2001 Minivan Comparison Test

  • Full Review
  • Pricing & Specs
  • Road Tests
  • Comparison (1)
  • Long-Term

2001 Honda Odyssey Minivan

(3.5L V6 4-speed Automatic)

  • Comparison Test
  • Evaluation - Drive
  • Evaluation - Ride
  • Evaluation - Design
  • Evaluation - Cargo/Passenger Space
  • Top 14 Features
  • Chart - Dimensions
  • Chart - Engine & Tranny Specs
  • Chart - Performance
  • Chart - Suspension
  • Chart - Safety Features
  • Chart - Crash Testing
  • Chart - Warranty
  • Seat Removal
  • Consumer Commentary
  • Final Rankings
  • Scoring Explanation

If you ask just about any member of the Edmunds.com editorial staff what the most practical type of vehicle out there is, chances are they'll point to a well-equipped minivan. In other words, minivans really are the most functional means of transportation on the road. They can usually carry upwards of 7 to 8 people, some can tow 3,500 pounds, they're not much larger than a full-size sedan and they're as easy to own and maintain as their car counterparts.

While sure, minivans aren't the most passion-inspiring conveyances around, the purchase of one still requires the same amount of thought as with any car, truck or SUV, if not more so. With that in mind, think of this comparison test as a one-stop shopping place for your minivan-purchasing decision. More so than in our previous minivan comparison, we examined the contenders in every way we could think of. Concerned about safety features? Look no further. Want to know the bottom line on prices? Got it covered. Curious about performance in terms of acceleration and braking? We ran 'em. Want an overview of features that we think are critical and want to know which vans have these goodies? We scoured each van up and down. Do you have a preference for those vans that might offer the most legroom or cargo capacity? Our dimensions chart will tell you every measurement there is. And finally, are you curious as to which van really is the best deal for your hard-earned dollar? We answer that, too, but you'll have to read on to find out.

Before introducing the candidates, we'll note that a representative of the Nissan Quest/Mercury Villager twins wasn't included in this test because of its lame-duck status. Nearing the end of their life cycle, these vans won't be replaced after the 2002 model year.

And now the contenders, which, for the record, are about as totally outfitted as you can get them. From the Yankee side of the ledger, we have an entry from each of the Big Three. Chrysler's Town & Country Limited is the newest van of the six. We'll remind you that the redesigned-for-2001 DaimlerChrysler (DCX) vans have been the segment's best-sellers for the past 15 years, and Chrysler's best hopes lie with this new design. The Ford Windstar, an acknowledged leader in safety, was represented in this test by a loaded-to-the-gills Limited version — the highest of five available trim levels. Though the Windstar design is getting a little long in the tooth as it enters its seventh year of production, it is likely the most feature-laden van of the bunch, despite its less-than-enthralling driving dynamics. Of the General Motors minivan triplets, which include the Chevy Venture, Pontiac Montana and Oldsmobile Silhouette, a long-wheelbase Montana serves as the representative for these three. If a Venture or Silhouette is high on your list of choices, much of the same info applies to the Montana, as well.

As for the Japanese contingent, the winner of our last minivan comparo two years ago is still a mighty tough player. Loaded with tons of practical tricks and priced right, the Honda Odyssey in decked-out EX trim isn't going to relinquish the crown with any modicum of ease. The other two Japanese candidates are somewhat smaller and more compact than the other four. If a slightly more miniature minivan is what you're seeking, then both the Mazda MPV (the only van here not built in America) and Toyota Sienna, represented here by top-level ES and XLE versions, respectively, are the two that will vie for your attention. Redesigned for the 2000 model year, the MPV is a legitimate choice if you really want a 9/10s scale minivan priced less than 30 grand. Considerably pricier than the Mazda, the Toyota Sienna still gets you Toyota's sterling reputation for quality along with unique features like stability control — although this will be available on the Windstar later in 2001.

That's who the players are, and here's what we did with them. Besides our usual battery of track testing, we had six teams of three editorial staffers each pilot the vans on a 700-mile round trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco. With driver and two additional staff member teams rotating through each van, we were able to thoroughly evaluate much more than just how the vans drove. The additional passengers provided commentary on several other areas, such as seat comfort in the second and third rows, how well the video entertainment systems worked and how well in general things were screwed together throughout each van's interior. While much of the time was on the highway, we did venture onto a few two-lane roads to get an idea of how each of the vans handled in environments other than the open road.

While we were as surprised with some of the results as you might be, other vans were not a big shock in terms of finishing order. But keep in mind that all six of these vans are good vehicles and all have much to recommend them, including lots of safety features, fair to impressive driving dynamics, comprehensive warranties and lower prices than our test vehicles if you go easier on the options.

If you're serious about shopping for and buying the right minivan to suit your purposes, then you'll want to scour every word, chart and spec throughout this entire comparo. And check out the broadband video, too — you'll be glad you did. So without further ado, let the greatest minivan shootout of all time commence hereupon.

Sixth Place - 2001 Mazda MPV

Unlike some last-place finishers in other comparison tests we have performed, the Mazda MPV is a much better vehicle than its position might suggest. It's just that this is an extremely competitive segment, and the MPV isn't as feature-filled as some of the others. "If minivans were beer, the MPV would be minivan light," commented one editor.

That doesn't mean the MPV is horrible by any means. It is, in fact, a perfectly safe, functional, attractive and drivable vehicle. You'd think that with all the praise we give it, the MPV would finish higher up. But before we go into its shortcomings, you should consider the reasons why you would want to buy one if a smaller van is what you're looking for. Consider the list of standard features with the top-level ES trim. There's ABS, remote keyless entry, power windows and locks, heated power mirrors, leather seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, rear air conditioning, 16-inch alloy wheels, a nine-speaker sound system and side airbags. There's also a feature you can only find on the MPV that we've really taken a liking to. Its roll-down windows in the sliding doors are the trademark tidbit that most think of when the MPV is brought to mind.

Other accolades worth noting from our staff are numerous. Its smaller size and seemingly more sporty underpinnings did their fair share of generating positive feedback from those who drove the MPV. In general, it seems quite car-like in its feel, and the steering did a commendable job of communicating road sense to the driver. The weighting is just right and provides a nimble experience, unlike some of the more clumsy vans like the Windstar or Montana. Things like "great steering performance" or "suspension feels sporty" or "easy to maneuver" peppered the comments on Mazda's "mini" minivan. In short, if how a vehicle drives is of any importance to you, the MPV is worth a look.

So, if it drives decently, has plenty of useful features and it's the lowest-priced van in the test, why did it finish last? One of the main reasons is the undersized engine. It's simply too small to haul around more than 3,600 pounds of rubber, steel, plastic and glass -- the lightest van in the test. If the MPV has one serious issue relating to how it drives, it would be its lack of power. "When driving in a pack on the highway," one editor noted, "the MPV could barely keep up with the others."

In fact, if the MPV had another 30 horsepower, it would've possibly finished better than bottom of the barrel. While its 170-horsepower 2.5-liter V6 would be perfectly adequate in a small sedan, it's clearly not big enough for a minivan. In our acceleration tests, the MPV was the slowest van in the group, as it needed a yawn-inducing 11.6 seconds to reach 60 mph. The next slowest van, the Pontiac Montana, was a full second and a half quicker at 10.1, while all the rest of the vans reached 60 mph in less than 10 seconds. If merging onto a busy freeway with a full load of passengers on board is critical to you, then look elsewhere.

And if you think the lightest weight and smallest engine will be your friends at the gas pump, think again. At just 18.4 mpg, the MPV got the lowest average when we added up the fuel-consumption numbers. All of the other vans averaged more than 19 mpg.

One could consider adequate acceleration for freeway on-ramps a safety feature. And when you factor in carrying more than six people in a vehicle, it's worth thinking about. Combine the MPV's lackluster performance in this area with its small list of safety features, and you have one more reason to think about shopping one of the other models. While the MPV has good crash test scores, and it has the basics like side airbags and ABS (all these vans are among the safest vehicles on the road), its list of safety features you can't get is considerable. Don't expect things like a low-tire pressure warning system, self-sealing tires, traction control or stability control.

In National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash testing, the MPV performed well, scoring five stars in the two side impact tests and four each in the two frontal impact tests. The Toyota Sienna scored just one star better overall, while the Windstar and Honda Odyssey are the only two vans to get five stars across the board.

Maybe safety items are not at the top of your wish list, since all new vehicles have airbags, and all of these vans have ABS. It could be that convenience features are more your bag. The MPV is lacking in that category, too. Of the items on our list of 14 features every minivan should have, found in the chart linked at your right, the MPV has but 6 of the 14. Things like power sliding doors, a reverse-sensing system (a safety feature for some), front and rear audio controls and adjustable pedals aren't available on the Mazda. The Ford Windstar is the champ when it comes to the sheer count of features either optional or standard.

As we said at the beginning, the MPV is considerably better than its last-place finish would lead you to believe. But various comments from those who drove and rode in it make one realize it finished last not because it's a bad vehicle, but because the others are either more appealing to more people or they have more content that make them worth the additional money. For example, some noted that the MPV has more hard plastic in the interior than the other vans. "Way too much gray plastic," quipped one driver. Other nitpicking revealed that the third-row seat is barely up off the floor of the van, resulting in minimal thigh support. Also noted was considerable road noise and harshness transmitted directly to third-row passengers. And while there was plenty of headroom in back, taller backseat drivers could've used more legroom. "The third row, with its short seatback and lack of legroom, makes it inappropriate for adults," said one passenger. During our road-test evaluations, the MPV also finished last in our front and rear seat comfort categories.

