radio was voice-controlled (within reason), with a touch screen and real-time traffic and navigation, and a hands-free cellphone system. There were mesh side pockets on the second-row seats, 110V inverter, two second-row output/input jacks with a 12-volt power outlet and an overhead console with bins large enough to store headphones. New to the industry, and apparently unwanted by many customers, was streaming video, supplied by Sirius satellites.
The five models were the Dodge Grand Caravan SE and SXT, and Chrysler Town & Country LX, Touring, and Limited. There were no tuning differences between the brands.
In 2008, the top engine was the 240 horsepower 4.0 liter V6 with a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic (based on the old four-speed); the 198 hp 3.8 liter V6 with six-speed automatic; and the old reliable 170 hp 3.3 liter V6 (flex-fuel) with four-speed automatic. Buyers outside North America could buy diesel-powered minivans, as in the past. See “Minivan Alternatives” for possible future powertrain options.
For 2009, the 4.0 liter V6 went up to 251 hp and 17/25 mpg, making it the most fuel efficient minivan on the market.
For more photos and seat details, see our auto show coverage.
The 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country minivans were built at Windsor Assembly Plant in Windsor, Ontario, Canada and (initially) St. Louis South Assembly Plant in Fenton, Missouri. The Missouri plant was shut down later in the run. Export minivans were all made in Canada.
Kathy Graham was head of minivan publicity. Coming from a family of motorcycle racers, she knew enough to provide our earlier reference to the 1967 Imperial Director’s Chair. She answered our numerous questions about minivan alternatives, which arose largely from Allpar’s forums, which do not tend to be a representative sample of customers.
The 2.8 liter VM/Detroit Diesel engine with an automatic in 2007 UK Voyagers got 33.6 mpg, combined cycle (28 USA mpg), while the 2.4 liter - even with a manual transmission - got only 28.5 mpg (24 USA mpg), and had slightly lower performance. (Imperial gallons are bigger than US gallons.)
The Volkswagen Routan minivan was sold only in North America, from 2008 into the next generation. Chrysler Group President Tom LaSorda said, “With our manufacturing and platform engineering flexibility, we can deliver a high-quality product specifically tailored to Volkswagen's customers' tastes with little or no substitution effect on the current Chrysler and Dodge minivan lineup.” All Routans were made in Windsor, Ontario.
The primary differences were suspension tuning (which resulted in a different feel) and dashboard graphics, along with sheet metal; the Volkswagen used Chrysler’s top trim materials.
Dodge Grand Caravan got optional blind spot monitoring, rain-sensitive wipers, and rear cross path systems; the 4-liter SXT (with 28L package) got a new sport-tuned suspension.
Caravan SE, the base model, gained Stow n Go and stain-repellant seat fabric, cruise, a nicer gauge cluster with tachometer, three rows of power seats, floor mats, tinted glass, and body-colored door handles and moldings. SXT was given a roofrack and, optionally, better steering wheel with EVIC controls. Crimson and green paint were added to SE and SXT's list, and badging was changed across the board. SXT 28L packages got chromed daylight opening trim. The UConnect phone option on SXT now included an iPod interface. With late availability, larger nine-inch dual overhead DVD screens with swiveling third row was added. (Most of this was predicted by oh20.)
Across the board, upgraded brakes reduced noise and harshness while improving performance; the 2008s had major brake problems with early wear on pads and rotors, which the company later honored, going so far as to provide refunds to customers (on demand).
The 4.0 liter V6 went up to 251 hp and 17/25 mpg — the best of any minivan sold in the U.S., and better than the smaller 3.3 and 3.8 liter engines. Few in the general public seemed to notice, preferring Japanese minivans for their “higher gas mileage.”
Chrysler Town & Country got pretty much the same changes as the Dodge Grand Caravan, above — plus SmartBeam® headlamps on Touring and Limited.
Blind spot monitoring was always active while moving forward, and used dual ultra-wideband radar sensors to detect cars next to the minivan. The system alerted the driver by lighting an icon in the mirror, and, if selected, through an audible alarm (activated when the turn signal was on).
The Rear Cross Path (RCP) system was exclusive to Chrysler, and warned drivers backing out of a space or driveway of traffic moving into their path; it was activated by going into Reverse, and lit an icon in the mirror while sounding an alert.
The Dodge Caravan Cargo Van got vinyl window shades for privacy, full-width cargo dividers, wire mesh and solid metal window interior inserts to avoid broken windows, a cargo-area floor mat, and molded wall liners; fleet orders got new premium options and the ability to delete side-curtain airbags and interior trim.
The 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan / Chrysler Town & Country gained active head restraints for the front row, three-zone manual climate controls (SE), rear-obstacle detection display in the EVIC (with Security Group), and a new 3.16:1 final drive ratio in the SXT/4 liter, bringing gas mileage to 17 city, 25 highway, the best for any minivan.
One source wrote, “Swivel n Go is available only in leather now, and if you opt for Swivel n Go as well as the Dual DVD package, you will now get swiveling 3rd Row DVD screen so that the second row passengers can still watch a movie and/or Satellite TV.”
The 2008 models, despite being new, did not bring increased sales to Chrysler. The minivan market was shrinking more each year as trendy buyers defected to crossovers, and Honda and Toyota had both raised their game even as Chrysler was cutting costs. Sales would fall to a low pointin 2009 before slowly rising over the next years.
The 4.0 liter engine was originally rated at 240 hp and 253 lb-ft. As of October 2007, the Dodge web site lifted the ratings. The 3.3 liter engine and 3.8 liter engines both fell in power. EPA estimates may have changed because, at launch, they may have used the 2007 process with a correction factor, and re-measured for 2009. Engines may have been retuned for a broader torque curve, at the cost of a small reduction in peak horsepower numbers.
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