How To Choose A Minivan
Just a few players left in a shrinking segment
Chrysler pioneered the minivan market in the ’80s with the Dodge Caravan, but SUVs have taken over of late. The Mazda 5 minivan was never replaced after its demise in 2015 and neither was the Chevrolet Uplander or Venture. In fact, more than a dozen minivans were discontinued between 2005 and 2020 and today only a few remain, with Chrysler being the only domestic automaker in the USA still offering minivans in the form of the Pacifica and Voyager.
Mazda and Chevy are just two examples of the growing list of defunct minivan models:
- Chevrolet Uplander
- Chevrolet Venture
- Dodge Caravan
- Mazda MPV
- Mazda 5
- Nissan Quest
- Buick Terraza
And this list does not even include minivans from discontinued automakers, such as:
- Mercury Monterey
- Pontiac Montana
- Saturn Relay
- Oldsmobile Silhouette
Minivans vs SUVs
With the 2021 Chrysler Voyager starting at an MSRP of less than $28,000, an important reason people still buy minivans is their space-per-dollar ratio. With space for up to eight adults, while still offering more than 32 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row, a good minivan is perfect as a people mover, offering not only plenty of space for the school run or carpooling, but some genuinely usable trunk space at the same time.
But can’t you get the same space in an SUV? Yes, but not at the same price. It depends on how much you are willing to spend. To match a minivan, you need a full-size, three-row, extended-body SUV, such as the Ford Expedition Max, to get seating for eight adults and more than 30 cubic feet behind the third row. However, this SUV would cost over $55,000, more than double the price of an entry-level minivan with the same space. For maximum space on a budget, a minivan is unbeatable – if you don’t need an SUV’s height or ground clearance.
Which Minivan To Choose
Only four manufacturers still offer minivan models in the US today but the choice is not as easy as you might think, because each has its own pros and cons:
- Chrysler Voyager: The Voyager is essentially a “decontented” base model Pacifica with a no-nonsense specification, and fewer features and available options. Starting at well under $30,000, it offers superb value, plenty of space, and Chrysler’s excellent Stow ‘n Go seats that fold into the floor without having to remove any of them. The 287-horsepower V6 engine offers good performance but drives the front wheels only.
- Chrysler Pacifica: The Pacifica is the same car as the Voyager with the same engine and possible seating configurations but at a higher price. It looks a bit different, is more expensively trimmed, with far more features. There are AWD versions in the range, as well as America’s only plug-in hybrid minivan, with an all-electric range of up to 32 miles. All the Chrysler minivans seat seven with the second-row captain’s chairs or eight with the center seat added – except for the seven-seat-only Pacifica hybrid. If you traverse slippery roads and need an AWD, Chrysler has you covered. However, if you want an AWD hybrid, you’re out of luck, as the hybrid model is front-wheel drive only. Also, the third row is not quite as big as some rivals’, and the trunk with all seats in place not the biggest in the class.
- Honda Odyssey: The 7/8-seater Honda Odyssey is to many people the best minivan in the class with its powerful 280-hp V6 engine coupled to an excellent 10-speed automatic transmission, massive interior space, and plugged-in driving feel. Space in the third row and behind them exceed the Pacifica’s and other selling points include excellent reliability ratings, many safety features, and a quiet, comfortable ride. Honda would have had it all sewn up if it weren’t for two glaring omissions that delete the Odyssey from many people’s shortlists. It is not offered with AWD at all and no hybrid version is offered, which is odd for a brand that sold the first hybrid in the US. The third row folds into the floor, but unfortunately, the second row has to be entirely removed to access the car’s full cargo capacity.
- Toyota Sienna: The brand-new Sienna offers seats for seven or eight as well, with plenty of space in the back seat and a large trunk. All models use the same 245-hp hybrid drivetrain that makes up with its 36/36/36 MPG city/highway/combined gas mileage what it loses in performance – which is a bit limp. The entire range is offered with either 2WD or AWD, so you can have an AWD hybrid – the only one in its class. Misgivings about the somewhat pedestrian drivetrain notwithstanding, it could have been a class act if it weren’t for the fact that the second row cannot be removed at all, severely limiting overall storage capacity.
- Kia Carnival: The new Carnival offers all the best features expected of a minivan and it’s right at the top of the class in terms of space for passengers and cargo. Equipment levels are high and there are plenty of luxury and safety features too. It runs the Odyssey close in terms of power and performance. Besides, it has a trick up its sleeve with its rugged, SUV-like styling that makes it far more trendy than any of its rivals and should earn it a few sales. It is very unfortunate, then, that the SUV looks are not bolstered by any actual ability, since AWD is not available at all. To add insult to injury, it’s not offered in a hybrid either.
As you can see, we cannot recommend only one minivan, as it will depend on your needs. If you need AWD or a hybrid, it rules out the Odyssey and Carnival from the outset. If you want a hybrid AWD, it rules out every minivan except for the Sienna. If you want an EV for the commute without having to use any gas, the Pacifica Hybrid is your only choice. The Chrysler vans have a little less space for people and stuff but all their seats fold into the floor – which none of the others do.
Read a review on each model and go for a test drive in them all – it’s so easy with so few models to try. Chances are, given the key differences that we’ve outlined in this article, there will be only one that ticks all your boxes. But this comparison goes to show that the remaining minivans left on the American market are in fact very different products and not a single one of them combines all the best features in one car. Regardless of which one you choose, you’re going to compromise in some way.