Certainly the MPV is a decent van, but it has numerous shortcomings, despite Mazda's reputation for decent quality and reliability. To truly understand the MPV, it's best to think of it as the light beer of modern minivans. The Mazda is the smallest van in this test, which contributes to a feeling of nimbleness when rounding corners. And while the engine doesn't make nearly enough power, several unique features like the above-mentioned power windows in the sliding doors, easily adjustable second-row seats and a third-row seat that folds into the floor or reverses for tailgate parties pump it right back up. Even interior room, while not cavernous, is quite commendable given the van's small exterior size.

If you are looking for a people-mover that's easy to drive and park, offers several unique and functional features and can be picked up for song, the MPV is worth considering. But remember, this is purely "minivan light" in terms of its workhorse capabilities. If you need more of a "hungry-man" type minivan, look more closely at one of the other five vehicles.

Second Opinions

Senior Editor Brent Romans says:
I like the Mazda MPV, but I'm probably holding the minority opinion of our staff. Here are the two challenges facing the MPV: It's smaller than the other minivans, and it doesn't have enough power. I'm generally willing to overlook the MPV's small size because it lends a certain sporty feel to the vehicle. The steering is quick and responsive, the brakes work well, and the van is easily maneuvered in tight spaces. What the MPV needs is a high-horsepower engine to make it a "sport minivan," something BMW might build (if its executives suddenly went loco and decided to build a minivan, that is). Instead, the MPV has a 2.5-liter V6 that becomes excessively weedy as you load up on people and cargo. If I was thinking about buying a minivan but didn't have a critical need for the third-row seat, I would consider getting something like a Ford Taurus or Volkswagen Passat wagon. Both offer a good amount of cargo room and are sportier than the MPV. The MPV settles into a niche, then. It's for people who don't need a big van like the Town & Country but have too much stuff for a wagon. The MPV also has a couple nice features, but for the majority of minivan buyers, however, I can't recommend the MPV very highly.

Editor-in-Chief Chris Wardlaw says:
This is the value story of the bunch, but in exchange for a low price, you make do with less power and room than the other vans in this group.

For some people, the MPV ought to be their first choice. It has lots of neat stuff for families, like a "magic" third-row seat, roll-down side windows, middle-row captain's chairs that can form a bench seat and a great sound system. Our test van also had an on-board entertainment system, but the video cassette player is mounted to the floor under the rear seat -- when that seat is folded, the VCP sits vulnerably in the middle of the cargo area.

Mazda also supplies fake wood accents, chrome trim and leather upholstery for less than competitors do and has styled the MPV cleanly. Top all this off with proven crashworthiness, and you'd think the Mazda would represent an unbeatable package.

Though this van makes perfect sense for small families and folks who need a smaller vehicle, the compromise is a rather weak 2.5-liter V6 engine and the smallest cargo area in the class. The transmission shifts harshly under duress, unable to adequately extract maximum performance from the overwhelmed engine. Fortunately, MPV handles decently, even if it does look undertired.

Another bugaboo on my personal gripe list is front seat comfort. Except for the Sienna, I found this to be the most uncomfortable van of the group.

Overall, the MPV is a decent effort. But in my book, it doesn't win this contest.

Road Test Editor John DiPietro says:
The Mazda was a disappointment for me. I expected more gusto from the "Zoom, Zoom" company. In terms of handling, it was the most athletic of the group. Cornering was crisp and flat, though the steering was lighter than I expected and felt numb on center. The biggest bummer was the lack of thrust at higher rpm; around town, the MPV had decent poke, but ran out of breath as the need for speed increased, such as when passing and/or merging. The transmission didn't help matters, as it hesitated when a downshift was called for at higher speeds (such as 50 to 60 mph) instead of quickly stepping down a gear when the driver booted it.

Although the MPV was not without its charms, such as a hide-away folding third seat and roll-down windows in the sliding doors, it needs more engine and a recalibrated transmission before it gets my vote.

Stereo Evaluation - 2001 Mazda MPV

Ranking in Stereo Test: Second

System Score: 7.5

Components: Let's start with the head unit -- maybe that's because it's impossible to ignore! It's huge, occupying a large portion of the upper dash. But huge isn't necessarily a bad thing. In this case, a large head unit means sizeable buttons that even the Jolly Green Giant could use. Unfortunately, there's almost no spacing between the buttons. This makes for some slightly tricky navigation, which shouldn't be the case in a radio this large. Stranger still is the enormous round volume knob that squats in the center of the radio like a late Pizza Hut delivery. I'd have to say this is the largest volume knob I've seen on a car stereo, and I like 'em big, folks. One other miscue: The system offers only a single-play CD versus the six-disc changer found in many other highline minivans.

Speakerwise, however, this system more than makes up for the shortfall in electronics. The MPV offers a total of nine loudspeakers throughout the vehicle, making it the second-best-sounding van in this test, behind the Chrysler Town & Country. Clearly, the Mazda engineers have put some thought -- and money -- into developing this sound system. Speaker locations include two -- count 'em, two! -- pairs of tweeters, one set in the side panel just in front of the third seat, a second set built into the dashboard and upward-firing into the windshield. The rear tweeters are helped mightily by a bounteous pair of thundering 6-by-9s, while the front tweets are coupled to a pair of 6.5-inch mid-bass thumpers in the lower front doors. "But that's only eight speakers," you say. "Where's the ninth?" OK, OK, we're getting there. The ninth speaker is an ample 8-inch subwoofer tucked into the rear quarter-panel. Put it all together, and you've got one fine-sounding system.

Performance: Better than good. Highlights include an accurate, punchy bass, hot and spicy highs, and intricately detailed mids. However, while this system plays loud and proud, it's neither as versatile nor as smooth as the Town & Country's. For instance, high frequencies are a little overcooked, producing slightly tinny and artificial reproduction in the tweeter range. Some of this also bleeds over into the midrange, making female vocals sound wispy and nasally. Still, all in all, it's a fun one.

Best Feature: Speakers, speakers everywhere!

Worst Feature: Lack of a CD changer and a funky, huge faceplate.

Conclusion: In spite of some of its shortcomings and strange design cues, this system still rates high on the excitement scale. It's well above your average minivan sound system.

Scott Memmer

Video Evaluation - 2001 Mazda MPV

Ranking in video test: Fourth (last)

Score: No score

Reason: We couldn't get it running.

More thoughts: Perhaps some dishonest automotive journalist (are there any?) who had the MPV before we got it made off with the remote control and owner's manual to this system. We couldn't figure out how to fire it up. What little we saw didn't impress us, though. For example, the VCP sits on the floor below the middle seat; when you yank out the seats and attempt to store cargo, there's this huge box in the center of the floor. Very annoying. The three other video systems in this test all had the VCP in the front of the vehicle.

Scott Memmer

Fifth Place - 2001 Pontiac Montana

On sale since 1997, the Pontiac Montana is about a zillion times better than the Dustbuster-nosed vans that GM was previously hawking to buyers. The General thankfully phased out those vans (the Poncho version was known as the Trans Sport, remember?) and eventually replaced them with the Venture/Montana/Silhouette trio, sold by Chevy, Pontiac and Oldsmobile, respectively.

Despite its fifth-place ranking, the Montana is actually a pretty nice rig. It's just that some aspects of the other vans are better, be it safety features (Windstar), driving dynamics (Town & Country), quality construction (Sienna) or overall value (Odyssey). That said, let's take a look at why the Pontiac entry is worth your attention.

Included in the standard vehicle price of our test example was a preferred equipment group listed as 1SJ. Yes, this package made our test van the most expensive version of the extended-wheelbase Montana (at 121 inches, the Pontiac has the longest wheelbase of all six vans) but it positively jam-packs this machine with tons of great features. Check this out. Package 1SJ includes (GM lists it as a "no charge" option on the window sticker) an OnStar satellite communication concierge system, power rear quarter windows, remote keyless entry, a power sliding door for the right side, front and rear air conditioning, a driver-information system, a universal garage door opener, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio controls, a theft deterrent system, rear audio controls, a reverse-sensing system and the Montana Vision entertainment system that includes an LCD color monitor, a video cassette player with remote control, a six-headphone outlet, a video-game input and four wireless headphones. Oh, and we'd be remiss if we forgot to mention that 1SJ also gets you a performance and handling sport package that includes a sport suspension, automatic suspension level control, traction control and 15-inch aluminum wheels -- though most of the vans in this comparison do come equipped with larger 16-inch wheels.

Comprehensively equipped, the Montana drives down the highway with confidence. And although it scored in the lower half of the group in the suspension and steering categories of our road-test evaluations, some still liked the Montana's road manners. One driver noted, "The overall highway ride was quite pleasant."

Seating comfort inside varied, with the positive comments coming mainly from those riding in the back of the Montana. Second-row passengers gave the Pontiac high marks. "It feels like a regular front seat," noted one passenger. He also said that it was more pleasant to sit in the Pontiac's second row compared to some of the other vans and that there was plenty of foot space. Legroom was also deemed plentiful and comfortable armrests were further appreciated. Passengers found the third-row seat, which folds like the Mazda's and Honda's, to have an adequate amount of head and legroom. However, it doesn't fold totally into the floor like in the Mazda and Honda vans, and furthermore lacks a "well" or storage area like those two vans have.

