Shunning the SUV
The minivan is no longer the cool kid on the playground — okay, maybe it was never all that cool. Admittedly, crossovers and SUVs get the most attention from car shoppers, appealing to folks looking for ways to haul the family with sporty, go-anywhere styling beyond the boxlike wagon or van. But if you can overcome the stigma associated with driving a minivan, you’ll soon discover there’s nothing on the road that can beat a van’s combination of space, comfort and usability, so we’re ignoring the ubiquitous crossover to take a look at the best people movers on the market.
Chrysler Town & Country
Price: Starting at $29,995
Driving a minivan doesn’t mean you have to give up all semblance of luxury — take the Town & Country. This Chrysler minivan is available with different levels of luxe, but the top-of-the-line Limited Platinum pulls out all the stops. Seats are covered in premium Nappa leather trim, and both front and second-row seats are heated. Standard amenities include GPS navigation, power third-row seats, a power sunroof and a Blu-ray DVD dual-screen entertainment system. Chrysler’s Uconnect system is standard on all Town & Country models; it has a very intuitive touchscreen and voice command for convenient media control, as well as a hands-free phone. Available Uconnect Web turns the Town & Country into a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Chrysler Town & Country
All the aforementioned features add to the Town & Country’s extant versatility, including dual power sliding doors, a power liftgate, Chrysler’s Stow ‘n Go seats that easily fold flat into the floor — as well as plenty of storage space. Town & Country also offers a number of safety features including a ParkView rear backup camera, Blind-spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Path detection. Apparently this combination of luxury and versatility is hitting a note with consumers — in 2014 Town & Country was the best-selling minivan in the U.S.
Dodge Grand Caravan
Price: Starting at $21,795
The Grand Caravan was the first modern-day minivan when it came to the market in the 1984 model year, and it is fair to say that Chrysler has perfected the formula. Not only is the Grand Caravan the least expensive minivan on the market, it’s the best-selling minivan ever. Part of its success comes from innovations such as the exclusive Stow ‘n Go seats —all rear seats can be folded completely flat into the floor using just one hand. High-end features include a Blu-ray entertainment system with 9-inch high-res video screens for the second- and third-row passengers.
Dodge Grand Caravan
A 283-horsepower V6 is standard across the line, so there shouldn’t be any complaints about having to drive an underpowered minivan, and fuel economy is a respectable 25 mpg on the highway. Grand Caravan can also tow up to 3,600 pounds. Rumors have begun to circulate about a new minivan being readied for introduction for next year, and that it will be sold exclusively by the Chrysler brand, meaning the demise of the Grand Caravan. We’ll have to wait and see if this comes to pass.
Ford Transit Connect
Price: Starting at $24,710
It’s not quite a minivan — in fact Ford refers to it as the “un-minivan” — but the Transit Connect offers van versatility in a much smaller package. With seating for up to seven occupants in the long-wheelbase version (the standard carries five) and its tall roof design, Transit Connect offers great space for people and cargo. Dual sliding doors provide easy entry and exit, and in back buyers have the option of choosing either a standard liftgate or side-hinged swing-out doors.
Ford Transit Connect
The Transit Connect’s small size makes this a unique family-hauler; it’s easier to drive and maneuver while still feeling spacious inside. Assisting in that maneuverability is an available rearview camera, as well as front and rear parking sensors. Transit Connect can also be set up for teen drivers — Ford’s exclusive MyKey technology can be programmed to limit top speed and audio volume, promote safety belt use and restrict incoming calls and texts to a paired cellphone.
Price: Starting at $28,975
There’s no question that the Honda Odyssey is one of the most feature-packed minivans on the market. In addition to the expected dual-sliding doors and impressive cargo space, the Honda of minivans can be equipped with an entertainment system using an ultra-widescreen display, a 650-watt sound system with up to 12 speakers, Bluetooth audio streaming with SMS and e-mail functionality, and HD radio. Your passengers will stay refreshed with drinks stored in the optional Cool Box, located in front of the second row.
Odyssey can also be equipped with the latest safety features, including headlights that automatically turn on when the wipers are activated, a multi-angle rearview camera, a blind-spot information system, forward collision warning and three-row side airbags with rollover sensors. And if your passengers make a mess, Honda can help clean that up too, offering the segment-exclusive “HondaVac” — a vacuum cleaner integrated into the rear cargo area with a hose that can reach every corner of the vehicle.
Price: Starting at $26,100
An all-new Sedona minivan arrived late last year, and clearly it has been well received — sales are up more than 400 percent compared to 2014. The new Sedona looks good, incorporating styling cues that map to the rest of the Kia lineup. But for many minivan shoppers, exterior styling is less important than interior features, and that’s where the Sedona shines. The completely updated interior offers more usable space with seating for as many as eight, as well as a number of new features. One standout in the segment is the available “first-class” lounge seating — the second-row bucket seats can be slid rearward for plenty of legroom, and they also have retractable leg rests and airplane-style winged head restraints.
Kia also offers YES Essentials fabric technology, which provides protection from spills with stain-repelling and stain-releasing fabric — a great feature if you have messy kids sitting in back. If cargo carrying is high on your list of people-mover must-haves, the second-row seats can also fold up against the front row, and with the third row folded into the floor the Sedona provides plenty of cargo-carrying capacity. Another cool feature is the automatic rear liftgate — stand behind it for three seconds with the key fob in your pocket and the liftgate magically opens.
Price: Starting at $26,530
The original Nissan Quest introduced in the early 1990s was quite small and shared a platform with the Mercury Villager (does anyone remember the Villager — or Mercury?). This latest Quest, introduced in 2011, holds its own against any other minivan on the market with plenty of interior space and a number of innovative, useful features. Entry is made easy with a one-touch unlock/open of the power sliding rear doors — especially convenient when your hands are full.
Inside, Quest has “theater-style” seating — the second and third rows are slightly raised to provide better visibility, as well as a convenient viewing of the 11-inch entertainment-system display screen. Dual glass sunroofs help even third-row occupants feel less claustrophobic, and a conversation mirror at the front keeps those banished to the rear seats in constant view of the driver. Of course the Quest may not always be hauling bodies —all seats can be folded flat to provide much usable cargo space, and valuables can be stored out of sight in a covered storage bin in the rear cargo area.
Price: Starting at $28,700
As the current best-seller in the U.S. minivan market, the Toyota Sienna offers plenty of great features in the people-mover arena. Three-zone climate control is standard, and Toyota’s “Entune” audio system is available with applications including Yelp, iHeartRadio, OpenTable and Pandora. And while other minivans have offered all-wheel drive over the years, the Sienna is currently the only AWD minivan on the market — perhaps making it even more appealing to those who wanted to buy a crossover.
There are plenty of other reasons to get into a Sienna, including Driver Easy Speak, which uses the microphone from the voice-command multimedia system to broadcast to the audio system’s rear speakers. Thus no more yelling at the kids in the back seat — or when you do yell, it will be even louder. The conversation mirror in the overhead console lets drivers see all goings-on behind them, so they’ll know when they need to intervene. But chances are those backseat passengers won’t be making any trouble once they become captivated by the Blu-ray entertainment system with its 16.4-inch display.