Seven Minivans That May Be Your Perfect Family Car
  • Image Credit: Honda

Seven Minivans That May Be Your Perfect Family Car

By Jayne O'Donnell

There's an unlikely generation gap in my house.

My 14 year old daughter loves minivans and I don't even like them. When I test drove the new 2014 Honda Odyssey with the built-in vacuum, you would have thought I brought home a Ferrari to a 50-something guy having a mid-life crisis.

She and a friend put all the seats down and hung out doing homework with pillows and blankets as if it were a camper – and a dirt-free one at that.

To me, minivans feel unnecessarily unwieldy, serving little purpose in either inclement weather or for transporting my family of three and assorted teen friends. If I'm going to spend the money and gas for that much room, I want my vehicle to be able to easily go off road to our place in the mountains, especially if there's snow on the ground.

I'm hardly, alone, as its little accident that that there are fewer minivans being made these days. The market for them has fragmented into SUVs and station wagons. Even Ford, which long had an entry in the minivan market, calls what appears to be its entry – the Ford Transit Connect – a "wagon," no doubt so it doesn't get saddled with the negative stereotype. General Motors is out of the market altogether.

Still, it's silly to rule out a segment of vehicles that holds so much value to some many families with young kids. And, indeed, when I've had the latest model of any minivan, moms everywhere were far more in my daughter's camp – dying to check out my hot new wheels. So bear with me as I explain all the reasons why I'm wrong to be so dismissive of this family workhouse.

Functionality is, of course, the main reason you'd buy a minivan. If you need to transport six or more people on a regular basis, often carry lots of cargo, and aren't likely to be off-roading or braving treacherous winter weather, a minivan is often smarter than a sport utility vehicle and certainly makes more sense than a sedan unless you want to send your sixth on the bus.

With oodles of different seating configurations - and the choice of only using the rear for stuff - you can't get much more practical. Not to mention the new standard feature available on the Honda Odyssey Touring model, the built-in HondaVac. The vacuum conveniently folds into its own compartment and has a stretchable 12-foot hose. Still, the one in my house cost less than $50 and this vacuum is only available on the Touring Elite trim level that costs about $45,000.

Along with room for seven (or eight in the Odyssey and Sedona), minivans offer drivers the ability to "walk" to the rear of the vehicle if necessary, in a hunched over sort of way. Kids can also get in and out with more ease than even the latest sport utility vehicles allow.

When it comes to horsepower, almost all of the minivans sold today have enough to keep drivers happy. The larger-engine options aren't really as fast as they sound either. A 283-horsepower engine, like that on the Grand Caravan, feels a lot different when it's pulling a packed minivan than a hard-charging Mustang.

Here are some key reasons to consider the seven minivans out today.

2014 Dodge Grand Caravan
  • Image Credit: Dodge

2014 Dodge Grand Caravan

Dodge Grand Caravan: Where this vehicle really stands out is functionality. Second row seats fold into the floor; third row seats fold into the area behind them, turning this almost into a cargo van when the kids are gone. Importantly, however, it went from one that got the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's top crash test scores a couple years ago to one IIHS said did poorly in a new type of frontal crash test in late 2014.
Chrysler Town & Country
  • Image Credit: Chrysler

Chrysler Town & Country

Chrysler Town & Country: Before Toyota and Honda got such a wheel hold on the segment, this was the fancy minivan. It has a heating steering wheel and Blu-Ray video entertainment, but starts at about $10,000 more than its more utilitarian sibling, the Grand Caravan. It also fell out of favor at IIHS after its poor showing in the new test.
Kia Sedona
  • Image Credit: Kia

Kia Sedona

Kia Sedona: Don't ever rule out the upstart Korean companies, Hyundai and Kia. And the Sedona stands out as one that merits everyone's consideration. It has room for eight people, but has some cargo challenges when the second row of seats fold forward. I'm particularly fond of the refrigerated glove compartment and heated seats, even in the second row.
Nissan Quest
  • Image Credit: Wieck

Nissan Quest

Nissan Quest: It has the tilt and telescoping steering wheel I favor and you can even get "moving object detection" on the platinum models. I also like that it's a niche model and everyone doesn't have it. And its fuel efficient, hitting 20 miles-per-gallon in city driving. It also did poorly in that latest IIHS crash test.
Toyota Sienna
  • Image Credit: Toyota

Toyota Sienna

Toyota Sienna: This upscale family hauler satisfies a couple of my "needs" in this class. You can get all-wheel-drive and it just feels luxurious, in a minivan kind of way. Like most Toyota and Lexus models, it's just all-around good. So, of course, it's also a top safety pick at IIHS.
Honda Odyssey
  • Image Credit: Wieck

Honda Odyssey

Honda Odyssey: This one has it all, right up to a high price to pay for it all. There's smartphone app integration, a standard rear camera and, of course, the vacuum. The Odyssey is also a top safety pick by IIHS and has available forward collision warning, which lets you know if you're about to hit something.
Mazda5
  • Image Credit: Mazda

Mazda5

Mazda5: There's just a more fun to drive feel to the Mazda that you almost have to drive to understand. It only has six seats and a four-cylinder engine, but is the one of the most fuel efficient of the bunch, a big plus.
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