Minivans are the car equivalent of sweatpants. They may not be sleek or stylish, but they sure are comfortable and practical. And while your new minivan may never be the envy of your neighbours, you will be very popular with other parents when it’s tournament time and your child’s teammates need a ride. Our expert panel folded and stowed their inner race-car driver to examine four popular people movers.
BEST DEAL: Toyota Sienna ($33,420*)
Although it is neither the cheapest nor best-selling minivan, the Sienna gets top marks for its blend of power and practicality, says automotive journalist Nika Rolczewski. Now in its third generation, the current model has been on the market for a long seven years but not without some significant improvements, such as a more attractive cabin, a new V6 engine and an eight-speed transmission that boosted horsepower and performance. “This engine emits stirring sounds when extended and the new automatic gets the most out of the engine,” says Ron Corbett of the Automobile Protection Association. Toyota’s legendary reliability is another plus for buyers, as is the option to add all-wheel drive. The LE eight-passenger trim level is considered the best value so avoid the overpriced Limited package.
2nd Place: Honda Odyssey ($30,790*)
Odyssey ($30,790 – $48,990) – Long considered the benchmark minivan by which all others are judged, the Odyssey is due for a complete makeover for 2017 but the current model is still no slouch. A smooth engine, comfortable interior and useful technology all make the Odyssey a serious contender for many buyers. “It’s roomy and well-equipped, and with smooth, responsive handling,” says auto writer Jil McIntosh. The Odyssey also gains kudos for its fuel economy, thanks to an engine management system that runs on only half of its cylinders when full power isn’t needed. A new-generation Odyssey is overdue and should go on sale by the spring of 2017, but until then Corbett says the LX model is the most comprehensively equipped, and unless you are looking for luxury features, there is no real reason to venture further. If you do want premium features like leather upholstery, buyers are forced into taking either a pricey navigation or entertainment system package.
3rd Place: Dodge Grand Caravan ($23,790*)
The original minivan that turned millions of North Americans into soccer moms and dads, the Dodge Caravan has been the best-selling vehicle in this segment forever. Price has a lot to do with that, with the automaker layering on incentives until the Caravan crushes the competition on value. The Caravan’s unique Stow ‘n Go seating, available in both the second and third rows, is also a huge plus for buyers who don’t want to wrestle heavy seats out of the way whenever they need to go on a Home Depot run or help a single friend move. “It’s very competitively priced and the Stow ‘n Go seating is the most versatile system in this segment,” says radio host Tim Dimopoulos. The base model is attractive only for its price, but the Canada Value Package adds common comforts and features without a huge price jump. Stepping up to the SXT model becomes expensive but it is the only way to get the Stow ‘n Go middle-row seats that most buyers want.
4th Place: Kia Sedona ($27,995*)
Hyundai dropped its Entourage minivan a few years back but sister company Kia is still trying sell its Sedona to the few buyers who have heard of it. Like most vehicles from the Korean automaker, the Sedona comes loaded with goodies and one of the best five-year warranties in the business for peace of mind. “It’s great value for the money and I love the second-row seats which are like sitting in a comfy sofa in your living room,” says auto journalist, Petrina Gentile. The second-row seats don’t stow, but they do fold and compact nicely while the third row has a deep luggage well behind the seats to maximize passenger and cargo space. There is a dizzying array of seven trim levels to choose from but Corbett says even the base L is nicely equipped while the LX trim upgrade contains a wealth of equipment for not much more money.
How we came up with the numbers: Our weighted ranking uses a score out of 10. Cost of ownership (25%) and reliability data (20%) comes from Consumer Reports. Safety data (25%) comes from the IIHS and the U.S. Department of Transportation. Driver experience (30%) is the average of scores from our expert panel.
Ron Corbett is the automotive editor at the Automobile Protection Association.
Tim Dimopoulos is the host of the Automotive Report on 680 News.
Petrina Gentile is the car contributor for Canada AM.
Jil McIntosh automotive writer for the Toronto Star and Metro.
Nika Rolczewski is an automotive columnist and car enthusiast.
(Editor’s Note: We usually examine five vehicles, but many of the minivans that were launched over the years have now been discounted. To get a list of current options, that had been tested and assessed, we were were limited to the following four models.)