As for the front seats, some felt the headrests were too far away from the driver's and passenger's heads. The seatback adjustment was also manual, which in a $34,000 van seems a little low-rent.

Despite having the smallest engine of the American-made vans, Montana's 185-horsepower 3.4-liter V6 moves it adequately down the road. But it's not quick, by any means, taking more than 10 seconds to reach 60 mph, trailing the Windstar by a half second.

There are other shortcomings, too. For example, safety considerations with the Montana are a mixed bag. While its safety features are plentiful, its National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash-test scores are the lowest of all six vans. That doesn't mean the Pontiac did badly in NHTSA testing, it just means that the other vans scored better overall; the Montana was the only van to get a three-star rating in one of the four categories (see crash-test scores chart at right). Clearly, the bar is high in the minivan category, because the Montana is still plenty safe.

Though the Montana is at the bottom of this barrel in terms of crash-test scores, it fared well when we took a look at its safety features. Standard in all Montanas are side airbags for the driver and front passenger. You have to pay extra to get them in a Toyota Sienna, and they're not even available in a Honda Odyssey. Other safety items worthy of mention that will help you avoid an accident in the first place are ABS, self-sealing tires and traction control. All in all, the Montana is quite safe, despite its one three-star NHTSA crash test rating.

The Montana seemed to elicit stronger positive or negative opinions than any of the other vans. Detractors griped about such things as "a disconnected feel from the road due to the soft suspension" and "convoluted dash controls." Yet others praised such things as the "engine that's notably smoother than the one in the Windstar." There was also positive feedback on the transmission, as one driver noticed that in addition to excellent shift quality (GM automatics are among the best in the industry), there are separate detents in each gear, and you don't have to push a button to lock out overdrive.

In the end, the Montana gets our vote as one of the more pleasant surprises of the group. We like its pseudo-SUV styling, and given the feature content, the Montana seems like a good deal.

Factor in the on-board entertainment system (which included the least intrusively mounted video cassette player), a folding third-row seat, rear storage compartments with grocery bag hooks, a self-leveling rear suspension with air inflation kit, self-sealing tires, reverse sensing system and leather upholstery, and it looks like an even better bet.

And while Montana's V6 is rated at only 185 horsepower, it still provided a modicum of mid-range power. The four-speed automatic is well matched to this engine, shifting crisply and responsively when the gas pedal is prodded and unobtrusively when just bopping around town. Our primary hardware gripe was with the brakes, which didn't seem up to the task of hauling the Poncho down from speed as it needed 138 feet to stop from 60 mph -- the second longest distance in the group, just beating the Honda Odyssey by 3 feet.

The two main problems with the Montana are that long-term reliability might not be as good as others like the Honda or Toyota, and the van has the lowest NHTSA crash test scores. But in spite of Montana's age, this van is still quite good. If you buy an extended warranty and drive carefully, the Montana is a viable choice in the minivan market.

Second Opinions

Executive Editor Karl Brauer says:
This was the come-from-behind surprise of the test for me. I was expecting to barely notice the Montana, but instead I found myself captivated by its punchy drivetrain, comfortable seating and high-tech features. Items like a rear parking aid, load-leveling suspension and in-dash six-disc changer gave the Montana an upscale feel. Even cooler is the optional performance package that throws in a sport-tuned suspension and a performance wheel-and-tire package.

Seat comfort was among the best in the test, and GM has been wise enough to design a fold-flat system for the third-row seats. The entertainment system offered a large LCD screen that was great for plugging in the PlayStation and loading up a game of Driver. Wireless headphones and rear audio system controls further added to the much-appreciated passenger accommodations, convincing me that if I were to pick a van for riding across the country, this one would be my likely choice.

I'd like to see Pontiac lose the Montana's side cladding, and I don't know why only the passenger-side sliding door is power-operated. Still, this van forced me to re-examine my position on GM's family-hauler offerings. Seating options can allow the Montana to carry up to eight passengers, and with their modular design, these seats that can be placed anywhere in the last two rows for ultimate flexibility.

Buyers looking for features and fun should at least test-drive the Montana.

Senior Editor Brent Romans says:
I suppose if you're going to name a minivan after a state, "Montana" is one of the better ones. Somehow, the "Pontiac New Jersey" just doesn't have the same ring to it. This test was the first time I had driven a current GM minivan, and it impressed me overall. The V6 supplies good low-end power, and the interior is roomy. The Montana also offers a good selection of standard and optional equipment, including OnStar, an entertainment system, a parking aid sensor, a six-disc CD changer, a fold-flat third row and available eight-passenger seating. In my opinion, there is little wrong with this van other than the non-power driver-side sliding door and the low-grade interior materials. Well, that and the overdone Pontiac styling. But that's enough to keep this van out of the upper slots in the test.

Road Test Editor Ed Hellwig says:
As much as Pontiac's entry surprised certain editors, I was somewhat underwhelmed by the Montana. Sure, it's got plenty of gee-whiz features like reverse parking aid, a load-leveling suspension and a nifty video screen, but for me those added-on perks don't overcome the dated interior design and Fisher Price-quality plastics used on the dash.

I'll concede that the 3.4-liter V6 pulls admirably, but the sounds emitted under full throttle are hardly what I would call refined. Shift quality was noticeably tight, with upshifts coming quickly and little gear hunting. Although the steering communicated good road feel, it's too heavy for a vehicle of this type, making parking-lot maneuvering a far too rigorous affair. Suspension damping was comfortable, and the big tires did manage to give the Montana a somewhat sporty feel.

Inside, the Montana benefited from a fold-flat third-row seat, a unique partitioning system to hold loose items in the cargo area, and plenty of room for big feet and outstretched legs up front. Why only one of its sliding doors was power-operated is something only the bean counters at GM could explain, and the lack of a center console between the front seats doesn't cut it in my book. A nicely featured van, if you like the looks and design, but for my money, give me something with less bells and whistles and more overall refinement.

Stereo Evaluation - 2001 Pontiac Montana

Ranking in stereo test: Sixth (last)

System Score: 4.5

Components: What if you held a light show and nobody came? That's the way I feel about this audio system. It's long on features and flash and short on substance. We can only wish the folks at Pontiac would spend a little less money on bells and whistles and a little more on performance and value.

This head unit seemingly features more controls than a 747. In addition to a built-in six-disc CD changer and the usual presets and controls, it has a whole array of programming buttons, such as CD repeat, random, song list, auto eq, auto volume and more. It also has a nice ergonomic feel, with round rubberized knobs for both tuning and volume. While most of these features are useful and a "value-add," it would have been nice to see better speakers in this system instead. After all, you can have the greatest widgets in the world, but if you have lousy speakers, the system still won't sound good.

To wit: There are only four speakers in this system -- a pair of 6-inch full-range drivers built into the rear lift gate and an identical pair in the front doors. To make matters worse, there are no separate tweeters in this system and not a subwoofer in sight. Lastly, the amp loses power above half-volume, causing high distortion.

Performance: This is one mediocre-sounding system. Almost everything about the sound is dull, flat and unexciting. Dull highs. Flat lows. Inexpressive mids. The whole system has a tinny, thin sound. High in functionality, low in performance.

Best Feature: Head unit loaded with features.

Worst Feature: Horrible speakers.

Conclusion: This one needs to go back to the drawing board.

Scott Memmer

Video Evaluation - 2001 Pontiac Montana

Ranking in video test: First

System Score: 8.5

Components. Well, the audio may need rethinking, but this is one fine video system -- clearly the best of the four in the test. The fold-down video screen measures 6.8 inches. The video cassette player is a hi-fi design that comes with a full-function wireless remote with onscreen display. As if that weren't enough, the system comes with four pairs of high-quality wireless headphones. These aren't the cheesy little headphones that you see on commercial airlines, but full-sized headphones that completely cover the ear. Not only that -- they're comfortable, light and easy to wear for a long period of time. We like 'em. The system can be played either through the rear speakers or headphones -- your choice. Such a deal.

Performance. Sounds great, looks great and the remote works like a champ. Your family may never talk to one another again.

Best Feature: Comfy headphones.

Worst Feature: Speakers poorly positioned to rear of vehicle.

Conclusion: The clear winner in the video derby in this comparison test. If video is important to you (and it should be, unless you plan on actually having a conversation with your child before she goes away to college), this is the one to buy.

Scott Memmer

Fourth Place - 2001 Chrysler Town & Country

We were surprised that DaimlerChrysler's minivan entry for this test, the Chrysler Town & Country Limited, finished as far down as it did. Here was one of the most popular minivans ever. And it had just been redesigned, too. But when we added up the numbers in some of the critical categories, the Ford, Honda and Toyota vans finished ahead of the T&C.

But since most on this staff are keenly interested automotive enthusiasts who can even generate a modicum of excitement and intrigue over a minivan comparo, we feel it our duty to report that the Chrysler is the clear victor in what we consider to be an important area -- even for a minivan. The T&C is the best-driving van of the six. In this area, it flat-out trounced the Toyota, Ford and Mazda. It also surpasses the Pontiac Montana by a notable margin. And while the Honda Odyssey comes closer than the Montana, the Honda still feels a bit more ungainly and heavy than the seemingly more nimble Chrysler van.

