Friday, 11th of October, 2013
Good For: Classic American minivan value. Though interestingly, the Grand Caravan is actually assembled in Canada while the Toyota and Honda are assembled within the 50 states. However, this van can be had for just under $20k, which is a few grands below the Japanese competition.
Compromises: It's not as efficient with space as the Sienna, and everything feels "mini" about this van, including the second row captain chairs. The size and comfort of the seat may have been compromised for the Stow-n-Go system that allows the to disappear below the floor. The driver still has the best seat in this house. At your command is the grand new 3.6L Pentastar motor which is both efficient and powerful. Torque steer is quite pronounced.
Overall reaction - Thumb up: It's not my favorite minivan, but the Grand Caravan is the least expensive 7-seater in the market and offers good value at all trim levels. My rental appeared to be an SXT featuring a power liftgate in addition to the doors. The rear seat entertainment resembles that of a long haul business class cabin, with composite and HDMI inputs, 2 extra USB power outlets, and a 115V inverter all built in. Don't get that package, or your kids may never fly Southwest again.
Thursday, 3rd of October, 2013
Good For: German car for the masses. Now that VW is back to manufacturing cars in the United States, an average new-car shopper can once again enjoy an American-built German sedan. There are lots of nice detailed features in the Passat, even though it's a special version for this specific market. The multi-function computer in the dashboard is well executed, and even has speedometer adjustments for different diameter "snow tires". The analog clock and rear A/C vents in the SE trim offer touches of luxury that are rare in a $24k car. Speaking of the rear seats, they are refreshingly roomy - comparable to what other manufacturers are calling a full-size sedan these days.
Compromises: None. I didn't perceive much difference in the power delivery of the 5-cylinder engine versus everyone else's 4-cylinder. I must not be the only one, since VW is supposedly moving towards using the 4-cylinder turbo at some point. It does offer a more interesting engine sound though.
Overall reaction - Thumb up: VW did everything right in designing this sedan, and included interesting elements too. Even the personalization was entertaining - I had to dig around to figure out how to turn off the horn chirp when locking the car remotely. Turns out it is hidden under "ATA Confirm". Sprechen Sie VW?