• Minivans are indispensable to many a suburban family. But who gets the credit for inventing what Pulitzer Prize author Paul Ingrassia calls "one of the 15 most influential vehicles in automotive history"?

    There is much dispute. When Chrysler introduced it's Dodge Caravan in 1984, the popularity of the vehicle cemented the demise of the station-wagon, which had been the car of choice for baseball, soccer and hockey Moms throughout the 1950's 60s and 70s. The rise of the SUV in the 90s really iced the "family wagon."

    There is a lore that Chrysler '"invented" the minivan. It may have been the first to popularize the term in the U.S. but the actual vehicle design is much older than the Lee-Iacocca-led Dodge Caravan.

    Check out the the evolution of the minivan here, from a few you may have never heard of, or forgotten about starting back to the 1940s, all the way up to a couple of today's leaders and their current best-deal prices. And see if you can come to a conclusion on who should get the credit. Chrysler? VolkswagenRenault? Or maybe even an obscure German automaker you have probably never heard of?

  • DKW Schnellaster

    DKW Schnellaster

    The Schnellaster was manufactured from 1949 to 1962 by DKW, a German automaker that ceased making vehicles in 1966. A small one-box design featuring its front wheels set forward of the passenger cabin, with a short and sloping aerodynamic hood, this early design was front-wheel-drive and had a flat load floor ideal for rearranging the flexible seating.

    This design clearly influenced the Volkswagen Type 2, which would come later, as well as the Reanult Espace in Europe.

  • Volkswagen Type 2 "Microbus"

    Volkswagen Type 2 "Microbus"

    This iconic van--virtually synonymous with the 1960s hippie revolution, Grateful Dead concerts and the rise of smoking pot--the Type 2 was designed as a straight-forward commercial vehicle, as well as a van that could carry families and gear.

    Go to a classic Volkswagen meet this summer, and you will probably see quite a collection of fabulously and lovingly restored Type 2's with all sorts of custom accessories--kitchens, camping canopies, plaid upholstery, curtains, etc. Many non-VW aficionados are surprised to learn that the Type 2 was built on the same chassis as the original VW Beetle and employed the same engine.

    Around 2000, Volkswagen flirted with a concept van meant to bring back the Microbus. It was fun looking, but ultimately too expensive to produce and sell against far less expensive U.S. and Asian minivans. More recently, VW has shown a new concept vehicle at auto shows that would be a "micro-van" reminder of the Microbus that seats just five people.

  • Renault Espace

    Renault Espace

    The Espace's design is said to have been originally conceived in the 1970s by a British designer, Fergus Pollock, who was working for Chrysler's U.K. division at the time. In 1978, when Chrysler was struggling financially and raising funds, it sold its U.K. business to French automaker Peugeot Citroen.  The van design was given to French design house Matra that had had an affiliation with Chrysler. Matra then took the design to Renault, and the result was the Espace, introduced the same year as the first Chrysler minivan.

  • Pontiac TransSport

    Pontiac TransSport

    GM was late to the minivan market and launched three for the 1990 model year. They were the Chevrolet Lumina APV, Oldsmobile Silhouette and Pontiac Trans Sport. The minivans were front-wheel-drive and characterized by plastic body panels that could absorb the blows from wayward shopping carts and its "dust-buster" profile.

    The GM minivans were often derided by journalists and the public for the long front-end snout and sloppy handling.

  • Honda Odyssey

    Honda Odyssey

    MSRP: $28,675 - $44,025
    Fuel Economy: 18 mpg city, 27 mpg highway

    Today, the fourth-generation Odyssey ranks among the three best-selling vehicles in segment. The car competes directly with some of the premium options available on the Sienna Limited, offering a 12-speaker system on its Touring Elite model, voice-controlled GPS, a 16.2-inch split-screen DVD player and an HDMI input, as well as a small “cool box” for keeping beverages cold.

    Research the Honda Odyssey
    Honda Odyssey Photos & Information
    Honda Odyssey Specs
    Honda Odyssey Local Dealer Price Quote

  • Chrysler Town & Country

    Chrysler Town & Country

    MSRP: $30,620 - $41,145
    Fuel Economy: 17 mpg city, 25 mpg highway

    After inventing the minivan as we know it in the early 1980s, Chrysler was the first to attempt to add luxury to the segment in the late 1980s. It introduced the Town & Country in 1989 as a complement to its lineup that already included the Caravan and Plymouth Voyager.

    The first T&C offered leather seats, door trim paneling, rear air conditioning, all of which raised the bar at the time. But perhaps the T&C’s biggest breakthrough came midway through its fourth generation car with the introduction of Stow ‘N Go seating, second and third row seats that folded into the floor with ease. It had one-upped everyone else on the crucial fold-away seating innovation.

    In 2011, the Town & Country received a mid-cycle makeover that included revised styling, a standard 3.6-liter V6 engine and upgraded suspension.Research the Chrysler Town & Country. 

    Research the Chrysler Town & Country
    Chrysler Town & Country Photos & Information
    Chrysler Town & Country Specs
    Chrysler Town & Country Local Dealer Price Quote

  • Nissan Quest

    Nissan Quest

    MSRP: $25,990 - $42,640
    Fuel Economy: 19 mpg city, 25 mpg highway

    "While minivans remain one of the most maligned symbols of adulthood, where some see them as a surrendering of youth and fun, Nissan sees the minivan as a celebration of family life," says Al Castignetti, vice president of Nissan North America.

    In celebrating that, Nissan has come up with a vehicle that stands out among the family-oriented segment – a "fluid sculpture" body to the Quest, which was most recently overhauled in 2011. Depending on your perspective, it's a bold step in the right direction or a little too much of a breakaway from type.

    Starting at $27,750, it can be more expensive than some of its competitors and it offers less flexibility in seat arrangements. Still, it's got a 3.5-liter, V6 engine with 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque available.

    With all the engine and fuel economy specs in line with its competition, the Quest gives drivers concerned with exterior appearance a chance to stand out from the minivan pack.

    Research the Nissan Quest
    Nissan Quest Photos & Information
    Nissan Quest Specs
    Nissan Quest Local Dealer Price Quote

Share This Photo X