Backing up our staff's quite positive opinion of the way the T&C behaves when you're behind its wheel is our 20-point evaluation form. The Chrysler handily won this part of the comparison, earning the most points in six out of seven driving-related criteria.

One driver summed up the T&C's impressive road manners thusly: "Unlike the Honda and Ford vans, which are big and feel it, the Town & Country is big but doesn't feel it." The same driver loved the way the Chrysler's suspension performed saying it "felt controlled and nimble through the curves yet it had a cushy ride." Passengers could also tell the Chrysler was a surefooted machine. "There is much less cabin-jostling or bodyroll in the second-row seats than in the Windstar. The compromise between ride and handling is just right in the T&C, and it seems to handle better then even some cars. The suspension never beats you up," concluded this observant passenger.

Despite the fact the Town & Country wasn't the quickest van in this test, the engine and transmission still got high praise among the drivers. One said, "The Chrysler's 3.8-liter V6 is much smoother than the Windstar's engine. It's not nearly as thrashy, and it makes more power, too. Overall, this engine is amazingly smooth even though it's a pushrod design. Of the three American vans (all of which have pushrod engines) only the T&C's was on par with the overhead-cam engines found in the three Japanese vans." The engine was "pretty much the best of the group," concluded another editor. The transmission worked just about perfectly in the Town & Country during normal driving. The main issue was that it would shift up to the next gear well before redline. Otherwise, all seemed well.

So if the Town & Country drives so well and has other things to recommend it, why did it get nudged out of the way by the Windstar, Sienna and Odyssey? Unfortunately, several factors put the Chrysler van further down in the pecking order than where a fresh redesign might be expected to finish.

First up are features. The T&C only squeaked by the last-place Mazda MPV in terms of our editor-voted features list, and it got thoroughly hammered by the Sienna and the category-winning Windstar. Probably the most puzzling feature that didn't make it into the new Chrysler vans is a disappearing (folding) third-row seat. Now that the Honda, Mazda and Pontiac vans have this critical item onboard, we find it almost inexcusable that a brand-new design lacks such a major convenience. And to add salt to the wound, the T&C has the heaviest third-row bench seat of the three vans when you need to remove it for max cargo capacity. It weighs a seemingly unnecessary 128 pounds compared to the next lightest seat in the Ford, which checks in at 105 pounds.

Other items standard or available on the other vans that you can't get here include a navigation system, fore and aft adjustments for the second-row seats, front and rear audio controls and an entertainment system (the latter, however, is available as a dealer-installed option).

The area of safety features also saw the T&C falter a little bit. Although it has such standards as front side airbags (optional on lesser Chrysler and Dodge vans) and traction control, we'd like to see the availability of bits like stability control and a reverse sensing system, too. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash-test scores were good for the T&C, as it got four stars for the frontal tests and five for the two side impact tests. Here, the Chrysler van matched the Mazda and scored better than the Pontiac Montana. But it still lags behind the safety-benchmark Honda and Ford vans, and during NHTSA side-impact crash testing, the sliding side doors popped open, sparking a recall of all 2001 Chrysler and Dodge minivans.

The final area that hurt the DaimlerChrysler van the most is, of course, price. At more than 36 grand, it was the most expensive van in this test. Factor in tax, license and all the other requisite playing around during a new-vehicle purchase, and you've got yourself a $40,000 minivan. In defense of its minivan lineup, we'll note that it's the largest range of vans on the market in terms of price. The company offers the most models in the segment (17 in total) ranging from as low as $19,800 to $38,165 for a loaded all-wheel-drive T&C Limited.

But we still tested these vans as loaded up as we could possibly get them, and the T&C checks in at about $1,200 more than the next-in-line Ford Windstar and Toyota Sienna. Compared price-wise to the Honda Odyssey, the T&C is a whopping $7,500 more. And that's with the Odyssey EX's only option, a navigation system onboard. Eliminate that from the picture, and the difference is nearly 10 grand!

The bottom line is that we love how the Town & Country drives and looks. But we're a bit skeptical about its lack of some important features. And it's quite pricey. In the end, this van will basically do anything just as well as the others, including carrying people and cargo in fine style. Ultimately, the issue of price in relation to features -- or lack thereof -- combined with this van's spotty reliability record, poor predicted resale value and less-than-stellar crash scores relegated it to fourth place in our test.

Second Opinions

Senior Editor Brent Romans says:
The Town & Country is a very good minivan, but I would hope so. This was the newest design in our test, and Chrysler has had plenty of time to sit back and study the competition. I would have liked it if the company's engineers had paid more attention to the Odyssey's disappearing third-row seat. I tried removing the single-piece third-row seat in the Chrysler by myself. It was a major struggle, and I can't imagine someone like my 5-foot 2-inch mother trying to do the same thing. Chrysler PR people say they didn't go with a disappearing third-row because the resulting seat well lets in too much road noise. True enough, the Town & Country was certainly quiet, but not amazingly so. No, I think the real reason is that the company didn't want to cough up the additional cash required for designing an independent rear suspension that could accommodate a disappearing seat and the optional all-wheel-drive system. That said, the T&C was the most enjoyable minivan to drive in our test. I liked the sporty demeanor that comes from the responsive steering, the good power delivery and the stable suspension. It's also a good-looking minivan and has a luxurious interior. But minivans need to be practical and functional above all else, and that's where the T&C slips in the rankings. I'm not fond of the control layout, the lack of important features and the unknown reliability record. Chrysler Town & Country? Good, but by no means great.

Executive Editor Karl Brauer says:
The redesigned Chrysler minivan is by far the most disappointing product in this test; and it's not because it is a truly terrible minivan, but because it could have been so much better. For instance, in terms of driving pleasure, the Town & Country is arguably the most fun-to-drive minivan ever made. The engine has great low-end punch, the steering combines ideal weighting with a fast ratio, and the brakes are confident and capable. Honestly, if I were never going to use a minivan for anything more than driving myself around the city, the Chrysler would be my clear choice.

But who buys a minivan to carry only himself around? For me (and, I would assume, most minivan buyers), the most important elements in designing the perfect family-hauler revolve around safety, reliability and functionality. Driving pleasure has to take a back seat (preferably one that folds away) to family needs. When it comes to truly useful features, the Town & Country is missing some key items, among them: a folding third-row seat; second-row seats that can slide fore, aft and sideways; and seat belts with automatic locking retractors for installing child seats. Each of these items greatly adds to a minivan's family friendliness, and with two-year-old vans from Honda and Mazda offering all of them, I can't understand how these brand-new Chryslers have none of them. And if Chrysler thinks that a power liftgate, removable center console and a razor-thin horsepower advantage are enough to overcome these deficiencies, they may be in for a rude awakening. And these are just the big issues I have with the Pentastar offerings. Other items, like the power doors that have to be activated with the key fob rather than the exterior handles, a lack of second-row legroom, and no seatbelt shoulder strap for center passengers in the third row, certainly don't help matters. Add to that the high purchase price, low residual value and spotty reliability record, and I'm left wondering what happened to the company that invented the minivan?

Road Test Editor Ed Hellwig says:

Easily the most comfortable (for the driver) and slick-looking van in the test, the T&C certainly has the others beat in the luxury department. The thickly padded power adjustable captain's chairs were the best of the bunch, and the redesigned dashboard and climate controls would be right at home in an LHS. Drive quality was also top-notch, with plenty of smooth power from the V6 and quick, decisive shifts from the automatic tranny. The suspension is taut even when loaded down with a full load of passengers, yet it still manages a decent ride when you're going solo.

Based purely on my time behind the wheel, I would put the Chrysler at, or near, the top of my list. Problems arise, however, when you begin to factor in all the little things that aren't so apparent from the driver seat. First and foremost is the ridiculous price. The thought of paying 35 G's for a minivan is sobering enough, but when you factor in the lack of feature content (no navigation system, no TV/VCP combo) the T&C starts to really look grim. Then you consider that compared to the Odyssey, the Town & Country isn't really the most spacious van in the group, doesn't provide a disappearing rear seat, and isn't likely to hold equivalent value over the long haul, and I can't help but drop the Chrysler down a notch or two on the ol' depth chart.

Stereo Evaluation - 2001 Chrysler Town & Country Limited

Ranking in stereo test: First

System Score: 8.25

Components: This is clearly the best-sounding system in this comparison test -- by a long shot. It consists of a full array of speakers and electronics that will impress almost everyone.

For starters, there's an 8-inch subwoofer located in the rear passenger side quarter-panel. That's right -- a minivan with a subwoofer. This gives a nice, full, round sound to the system. Added to this are a pair of 6x9-inch full-range speakers positioned on the side walls, just in front of the third seat. Next come a pair of 6-inch mid-bass drivers in the front doors coupled with -- drum roll, please -- a wonderful pair of mid/tweets located on the dashboard. These fire upward into the glass and reflect back into the cabin lending a nice spaciousness to the sound.

Electronics-wise, the system boasts a four-disc in-dash CD changer that routes through a nicely appointed head unit with a very user-friendly feel. Special features include a three-band graphic equalizer with a "mid" tone control, pop-out balance and fade buttons, and a meaty round volume knob. The system also offers steering wheel controls, including mode select, seek/scan and volume up/down. All in all, a nice setup, except for the funky presetting procedure that Chrysler seems attached to (well, someone has to be; certainly not us).

