Like most other battles in this comparison, our seat-removal test was a near-draw. The Dodge's rearmost seat went from fully installed to on the ground in an amazing 7.7 seconds; however, lifting the 75-pound bench was a spine-endangering strain even for our fit, 150-pound male tester. It's likely a two-person job for most owners. The Chevy's two modular rear seats-each of which weighs a manageable 38 pounds-took a total of 27.2 seconds to extract, but could be removed by a preteen.
Both of these minivans were production vehicles that came to us factory fresh with only a few dozen miles showing on either odometer; however, each suffered small but notable problems. The Dodge evidenced slow cold starting and some sporadic rattles-surprising since we're used to unfailing solidity from the Caravan. Prior to this test, MT editors sampled several preproduction versions of GM's new minivan triplets and came away impressed with the vehicles' solidity and quiet. This production Venture, however, failed to live up to our expectations. It was plagued by a series of rattles and chassis vibrations, many of which seemed to emanate from the left-side sliding door. (A preproduction three-door, regular-length Venture was much more solid-feeling.) Also typical of other Ventures, another production example suffered from a vibrating roof rack at 75-plus mph.
When the contest is as close as the battle between the Grand Caravan and Venture, price is often a tie-breaker. Our Grand Caravan carried a base price of $20,755, considerably less than the $22,669 starting point of the extended-wheelbase Venture. But the Chevrolet comes standard with many features-a strong V-6 engine, air conditioning, and power door locks and windows-that are extra-cost options on the Dodge. Many other Chevy features on our tester-remote keyless entry, a pollen filter, an electric right-side sliding door, rear sound system controls, an integral child seat, load-leveling suspension, an auxiliary air pump, and automatic-on headlights-either aren't available or weren't included on the Dodge at this price. Subtract just a few of the Chevy's options not found on the Dodge-such as the $185 traction control (which we'd just as soon do without in L.A.), the $125 child seat, $185 load-leveling suspension-and the difference drops to $189, meaning the Chevy offers many more features at essentially the same price.
To help determine the winner of this comparison, please play along with the exciting home version of the Motor Trend Road Test Game:
1. Select the response that best fits your reaction to the following list of features: 28 more horsepower, 0.6-second-better 0-60-mph acceleration, a power right-side sliding door, a pollen filter, separate audio controls with selectable source for rear passengers, daytime running lights, a remote keyless entry system, second-row windows that open, a lightweight modular seating system, load-leveling suspension, auxiliary air pump, and automatic headlights.
a) Cool! Love them allb) Some sound good but others I couldn't care less about.c) Yuk! I would pay extra not to have some of these features.
2. Would you accept increased body vibration and some ride penalties for these features?
a) Gladly!b) Not without some serious whining.c) Not a chance!
If you answered (a) to both questions, the Venture is your choice. The Grand Caravan wins for those who answered (c) to either question or (b)both times. Determining a winner is far more difficult if you chose (a) for the first and (b) for the second, as we did. We love the features the Chevrolet offers at essentially no extra cost, but our enthusiasm is severely dimmed by this minivan's less pleasant driving experience. Based on overall driveability, our testers unanimously voted for the Grand Caravan SE. It's significant to note, however, that a couple of these staffers defected to the Chevy when the list of extras offered on the Venture LS for essentially the same price was factored in.