2016 Honda Odyssey
  • Image Credit: Honda

If you think minivans are too boring to matter, think again.

Minivans just aren't cool. Or at least that's what the public at large believes, and it's possible to make strong arguments for that belief. For instance, minivans are relentlessly practical. Every aspect of their design centers around being the most space efficient and usable machines on the road. And let's be honest, being practical was never cool.

However, even though practicality isn't necessarily cool in and of itself, the quest for greater practicality does sometimes yield some pretty sweet features, and the five listed here are the sweetest yet.

Reclining seats with ottomans in the 2016 Kia Sedona
  • Image Credit: Kia

Reclining Seats with Built-in Ottomans

Minivan designers have steadily created vehicles with more open, box-like interiors. The obvious benefit of this is greater cargo space and leg room. The not-so-obvious benefit is greater interior flexibility.

Both the Kia Sedona and Toyota Sienna take advantage of this flexibility by giving second-row passengers a taste of first-class accommodations with reclining seats and built-in ottomans. This kind of on-the-go comfort was once reserved to top-tier limos, and the living room. And now the children of middle-class families can enjoy it on a daily basis.

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2017 Chrysler Pacifica road trip games
  • Image Credit: FCA

Road Trip Games

Second- and third-row seating innovations are pretty common in the minivan segment. Automakers and parents alike know that keeping kids happy on the road is of the utmost importance.

Today, it's not hard to keep kids entertained. Virtually every van on the market has some sort of rear-seat screens with DVD players or video inputs. And even if they don't, laptops, phones, tablets and mobile gaming systems can fill the gap.

But engineers at Chrysler thought they could still use another option, and what they came up with was a new-age approach to old-school road trip entertainment. The rear screens in the new Pacifica allow kids to play tic-tac-toe against each other, and they can record the different license plates they see. To us, this seems like a pretty cool way to keep classic road trip traditions alive.

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2016 Toyota Sienna with Driver Easy Speak
  • Image Credit: Toyota

Driver Easy Speak

Whether you have kids of your own, or you remember being a kid yourself, you know that no road trip is complete without some sort of fight or argument. In the past, this usually resulted in parents using their "outdoor voices" to intervene in back-seat conflicts, but Toyota offers a more high-tech solution.

The Sienna can be had with a feature called Driver Easy Speak. It's basically an intercom for the driver. A microphone picks up the driver's voice and then broadcasts over the speakers. So any parent, no matter how quiet, can break through the quarrels of his or her kids. It also provides endless opportunities to subject kids to "in-flight" announcements from the "captain."

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2016 Honda Odyssey with vacuum cleaner
  • Image Credit: Honda

In-car Vacuum Cleaners

Kids are messy. This is one of life's few indisputable truths, and one that every parent deals with constantly. Honda and Chrysler know this and offer a way to help fight the the clean fight.

Both the Odyssey and Pacifica offer built in vacuum cleaners for sucking up crumbs, dirt and anything else that may migrate to the van floor. Not only does this mean you don't have to find an extension cord and lug a vacuum out to the van, you can vacuum anywhere and at anytime. No mess can hide in these family haulers.

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2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid diagram
  • Image Credit: FCA

Plug-in Hybrid Powertrain

Hybrids and plug-ins are not new to the automotive industry, but a plug-in hybrid van very much is. Most hybrids have focused on maximizing fuel efficency, and that means most of them have been smaller, lighter vehicles. Meanwhile, families who need larger vehicles haven't had many fuel-frugal options.

The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid changes all that by offering plug-in technology and a 30-mile electric range on FCA's most practical platform. This vehicle represents a big step in bringing plug-ins and electric cars to mainstream buyers. It also provides an excellent opportunity for families to put a big dent in fuel bills.

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