Performance: This is one of the best-sounding minivans we've heard and clearly a step above most of the competition in this class. As mentioned at the outset, the built-in subwoofer adds a nice kick in the, er, bottom end, lending the system a fullness usually not found in this class of vehicles. As if that weren't enough, the dash-loaded mid/tweets fill the cabin with expansive highs and intricate detail. The result is a system that sounds good whether you wanna lay back or rock. An overall excellent system.

Best Feature: Dash-mounted mid/tweets.

Worst Feature: Funky radio presets.

Conclusion: You don't normally associate the word perfection with minivans, so we won't go there. But this is a good sounding system.

— Scott Memmer

Third Place - 2001 Ford Windstar

Comparing the Windstar, Sienna, Town & Country and Montana turned out to be as ironic as you could imagine. In simple terms, some staff members liked the Chrysler and Pontiac considerably more than the Ford and Toyota. Yet, the two latter vans finished ahead of the two former ones. Why is that, you ask? It's because our scoring and evaluation system is effective at removing subjectivity (though not all of it) to provide a truly clear picture, one at which even we are often surprised.

That said, subjectively, nobody really liked the Windstar that much. In fact, compared to the Chrysler, some could hardly stand this outdated oldster from Dearborn. For starters it evokes no passion or emotion whatsoever, other than indifference, boredom and, on occasion, even annoyance.

To see what we're getting at, let's take a gander at the Ford's evaluation sheets. When asked to comment on steering performance, one editor said, "There is a significant dead-spot on center. Constant adjustments are required when driving on the freeway. When asked to rate Windstar's fun-to-drive level on a scale from 1 to 10, the same editor gave it a lowly 3, and said it's "certainly not."

Other aspects of the Windstar didn't escape criticism, either, including the dash layout, the engine and the interior materials. "There's no cruise-control light, and the overall design is too busy and not pleasant to look at. The memory seating switches are poorly placed and there's an overall cheap plastic feel," said one driver. As for the 200-horsepower 3.8-liter V6 that pulled the Ford to 60 mph in 9.6 seconds, "It's rather loud and unrefined in the higher rpm range," said another driver. The 205-horsepower 4.0-liter SOHC V6 from the Explorer would do wonders for overall drivetrain refinement in this van.

Another driver summed up the Ford's overall disheveled look succinctly. "There is nothing cohesive about its design, inside or out. It looks like an amalgamation of tacked-on trim pieces and divergent styling cues. Our chrome and fake wood bedecked Limited test van simply serves to exacerbate this impression -- lower line Windstars look infinitely cleaner in terms of design."

The same editor had an overall list of gripes that clearly show the Windstar could stand to be redesigned. He wrote that "the third-row seat isn't split, is extremely heavy and requires two people just to release it from the floor. The power side doors fight manual operation, unlike those on the Honda and Pontiac, which will slide closed with a simple yank on the exterior handle."

So, it's relatively clear that we're not really that nuts about the Windstar, yet it finished in the upper half of the group. Go figure, you say? Here's why: This van is loaded with features that simply make it a wise choice.

Right off the bat, there are numerous items on the Windstar that are innovative and thoughtful, and once you get used to them, they quickly become indispensable. For example, only in the Ford can you fold down two sun visors (one up front and one to the side) to keep the sun from hitting your eyes. In the other vans, you have to flip the visor back and forth constantly while driving northwest into a setting sun. Annoying, at best. Infuriating, at worst. As far as we're concerned, every new vehicle on the road should be so equipped. It's a cheap but effective convenience feature that could quickly turn into a critical safety feature, too.

The Windstar also comes with a parabolic mirror that allows the driver to view all the van's seating positions without having to turn around. This convex interior rearview mirror functions like the ones used in school buses and is the perfect way to keep an eye on small children without having to divert your attention from the road. Another safety feature, maybe?

Getting to the real safety features, the Windstar is the clear winner in this category. Do you want the safest minivan on the road, period? Look no further. With all due respect to the Honda Odyssey, which matches the Ford in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash testing with quadruple five-star ratings (even though the Honda does it without side airbags), if you really want to split hairs, the Windstar is safer for the smaller-statured driver. Why? Two words, dear reader: adjustable pedals. The Windstar's adjustable accelerator and brake pedals allow the driver to sit farther away from the steering-wheel airbag, meaning that when it deploys, there's less of a chance of the bag causing injury. For any driver, shorter than, say, 5-foot 3-inches, the Windstar is the clear choice if safety is your main consideration. And while the Honda makes the NHTSA grade without side airbags, it's still nice to know they're available (and standard on the Limited) if you opt for the Ford. In both our safety features scoring and our "must-have" features list, the Windstar took top marks.

Furthermore, Ford's AdvanceTrac stability control system should be turning up as an available option sometime after May 2001. As it was, the Toyota Sienna was the only van in this test with stability control.

It's not as if the Windstar is simply a safety champ, with the rest to be considered a total penalty box. There are other reasons to own one, despite the fact that it's nearing the end of its shelf life. One editor who spent the entire evaluation trip with three full-sized adult camera-crew people and a slew of video gear on board had these kind words for the Ford's suspension, even though some drivers found it wallowy and it finished last in suspension category rankings during our driving evaluations: "Mechanically, the Windstar's suspension, when loaded with people and gear, provides a soft ride and rarely bottoms out. Empty, the van feels taut and sporty."

Summing up, the Windstar is a van that most might not enjoy much for all those intangible reasons that people like or don't like any given car, truck or minivan. But we'd humbly submit that the fact that a vehicle has the greatest potential to save the life of yourself or a loved one could be the most compelling reason of all to actually buy one.

Second Opinions

Road Test Editor Ed Hellwig says:
Having never driven a Windstar previously, I was a little disappointed in the entry from Ford. The nondescript styling certainly didn't offend and on paper it seemed like it should compete favorably, but out on the road, its raucous engine and gummy suspension did little to earn favor with this editor.

Although blessed with a stout 240 foot-pounds of torque, the Windstar still gasped for air when asked to perform basic passing maneuvers, and don't even think about taking turns at anything more that the posted limit. The suspension is not dangerously soft, but it sure doesn't inspire much confidence in the accident-avoidance department. Steering was acceptably light, but there was little in the feedback department. Transmission shifts were firm, but nowhere near as precise as the Town & Country's or Montana's units.

Inside, the interior design was simple and upscale-looking, although like the MPV, the use of fake wood accents looked out of place in a vehicle intended for carpool duty. The steering wheel was large and thick for a good grip, and the adjustable pedals are something that every minivan should incorporate. The climate controls were well marked and uncluttered for easy operation and the in-dash CD changer was a welcome surprise.

Despite the clean design and helpful interior features, the Windstar's lethargic road manners make it less appealing by the mile. Granted, minivans are rarely known for their impressive driving dynamics, but after driving well-behaved vehicles like the MPV and Town & Country, the Windstar's lack of road feel and unremarkable acceleration leave it in third place in this test.

Road Test Editor John DiPietro says:
Let's be honest, minivan buyers aren't as interested in ultimate handling as much as useful features that make toting around the kids easier and more enjoyable. And our top-of-the-line Windstar Limited was chock full of gadgets that should appeal to stressed-out parents everywhere. A sonar parking assist helps nervous drivers parallel park the Windstar in a space-efficient (and bumper-saving) manner and also alerts them to the presence of anything else behind the minivan, such as a small child, while they are backing up. A built-in voice message recorder helps remind the harried parent that Jimmy's practice is getting over late today or that Julie's orthodontist appointment is Friday at 2:00. And a convex mirror that flips down from the headliner allows parents to check on the status of the kids in back when things seem too quiet back there.

Although some of my cohorts don't agree, I find the Ford to be one of the best-looking minivans. Its tasteful use of chrome accents make it more stylish than the Odyssey without being gaudy. And a cursory glance at the Limited's cabin may have you thinking "Lincoln," as the plush seats, lavish amounts of (fake) wood trim and a real wood and leather steering wheel mimic the interior of a luxury car. And front-seat comfort was among the best, especially in the area of lumbar support. But a discordant element in the otherwise pleasant interior was the exposed power seat motor and wires under the driver seat that should've been covered by either a vinyl or carpeted panel.

Where the Ford loses ground is in the areas of engine refinement (the V6 makes good power but sounds coarse when pressed) and suspension tuning (it could be tightened up a bit to get rid of the sloppy handling when driven through twisty sections). But chances are, most folks would appreciate the Windstar's many thoughtful features and wouldn't notice the engine's gruffness or the suspension's somewhat flaccid nature.

Senior Editor Brent Romans says:
On paper, I like the Windstar quite a bit. I'm impressed by the extensive feature content, especially those related to safety. The adjustable pedals are a neat feature for people of shorter stature, allowing them to sit farther away from the airbag-equipped steering wheel. The Windstar is the only minivan to offer this. The same goes for the nifty conversation mirror. Later in 2001, Ford will offer a stability control system (called AdvanceTrac) that will help limit the chance of dangerous skids and spins. There's also optional side airbags for the front passengers and a parking aid sensor to help avoid backing up into light poles in the local supermarket parking lot. But wait, there's more! There's also an in-dash six-disc CD changer and an entertainment system with a high-quality LCD monitor. Crashworthiness is excellent, with the Windstar earning a five-star rating in front and side impacts for NHTSA crash test results and a "good" rating for the IIHS offset crash test. This is all very impressive, but the Windstar belly flops when it comes to the driving experience. The engine provides good torque but it's loud. The steering requires constant adjustment when driving on the freeway, and the suspension is overly isolating. Are these concerns important to you? If not, then the Windstar is a good minivan to consider. But for myself, I'll pass and take an Odyssey or a Town & Country instead.

