The minivan that made the segment a household word benefits from a much-needed rework for the new season, of which was on display when the 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan was introduced the at the LA Auto Show. Heading showrooms later this fall, the new Grand Caravan boasts comprehensive upgrades to its powertrain, suspension and interior as well as more aggressive exterior styling. Initially, Dodge will offer this primo people mover in four lifestyle-oriented configurations: the Grand Caravan Express, Mainstreet, Crew and a performance-oriented range-topping R/T model. However, a more testosterone-intensive Man Van variant will also be joining the lineup sometime next year.

Seeking to regain its competitive advantage

All versions of the 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan will share a common and more potent powertrain. The existing 3.3/3.8/4.0-liter V6s engines give way to the new 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 that will crank out a class-leading 283 horses and 260 lb-ft of torque. Sending that motive force to the front wheels is Chrysler's six-speed automatic transmission with a new, driver-selectable Fuel Economizer Mode that revises shift mapping at the touch of a button to help max-out mileage. Together with several other focused tweaks -- including a 12-millimeter lower ride height, improved lower-rolling resistance tires, an aero-enhancing spoiler and a reduction in brake caliper and rear bearing drag -- it helps endow the new Dodge Grand Caravan with more spirited acceleration "without sacrificing fuel economy."

To take full advantage of this newfound muscle, Dodge chassis engineers were given a mandate to comprehensively retune the Grand Caravan's suspension to achieve best-in-class handling characteristics. While the basic underpinnings carry over, Dodge says these wide-ranging tweaks have literally transformed the Grand Caravan's personality, making it feel more like a seven-passenger sport sedan than a minivan.

To reinforce its more dynamic character, the 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan also receives bolder visual cues. Up front, its revised fascia boasts a new take on the division's signature "split crosshair" grille framed by a re-contoured hood and sleeker quad headlamps while its recast rear adds more character detailing to the liftgate and adopts the new "ring of fire" LED taillamps that Dodge is rolling into the 2011 lineup along with its newly-updated logo.

Pampering people remains a priority

The last critical element in the 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan's upgrading program is found inside, where an equally comprehensive makeover has taken place. Upgraded upholstery fabrics and a greater number of soft-touch surfaces give the entire cabin a more premium look and feel. The Grand Caravan's  new one-piece dash features larger and more legible gauges and displays while its new oversized center console adds even more functionality. Dodge also revamped the design of its Stow-n-Go seats, making them larger and more comfortable when occupied while adding a new one-touch foldaway function. The Grand Caravan's already comprehensive suite of safety systems add a standard driver-side knee air bag to the mix for 2011 and a segment-first heated steering wheel also joins the option roster.

Pricing for the 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan Express will start at $25,930, with the Grand Caravan Mainstreet opening at $26,830, the Grand Caravan Crew at $29,530 and the Grand Caravan R/T commanding $31,430.

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