The Somewhat Sporty Dodge Caravan R/T

2012 Dodge Grand Caravan R/T.

I’ve always thought that if a car company stepped up and offered a truly sporty minivan, they’d have secured a niche in the market with guys who don’t want to feel as though they’re driving something boring and too “family-ish.”

Minivans are absolutely the most practical vehicles on the road today. They ride like cars, are easy to get in and out of, can carry tons of cargo with all the seats out of the way, lots of passengers with the seats up, and have many cool features.

But men, well, many of them have egos to deal with. They revel in being fathers, taking their children to sports events and so on. But when it comes to being seen in on the road, they’d rather appear single and still attractive to the opposite sex. A minivan can ruin that persona.

A number of years ago, Chrysler created a concept Dodge Caravan for the show circuit with the sub-name R/T. (The R/T name goes back to the muscle car glory days.) It was bright red, wore nice custom wheels, and even had seats and hood vents right off the Dodge Viper. Although it got positive reviews, it was never put into production.

Then about a year ago, my radio co-host went to a Chrysler event in Northern California where new models were shown off. Among them was a special Dodge Grand Caravan that was dubbed “The Man Van.” It sat on lowered springs, had trick wheels with low-profile tires, and looked especially macho in all black. That was supposedly a precursor to the Grand Caravan R/T that would be a production model for 2012.

Recently, I finally got a turn in the production Grand Caravan R/T. Uh-oh; I guess the plan for the manly van never quite played out as promised. Instead of something truly cool looking, R/T became essentially a trim package and not much else.

The first things that disappointed my eyes were the wheels. Not racy or sporty, just some generic-looking 17” aluminum rims painted a shade of dark grey. I was expecting something much more appealing. There is also nothing special about the front. No deep spoiler or special grill, though the regular one is color-keyed to the body on the R/T instead of chromed. There are also small round fog lights under the bumper, but again, they’re no big deal.

Chassis-wise, the suspension is specific to the R/T, but it’s not like everyone’s going to scream “Wow, this is one great handling minivan!” the first time they drive through a curve. I suspect that Chrysler just substituted the springs from the VW Routan, which is made by them for Volkswagen.

There is great power under the hood in the form of the company’s new Pentastar 3.6 liter V6. You have 283 smooth horsepower ready for accelerating or passing, passing through a well-done 6-speed automatic transmission. But both those come on any new Grand Caravan or Chrysler Town and Country.

Slight changes inside the van, but they’re really just top-of-the-line instead of something performance-oriented. Black leather bucket seats have subtle red stitching, and the front passenger gets power adjustment. Some items like the very functional Super Console become standard with this one, instead of optional as on the lower-priced Grand Caravans.

The R/T van is not without its upsides, for sure. The second and third row seats can be folded into the floor instead of needing to be removed, and the power sliding doors and rear hatch can all be opened or closed via the remote fob. And even with all the seats up, there’s a very large cargo hold in the rear.

I’m not going to hold my breath that there will be an update of the Grand Caravan R/T to add even more sportiness, because 2012 will be the last model year for the Dodge van, as the company has decided that only the Chrysler brand will have minivans in the future to reduce duplication.

So while the Grand Caravan R/T is somewhat sporty, I still imagine what could have been if they’d followed through on their original idea.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz

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