Stereo Evaluation - 2001 Ford Windstar

Ranking in stereo test: Fifth

System Score: 5.5

Components: This system contains what I've come to call the "standard-issue" Ford/Lincoln head unit, which isn't such a bad thing. This is a nicely appointed radio with good ergonomic feel and usability. Most functions on this faceplate, including preset buttons and tone controls, are widely spaced and easily accessible. My main complaint is the use of rocker panels for tuning, tone, balance/fade and the like. This is less convenient than round dials. The main saving grace is a built-in six-disc CD changer.

Speaker-wise, this system falls into the same category as the Pontiac Montana -- a nicely appointed radio backed by mediocre speakers. In many vehicles, Ford now has 5x7-inch speakers as standard, which don't have the sound quality of other shapes and sizes. In the Windstar, there are only two pair -- one in the front door and one in the rear sliding door. And they don't sound very good. To make matters worse, there are no tweeters or subwoofers to supplement the sound of the stock speaker locations. The result is a less-than-impressive sounding system.

Performance: Other than decent midrange performance, this system lacks quality sound reproduction. Horns are boxy and restricted, bass is flabby and diffuse, vocals are muted and dull. Don't write home about this one, unless you're planning on asking for more money to upgrade the stereo.

Best Feature: In-dash, six-disc CD changer.

Worst Feature: Lousy speakers.

Conclusion: Ford does a great job with sound systems in its SUV line. Maybe the company thinks minivan drivers are tone-deaf.

Scott Memmer

Video Evaluation - 2001 Ford Windstar

Ranking in video test: Second

System score: 7.5

Components: The system consists of a 6.4-inch fold-down video screen, a video cassette player and a wireless remote control. All audio signal is channeled through the car's sound system. One major drawback: The remote unit has no volume control.

Performance: One of the nicest things about this system is the speaker positioning. Because the rear speakers are located in the sliding doors, the speakers are right there beside the rear passengers. This is significant, since wind and road noise can rob a video system of quality sound. Unlike the Toyota Sienna and the Pontiac Montana, both of which project audio from behind the second seat, the Ford Windstar's speakers are perfectly located for video viewing. Unfortunately, the lack of features on the remote control and the slightly smaller video screen size keep this system from scoring higher.

Best Feature: Great speaker positioning.

Worst Feature: Lack of volume control on remote.

Conclusion: This is a great little video system that is just slightly underfeatured.

Scott Memmer

Second Place - 2001 Toyota Sienna

The Toyota Sienna is in the same boat as the Windstar, but taken a step further. Strangely enough, it's a better vehicle than the Ford, but subjectively we like it even less. What's the deal? Why does a vehicle that does most things pretty darn well have to be so dry, so uninspiring, so boring? At least the Ford has some morsel of personality. Some wood here. An attractive set of aluminum wheels there. The Toyota? Don't bother.

The Sienna might be one of the most lifeless and least enjoyable vehicles on the road. And in the minds of some editors involved with this test, it's a winner in terms of doing a great job of putting you to sleep. It almost makes us wish we were evaluating washing machines or microwaves instead.

Looking at the evaluation sheets, one could argue that the Sienna is in danger of putting its driver to sleep, too. On a scale from 1 to 10, the highest score it got for the fun-to-drive category was a 6. Most gave it a 4 or a 5. And we haven't even begun to look at appearance. As far as exterior design (a category on our evaluation sheets), another editor gave it a 3, saying that it's "bo-ring. Most of these vans I just feel apathy about in terms of looks, but the Sienna I find officially goofy." Well, at least that editor was able to elicit some emotional reaction to the Sienna.

Functionally, the Sienna isn't so wonderful in some areas, either. One driver found the front seats "horribly uncomfortable, with short bottom cushions, a lack of adjustment and a lack of fore-aft travel." He also noted that "ergonomically, the stereo is a disaster, mainly because it is just about mounted on the floor." Other miscues in the same area of the van include a center-console storage unit for the video cassette player that lacks enough height to serve as an armrest and the chance to help the Sienna's somewhat meager storage space by creating a cubby, console-top bin or cupholders on the lid that covers the video cassette player.

So, if Toyota's minivan entry is unable to generate emotional interest, then why did it finish this far up the scale? Simple. The Toyota is about as good as it gets from an appliance standpoint. It does everything quite well, has crash-test scores surpassed only by the Ford and the Honda and is quietly the second-best-performing van of all in terms of acceleration, right behind the Honda. Furthermore, the Sienna has an excellent reputation for reliability, strong predicted resale value and a smooth powertrain.

One of the things a minivan needs to do well is carry passengers in relative comfort -- the one editor who couldn't stand the driver seat notwithstanding. Several passengers seemed to enjoy the Sienna's second- and third-row seats, and they are probably a good place to fall asleep -- an easy thing to do in this van. The second row got high marks from one editor (who was a passenger and didn't drive the vans). He relates: "The articulating headrests supported my head perfectly, and there was adequate thigh support. There was also enough room under the seat in front of me for my feet. Headroom was a little tight, but in general was OK. Overall, cushioning and bolstering was far more comfortable than in the Chrysler. An added bonus" our passenger continued, "is that there is no hard plastic in the front seat backs upon which to hit your knees."

Historically, Toyotas have proven to be among the best-screwed-together cars and trucks you can buy, and the Sienna is no exception. One driver said nice things about the Sienna's interior materials, noting that they're "mostly very good, but there is a little more hard plastic than I expected." Of course, you pay for the quality of a Toyota, as it matched the Windstar for being the second most expensive vehicle in this test, behind only the Town & Country.

And like the Windstar, the Sienna is up there big time in the safety features arena and in the realm of crash test scores. Of the four National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash-test categories, the Sienna only deviated from perfect in one category, getting four stars in the side impact front test. In all three other categories, the Toyota matched the Ford and the Honda with five stars each.

The Toyota also shines in the area of having the goods to avoid an accident in the first place. It was the only van of the six to have stability control, which is optional and bundled in with traction control. In the area of other safety features, it scored only behind the Ford with such attributes as ABS with Brake Assist, a low-tire pressure warning system and side airbags. One could argue that the Ford might be the safest van of all our test vehicles, but a strong argument could be made for the Sienna since it's the only one that had stability control. And while it's scheduled to be optional on the Windstar later this year, Ford's AdvanceTrac system wasn't available at the time of our test.

Interestingly, while the Sienna bored us to tears, it quietly cleaned up shop at the test track. Too bad its swift performance results don't do more for our Toyota minivan lust factor. But whatever the case, the Sienna's 210-horsepower 3.0-liter V6 pulled the van to 60 mph quicker than any other van save for the Honda, getting there in 9.3 seconds. It also ran well the rest of the way down track, too, completing the quarter-mile in 17 seconds flat at 81.6 mph. Braking was also impressive, as it stopped nearly as quickly as the Mazda MPV, halting from 60 mph in just 131 feet -- a considerable 10 feet better than the last-place-in-braking Honda.

As we said before, the Sienna is as appliance-like as can be. It's easily the most mundane and uninteresting vehicle in this comparison. But "Think with your head, and the Toyota is a compelling choice," said one driver. And like the Windstar, it's as safe as the day is long. Plus, as with any Toyota, its stone-like reliability is part of the deal.

Second Opinions

Executive Editor Karl Brauer says:
The Sienna represented a bizarre dichotomy in my eyes. On a purely emotional level, I didn't like the thing. The outer shape is too bulbous and pod-like, and the interior design is rather bland. Even the name, Sienna, sounds more like a candidate for road kill than a minivan. "Honey, what was that noise under the car?" "Oh, just another Sienna that decided to cross the street at the wrong moment."

But within minutes of getting into the Toyota, I decided it was among the best minivans in the test. The second-row seats were an excellent blend of "cush" and firmness. The cabin was whisper-quiet at highway speeds, and the power sliding doors closed quickly with a reassuring click rather than the many buzzes and whines emitted by the Chrysler. Feature content in the Sienna is also high, with items like a low tire-pressure warning system and optional side airbags giving it an edge over the Honda.

I'd like to see Toyota add a third-row folding seat and, as long as we're asking for favors, could they maybe redesign the exterior to make it more Harrison Ford, less Richard Simmons? Obviously, it still has Toyota quality going for it, giving it the edge over the Pontiac, Chrysler, Mazda and Ford in terms of piece of mind. Other than the Odyssey, it's probably the best minivan on the market, road kill connotations not withstanding.

Senior Editor Brent Romans says:
Wonder Woman flies an invisible jet. Do you know what her ground transportation is? A Toyota Sienna minivan. I'm serious. There are very few vehicles I've driven that are as inert as the Sienna. I suppose this is of little surprise. You thought a Camry was boring? Well, take it, outfit it with even more unassuming minivan clothes, and you've got the Sienna, a rolling blob with as much personality as a bowl of granola. This is not a vehicle you want to impress a hot date with (and I say this based on personal experience, actually). However, this is an excellent vehicle for daily family life. It whisks you from one destination to the next with nary a worry, allowing you to better spend your time wondering who will win the next CBS episode of Survivor III: Downtown Detroit. The Sienna is very easy to drive, with the V6 providing decent power. It would seem that all there is to do is put gas in it and stop by the Toyota dealership every 7,000 miles or so. Problems? Sure, it has some. The steering is mushy and I would expect a better payoff in ride comfort given the wallowing suspension. There's also not much in terms of high-level feature content other than the entertainment system. Ranked on a pure "what minivan do you want to drive?" scale, the Sienna comes very close to last for me. But minivans are appliances on wheels, and the Sienna is about as durable as they come. That's good enough for most people, and that's why Toyota sells so many of them.

