Honda Odyssey vs. Dodge Caravan

There is a common misconception among young families. They think that purchasing a minivan means that they’ve conformed. They’ve succumbed to the suburban stereotype, and will henceforth be stuck in the carpool lane. This is why crossovers have become so popular. You get school bus-grade seating, with the look of a truck. And that somehow says to the world that you haven’t conformed!

But this couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, it means that you’ve conformed to the new stereotype that we car journalists will be cracking jokes about in 10 years. So, let’s stop kidding ourselves and look at two very capable minivans. I promise that it’ll be way more entertaining than chaperoning at a Justin Bieber concert. Honda Odyssey vs Dodge Caravan, lets compare!

2011 Honda Odyssey

2011 Honda Odyssey

When Honda introduced the latest version of the Odyssey several years ago, they asked that we “Respect the Van”. Their swoopy new kid-hauler had an aggressive stance, and a trick chrome lightning bolt running down the side of the van, underneath the windows. It looked like nothing else on the market. It looked cool.

Their advertising played to those of us who remember when a van was actually cool. Shag carpet, moon shaped side windows, and Crager wheels festooned our party bus, as we road- tripped to a weekend party at the lake, or a rock concert in another state. We didn’t care that our Vandura handled like a Greyhound bus. Our giant steel box spelled freedom.

Fast forward a couple decades, and now we have several little people, and lots of stuff to lug around. To that end, the 2011 Honda Odyssey is fitted with a cleaver third row (called Magic Seat) that disappears into a well in the floor. The middle row is equally clever, and can be easily adjusted fore, aft, and side to side (to accommodate multiple car seats, and reach screaming babies from the front seat). There’s 15 cupholders, an optional dash-mounted Cool Box that can chill 6 12oz cans of beverage, three 12v power outlets, one 115-amp socket, a center storage bin that could swallow more stuff than a three-car garage, multiple storage cubbies, and a surprisingly handy retractable grocery bag hook in the front passenger foot well.

But this van is more than adjustable seats, and toy bins. Under the hood is Honda’s 3.5 liter V6 which has been tweaked to produce 248-hp, and rides atop active engine mounts to counteract noise and vibration. When you’re bumbling through the burbs, it’s Prius quiet. Stomp the gas however, and you’re treated to a satisfying growl, along with a very respectable 0-60 time of 7.4 seconds. It even handles curves with grin-inducing aplomb.

The 2011 Honda Odyssey can be optioned with everything from a 16.2 inch split screen rear monitor, to power doors and a 650watt sound system. But all that kit can cost you as much as $45k (for the Honda Odyssey Touring Elite). Which is why you may want to start by looking at the $31k EX model. Either way, the 2011 Honda Odyssey is one of the most charismatic and refined kid chariots on the market today. And you can’t put a price on charisma.

2011 Dodge Caravan

2011 Dodge Caravan

In 1984, Lee Iaccoca decided to take a gamble and introduce the world to a front-wheel drive family van. It was half the size of a standard van, but it had configurable seats and it was easy to park. Plus, mom could even opt for woodgrain siding & whitewall tires.
Fast forward a few decades, and the Dodge Caravan is far from the uber-mom accessory that it used to be. In fact, Cerberus (Chrysler Corp’s former owner) was so broke when they designed the current Dodge Caravan, they outsourced the exterior design to Black & Decker’s toaster division. The only thing missing from the 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan styling is two giant Pop Tarts sticking through the roof.

When Fiat arrived in Chrysler-Town a few years ago, they started re-engineering each car in the Pentistar portfolio. For 2011, the Dodge Grand Caravan got a host of changes including; the new 282-hp Pentistar V6, revised suspension geometry, a new interior, and a new 6-speed automatic. The new transmission has a manual shift mode which allows you to tap the dash mounted shifter to the left for a downshift, or to the right for an upshift. However, you’re only suggesting a gear change to the transmission. The Caravan’s customer service department only checks the Transmission-lever Suggestion Box every few days, so just leave it in D and let the 6-speed auto do its thing (i.e. hunt for the highest gear).

On the road, the 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan treats you to a supple ride and decent handling. The new V6 has plenty of grunt, and the throaty exhaust note might even put an evil grin on your face. While it may not feel as agile as the Odyssey, it’s by no means a dull drive.

These days, minivans are all about features and convenience. So naturally, Dodge ladled them on the new Grand Caravan. Four models are available, but the one you want is called Crew. It comes with power sliding doors, power hatch, power pedals, heated seats & steering wheel (2nd row seats are also available with heat), velor-like cloth (which can be had in a nice looking black), 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system w/ backup camera & satellite radio (dual rear seat displays are an option, along with a 506-watt Infinity sound system), and rear A/V jacks with a household electrical plug for Jr’s Playstation.

Stow ‘N Go seats come as standard equipment, and they’ve even gotten a bit wider for 2011. In case you’ve forgotten about Chrysler’s trick seating arrangement, simply pull a lever and say the magic word. The second row seats then disappear into the floor, creating a massive amount of room…for trips to Costco. But when the seats are upright, you can use the cavernous storage compartments to hold all sorts of things…like a small elephant.

3rd row access is equally clever, and is handled via a nylon pull in the back of the 2nd row seat (for the rear passengers to exit), or a lever on the outside of the seat frame (for those trying to crawl to the back). Pull either handle and the Stow N Go seat lunges forward, folding itself into an upright position. A small vinyl panel then folds itself in front of the exposed metal brackets at the top of the seat, that way passengers won’t scratch themselves, or catch their clothing on the brackets. The third row can then be folded into the floor to create a flat load surface, or you can tilt the entire seat backward, for a comfortable seat when tail gaiting.
These are easily the most convenient seats in Vandom.

Besides the David Blane seating, the 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan has other nice touches like black gauges trimmed with white & red rings (they look fantastic at night), interior LED dome lights, ambient lighting, and a rechargeable LED flashlight in the cargo area. But the 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan’s most appealing feature is its price. The 2011 Grand Caravan Crew with all that kit starts at $28,795, where an equivalent Odyssey will easily touch $34k. But the Honda looks cool, and the Dodge looks like…a toaster. So it really boils down to how much you value style.

Honda Odyssey vs. Dodge Caravan Comparison Table

SpecificationsHonda OdysseyDodge Caravan
DRIVE-TYPEFront wheel driveFront wheel drive
AVERAGE FUEL USAGE22.5 mpg21.0 mpg
POWER248 hp282 hp
TORQUE250 ft-lbs.260 ft-lbs.