CORONADO, Calif. -- On a run from the Coronado sand strip by San Diego Bay to Otay Lakes Road out east in the Jamul Mountains, we play a numbers game with California freeways -- south on the 5, east on the 905, north on the 805 -- all the while conjuring other numbers as scores to rate our impressions while steering the ultimate carpooling computer's vehicle -- a long-wheelbase Grand Caravan minivan by Dodge.
On the 5 freeway we maintain a steady clip while tracking in the fast lane.
Even at maximum legal freeway speed, the accelerator holds obvious power with more juice readily available beneath a driver's foot, thanks to a muscular V6 that's one of three engine options for the 2010 Grand Caravan.
A stiff platform feels substantial and forges an expansive passenger compartment outfitted with three rows of seats and enough room for everyone in an extended family to travel in comfort.
Securely strapped in a contoured bucket seat, we grip the thick rim of a steering wheel that feels of soft leather, as does the chair-like driver's seat.
We have a commanding view of the world around us. Forward visibility, expanding outward through a massive display of tinted window glass, encompasses the road scene in a superior design.
External noise stemming from wind and road and traffic, always difficult to prevent from intruding into the cabin of a vehicle in motion, seems muted and controlled, creating an interior situation which remains as quiet as you'd expect in a premium luxury car.
Overall impression from our drive-time ride: The designers at Dodge set the high mark for minivan styling in terms of power and performance, space utilization, but particularly for easy operation and everyday practicality.
Grand Caravan's scheme for the editions of 2010 utilize a long platform with the wheelbase stretching for 121.2 inches and the front wheel track drawing out to 65.5 inches.
The vast passenger compartment encompasses 195.8 cubic feet of space outfitted with plush comforts and flexible layouts for seating on three rows.
A low platform affords minimal step-up height comparable to a sedan so it's easy to climb aboard the minivan. The sliding slab door on each side positioned behind a front hinged door allows easy entry for back-seat riders.
Two trims segment as the amply stocked entry issue Grand Caravan SE and a luxury model, Grand Caravan SXT.
Both models seem progressive in style with angular sheetmetal fashioning a decidedly squarish and boxy shape and both contain interiors with three distinct choices for layout of seating and storage systems.
The doors hold useful storage compartments; the dash makes room on the right side for twin glove boxes; there's an optional multi-function sliding console between the two front buckets and it slides rearward for 21 inches so riders on the second row can use it too; there are covered stow bins below deck in the second row and these containers can hold a lot of gear out of sight; another stow spot is located in the third-row area and cupholders and pockets are scattered everywhere.
Regarding cabin layout, all plans provide twin buckets seats on the first row, a pair of buckets on the second row and a bench for two on the third row.
Options to vary this format include a second-row bench with fold-in-the-floor third-row seat, the inventive Stow 'n Go with second and third tiers of seats folding into the stow bins concealed in the floor, or a Swivel 'n Go plan with second-row seats rotating to face the rear bench and a fold-up table to set in the center spot between the rows -- so the riders on second and third tiers face each other for chatting, playing board games or dining.
Another option is a one-touch button for power-folding the third-row bench into the floor.
Standard on all Grand Caravan editions of 2010 are new active head restraints for the driver and front-seat passenger, along with frontal air bags and curtain-style air bags extending above side windows for all three rows of seats and linking to rollover sensors.
Also on tap for all editions is a four-wheel disc brake system tied to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake assist (BA), plus electronic stability program (ESP) anti-skid device with all-speed traction control (ASTC).
A rear back-up camera -- ParkView -- is on the option sheet, along with an integrated child safety seat and an integrated child booster seat.
For motivation, Grand Caravan of 2010 presents three different V6 engines.
Stock plant for Grand Caravan SE is a 3.3-liter V6 pumped up to 175 hp at 5000 rpm with torque topping 205 lb-ft at 4000 rpm.
Standard for Grand Caravan SXT is a more powerful V6 displacing 3.8 liters and delivering 197 hp at 5200 rpm plus torque of 230 lb-ft at 4000 rpm.
Optional for SXT is a single-cam 4.0-liter V6 which produces 251 hp at 6000 rpm and 259 lb-ft of torque at 4100 rpm.
An electronic automatic transmission goes to every issue, with a four-speed variation for the 3.3 engine and a six-speed working with the 3.8 and 4.0 plants.
The list of optional features for comfort and convenience ranges from leather upholstery and heated seats on the first and second rows to a remote starter, power windows on the second row, power to slide the two side doors, a power liftgate, movable pinpoint LED reading lamps and a tri-zone automatic climate system.
And optional electronic gear includes a dual DVD multimedia entertainment system and Sirius Backseat TV with three channels of family programming (Nickelodeon, Disney Channel and Cartoon Network).
A Premium Group package of optional gear installs the tri-zone automatic climate controls, plus rain-sensitive windshield wipers, Uconnect phone utilizing Bluetooth technology, the power-folding third-row seat and a nine-speaker premium audio system with 506-watt amplifier.
The optional Security Group package brings a security alarm, auto-dimming rearview mirror, ParkSense rear-park assist system, plus Blind-spot Monitoring (BSM) and Rear Cross Path (RCP) accident-avoidance safety systems.
Dodge marks MSRP numbers on 2010 Grand Caravans down to $23,180 for a base Grand Caravan SE model and $26,740 for Grand Caravan SXT.