Road Test Editor John DiPietro says:
Quietly competent. That best sums up what I thought of the Sienna. The smooth, unruffled nature of the powerteam exemplifies this -- acceleration from the creamy V6 is powerful and the engine barely murmurs, even when you've got your right foot to the floor. Gear changes take place unnoticed and braking is swift with good pedal feel. And though the steering is isolated, handling is composed. Another plus in terms of hardware is that the Sienna can be equipped with stability control, a big benefit in this safety-conscious segment.

The Sienna rang in at a pricey $35 large and drew criticism for this. The Toyota is one of the smaller minivans and doesn't have the luxurious interior ambiance (for example, fake wood) of the Ford or Chrysler, although it did have leather seating, a video cassette player, and a moon roof. That said, the video cassette player was overpriced at $1,795 (for comparison, the Windstar's VCP was $995); for that much, it should've been a DVD player. But if our tester was equipped the same as the Honda (meaning no stability system, leather, moon roof or VCP), it would've been around the same price.

Some of the other editors griped that the Sienna was boring, but give me a break, guys, these are minivans, not sports cars we're comparing here. Yes, when examined from a driving enthusiast's standpoint, the Sienna is a real snoozer. But when judged in respect to its intended mission, it does well, promising years of quiet, reliable service. What hurt the Sienna slightly was its smaller cabin and lack of fancy trim for its price.

Stereo Evaluation - 2001 Toyota Sienna

Ranking in stereo test: Third.

System Score: 7.0

Components: Toyota is a company that has struggled to be competitive in the stereo wars. Starting with the 2001 model year, however, the company has begun to show life in this area. The stereo in the Sienna, for instance, designed in conjunction with JBL, represents a significant improvement over previous efforts.

One reason for this is the well-appointed head unit Toyota has begun to install in most of its new vehicles. From the Celica to the Tacoma to the Sienna, it's pretty much the same setup. For starters, most of these vehicles now come standard with an in-dash six-disc CD changer that is built directly into the faceplate. This is a welcome alternative over the old-style changer that used to be mounted in the trunk. Loading and unloading CDs is now a snap. On top of this, the new-style head unit offers a wide topography with a great user interface: Buttons are large and easily accessible, the LED readout is legible day or night, controls are logical and reachable. Best of all, Toyota has reverted to a throwback design that just plain makes sense. Instead of the funky rocker panel controls we used to see in the '90s, the company has opted for large, round knobs not only for volume control but for radio tuning. This allows users to fine-tune radio stations quickly and easily -- a very welcome feature.

Speaker-wise, this system is a little less impressive. Speaker locations include a pair of 6.5-inch full-range drivers in the rear quarter-panels, as well as an identical pair in the front doors. The door speakers are electronically coupled to a pair of 1-inch tweeters built into the A-pillars above, which are well positioned and sound pretty good. Unlike some of the other minivans in this test, the Sienna does not offer a subwoofer.

Performance: Not great sound, but decent. The tweeters, more than anything else, enhance the sound quality in this vehicle. Because of the tweets, highs are expansive and intricate, midrange is well defined and open. Also, bass fairly kicks butt in this van -- a surprise considering the lack of a subwoofer. Female vocals soar, sax has a nice reedy sound, and percussion is, well, percussive. All in all, a respectable sounding system for so few speakers.

Best Feature: In-dash six-disc CD changer.

Worst Feature: Only six speakers -- and no sub.

Conclusion: Well, it's not the best-sounding system in the test, but neither is it the worst. Toyota continues to show consistent improvement in its audio systems.

Scott Memmer

Video Evaluation - 2001 Toyota Sienna

Ranking in video test: Third

Score: 6.0

Components. The system offers a nice 6.8-inch fold-down screen, a video cassette player and a wireless remote control. There are no headphones included in this system (at least there weren't any in the van we tested).

Performance. The video screen produces a clear and crisp image. Audio, likewise, comes through loud and clear. However, unlike the Ford Windstar, which boasts speakers mounted in the sliding doors, the sound here comes mainly from behind the viewer, not the side. This presents a problem, since our ears face forward, not backward. Worse than this, though, is the horribly inept owner's manual that comes with this video system. Our technology editor spent over half an hour trying to get this system fired up, and he has a solid background in automotive electronics. OK, so maybe he was having a bad day, but the owner's manual still struck him as confusing. Coupled with the bewildering on-screen prompts, our tech editor breathed a sigh of relief when he walked away from this one.

Best Feature: Crisp and clear video image.

Worst Feature: Confusing owner's manual.

Conclusion: Actual video performance of this system was high, but controls and instructions were a little confusing.

Scott Memmer

First Place - 2001 Honda Odyssey

The mid-pack finishing order of some of the vans came to us as quite a surprise. But we suspected all along that the Honda Odyssey would be difficult to dethrone. While sure, we actually like the Chrysler and Pontiac entries because they have some personality, and the Toyota and Ford are tough to go wrong with from a purely logical standpoint, the Honda seems to have it all. It has character, it's loaded with all kinds of useful features, it matches the Windstar's quadruple five-star National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash-test scores, and most of all, it came to dominate this comparison on the basis of one factor -- price.

Look at it this way. The last-place-finishing Mazda MPV was the lowest-priced van in this test. Guess what? The Honda stickered at a paltry $350 more! And that's with its optional navigation system. Order an Odyssey EX without the navigation system, and its price drops $2,000. Further still, a slightly decontented LX model checks in at a positively dirt-cheap $23,900 -- or a shocking $13,000 less than our loaded-for-bear Chrysler Town & Country Limited. In fact, an Oddy LX only gives up such items to the EX as aluminum wheels, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, a homelink garage-door opening system, power-sliding side doors and a power driver seat. The Odyssey so dominated the pricing category of this test that if it had stickered at $5,000 more than our test vehicle, it still would've won overall.

Take price completely out of the picture, and the Honda is still the best minivan you can buy. But even Honda's heroic effort in the minivan market segment isn't without flaws. First up for the hyper-safety minded, the Odyssey isn't available with side airbags. And if you are thinking of soft, supple leather seats such as found in all five other vans, forget it in the Honda. The list of things you can't get on an Odyssey continues in the form of an entertainment system and rear audio controls.

Our gripes continued once we got moving in the Honda, but these were relatively minor. For example, one editor commented the Odyssey simply "feels big." And he's right. This van has the second largest cargo capacity of all six vans at 146.1 cubic-feet with the second-row seats removed and the third-row seat folded into the floor.

Some said the 3.5-liter V6 seemed to lack low-end torque, which makes sense since the high-revving VTEC motor is saddled with more than 4,300 pounds of curb weight. Others noted that the steering is a little on the heavy side in terms of effort, but it's still accurate and linear.

OK, even when we're trying to carp on the Odyssey, we end up praising it. Trust us, this van is that good. Even when it comes to things that, to some people, don't really matter, the Honda runs away from the crowd -- literally.

At the test track, further cementing its stranglehold on the minivan crown, the Honda was quickest when the gas pedal was matted. It got to 60 mph in just 9.1 seconds. It was also the best performer in the quarter-mile -- the only van to complete it in less than 17 seconds. Speed through our 600-foot slalom? Again the Honda was the winner traveling through at the fastest speed of 58.2 mph. Practically the only area in which our test vehicle faltered was in braking where it finished last, needing a still reasonable 141 feet to halt from 60 mph. Guess Honda ought to ditch the rear drums in favor of more effective discs.

Away from the track, the Honda shined brighter, even though some editors had a few issues with driving dynamics in terms of the Honda's size. One driver summed up Odyssey's demeanor on the road by saying, "It drives beautifully, with a lack of low-end torque and the transmission's reluctance to downshift for mid-range bursts of power its primary drivability flaws. Steering is responsive, power is substantial, the brakes feel confidence-inspiring, and ride quality is superior" (thanks to an independent rear suspension). He further solidified the Honda's place at the top by mentioning that "the Odyssey isn't a luxury liner, with plenty of low-rent interior plastics and mousy cloth upholstery. But experience with our 40,000-mile long-term test of a 1999 model proves these materials hold up over time. Our van had automatic climate control and a navigation system on board, all for less than $29,000."

Turning to safety, the Odyssey matches the Ford Windstar, which makes them the two safest vans of all. They're the only ones that get five-star ratings in all four NHTSA crash tests, and the Odyssey does the trick without side airbags. As for elements that help you avoid a wreck, an electronic brake-force distribution system and traction control are standard on all Odysseys -- including the price-leader LX model. And furthermore, the Honda has a unique feature -- again standard on all models -- that you can't get on any of the other vans. All seven seating positions inside get three-point seatbelts. That alone makes the middle passenger in the third row of the Honda better protected than in any of the other vans.

As for general passenger comfort, despite the sub par, although durable, cloth seats, the Odyssey is right there with the others. "Overall high marks for the front seats," commented one driver. "There's not much side bolstering, but they're still comfortable. In the second row, there's lots of foot room, plenty of legroom, lots of headroom and adequate thigh support." As for the third row, it was deemed to have "adequate legroom, plenty of foot room and massive headroom. Overall, the third row is adequate for adults, though not superb. There are a fair amount of bumps and vibrations transferred to riders in the third seat," the same reviewer concluded.

Besides the way the Odyssey drives, the safety features it has, Honda's reputation for quality and the amount of money it costs, there's one other factor that furthers its cause to take front and center among these six vans. That aspect is personality, poise, liveliness or whatever else you'd like to call it. The Odyssey has some character, a bit of chutzpah, if you will. Yes, it's still a boring ol' minivan, but at least it doesn't cause you to yawn like the Windstar, or worse yet, the Toyota Sienna. The Odyssey easily matches the Pontiac Montana for presence and comes close to being as pleasurable to pilot as the driver's van of the bunch, the Chrysler Town & Country.

Beyond these factors, though, it has so much more. And all these parameters combine to make the Honda Odyssey the clear victor in this group by a considerable margin.

Second Opinions

Road Test Ed Hellwig says:
Now here's a minivan that shines through as one of the best in the test for no other reason than its attention to the basics. There's hardly anything posh or gee-whiz about its interior, but the simplistic design and cavernous interior make it one of the most enjoyable to spend time in. The seats are on the flat side and lack any noticeable side bolstering, but they're otherwise comfortable for a wide range of body types and child seats. The center console is the best there is, with several cupholders that can handle just about anything, and a large flat tray that can accommodate multiple Happy Meals with ease. The dashboard manages to incorporate the only navigation system in the test, yet it still presents the least amount of switch- and knob-clutter.

The drivetrain is as smooth as one would expect from a Honda-built V6, but the lethargic transmission makes it feel less peppy than 210 horsepower would suggest. The suspension soaks up poor pavement with ease, although it doesn't feel quite as light on its feet as the Town & Country.

The absence of gadgets and gimmicks makes the Honda seem bland compared to the covered Town & Country, but when it comes down to everyday versatility, the Honda's fold-away third-row seat, cavernous interior and dual sliding doors give it a level of family friendliness that's hard to beat.

Associate Editor Liz Kim says:
The Honda Odyssey is the one for me. It's got all the right ingredients for a minivan -- plenty of storage space, surprisingly good handling, and the fact that I don't need to hire burly henchmen to remove the third-row seat. And it isn't as stultifying to drive as some of the other minivans are. The driver really appreciates the independent suspension when she's taking a corner. And there's actually some measure of steering feel, in addition to a tight turning radius! It makes one wonder how it is that its dimensions are one of the largest, yet it manages to feel precise and nimble. Plus, it's the only one that offers a navigation system, which I feel is more important than an entertainment setup. Fit and finish were the best of the group; my passenger commented that she felt the most comfortable in the seats. Most importantly, the Honda's got top-notch scores in crash tests. Muy importante for anyone's family, non?

All this, plus one of the lowest sticker prices of the bunch, as well as the fact that its resale value won't (unlike the third-row seats) magically disappear after a couple of years (unlike some of the minivans), and it was pretty clear cut what my first recommendation would be.

Road Test Editor John DiPietro says:
As with the Ford Windstar, the product planners at Honda put a lot of thought into the features of the Odyssey, such as the flip-up center tray with cupholders, hide-away third seat and three-point belts for all occupants. Dual trip meters and the option of a navigation system are great for those long road trips that the family is bound to take during school vacations.

Dynamically, the Honda is at or near the top of the class in every category. The V6 furnished brisk acceleration, and the transmission downshifted more readily than the last Odyssey I drove at length, a '99 in another Minivan Comparison. The road feel through the steering was among the best, but the Odyssey still felt large and not as buttoned-down as the Chrysler in the curves.

Not everything in Honda World is perfect, however. There were a few elements of the Odyssey that left me cold. Although the front and rear ends are mostly attractive, the profile looks broken up because of the exposed tracks for the sliding doors (unlike the Ford or Chrysler that hide them under the side windows). The upholstery looks as if it was lifted from the seats of an old 727 (and I'm not talking First Class), the steering wheel on the EX (the top trim level) should be leather-wrapped, and some wood-like accents for the dash and door panels would dress up the seriously austere cabin.

But buying a minivan is a decision dictated chiefly by logic and research, emotion rarely factors into this process. If I were shopping for a minivan, I'd look for one that is spacious, powerful, reliable, safe, well built and reasonably priced. In other words, I'd end up buying an Odyssey.

Stereo Evaluation - 2001 Honda Odyssey

Ranking in test: Fourth

System Score: 6.0

Components: This system is laid out a little differently from the those in the other vehicles in this test. The reason? There's a big fat GPS navigation screen sitting in the center of the dash. This means the head unit gets scrunched below it into a small space. Because of this, most of the controls are crowded and cluttered. Buttons are really bunched together and are on the small side. Helping to compensate for this, the steering wheel offers channel seek/scan and volume up/down controls. The head unit has a cassette and a single CD. An in-dash CD changer is not available.

Speakers include a pair of 6.5-inch full-range drivers in the side panels near the third seat, and an identical pair in the front doors. There are no tweeters or subwoofers in this vehicle.

Performance: Honda upgraded the Odyssey's stereo speakers for 2001, and now this is a respectable-sounding system. It has a surprisingly warm and accurate sound despite the lack of tweeters or a woofer. True, the amp is mediocre and doesn't push out a lot of volume, but the overall sonic characteristics at lower volume levels are fine. Female vocals are lively and smooth, acoustic strings have an excellent liveliness, and percussion and horns sound realistic.

Best Feature: Nice sound quality.

Worst Feature: Crowded controls and weak power amp.

Conclusion: This one is squarely in the middle of the pack. Not horrible and not dazzling, it will satisfy most consumers.

— Scott Memmer

Conclusion

This comparison test was a hard-fought battle to the very end. While some of the more fluffed-up comparos we've seen might say something like "They're all good," the truth is that none of these vans is truly horrible, and none of them would be an outright foolish purchase. But clearly some are better (in some cases much better) than others and some will appeal to a more specific audience.

For example, the Mazda MPV is a good way to go if you want the smallest and easiest-to-manage minivan on the market. The problem is that you can get an Odyssey for about the same MSRP. The Pontiac Montana and Chrysler Town & Country are the most personality-filled and emotionally appealing vans of the mid-pack finishers. But the Honda has both qualities, and it costs much less. Then there are the Ford Windstar and Toyota Sienna. Bland, yes, but they're packed with the good stuff that makes them wise choices when you go to join the rubber with the road.

But one van has to win, which leaves the clear winner the Honda Odyssey. Sure, it's not perfect, and there are some features you can't get on it that are available on the others. But it's as close to perfect as you're gonna get in this segment, and its price cements the deal even further. Unmistakably, the Honda Odyssey -- in EX or LX trim -- is still the best minivan you can buy, and we don't see that changing anytime in the foreseeable future.

Engine Performance
Vehicle Score Ranking
Chrysler 92 1
Honda 86 2
Toyota 74 3(t)
Pontiac 74 3(t)
Ford 66 4
Mazda 60 5
Transmission Performance
Vehicle Score Ranking
Chrysler 82 1(t)
Honda 82 1(t)
Pontiac 80 2
Toyota 74 3
Ford 70 4(t)
Mazda 70 4(t)
Braking Feel/Performance
Vehicle Score Ranking
Mazda 82 1
Ford 78 2(t)
Honda 78 2(t)
Chrysler 78 2(t)
Toyota 74 3
Pontiac 68 4
Suspension Performance
Vehicle Score Ranking
Chrysler 92 1
Honda 78 2
Toyota 72 3(t)
Mazda 72 3(t)
Pontiac 64 4
Ford 56 5
Tire Performance
Vehicle Score Ranking
Chrysler 84 1
Honda 78 2
Mazda 74 3(t)
Toyota 74 3(t)
Pontiac 72 4(t)
Ford 72 4(t)
Steering Performance
Vehicle Score Ranking
Chrysler 86 1
Mazda 80 2
Honda 78 3
Toyota 72 4
Ford 64 5
Pontiac 62 6
Fun to Drive
Vehicle Score Ranking
Chrysler 76 1
Honda 74 2
Mazda 68 3
Toyota 54 4
Ford 52 5
Pontiac 50 6
Seat Comfort Front
Vehicle Score Ranking
Chrysler 90 1
Honda 76 2(t)
Pontiac 76 2(t)
Toyota 76 2(t)
Ford 74 3
Mazda 64 4
Seat Comfort Rear
Vehicle Score Ranking
Chrysler 82 1
Toyota 80 2
Honda 78 3(t)
Pontiac 78 3(t)
Ford 72 4
Mazda 60 5
Wind and Road Noise
Vehicle Score Ranking
Chrysler 82 1
Toyota 74 2(t)
Honda 74 2(t)
Ford 68 3(t)
Pontiac 68 3(t)
Mazda 62 4
Rattles and Squeaks
Vehicle Score Ranking
Chrysler 98 1(t)
Honda 98 1(t)
Toyota 94 2
Mazda 92 3
Ford 90 4
Pontiac 86 5
Climate Contols/Stereo Operation
Vehicle Score Ranking
Pontiac 88 1
Mazda 84 2
Toyota 74 3(t)
Chrysler 74 3(t)
Ford 70 4(t)
Honda 70 4(t)
Secondary Control Operation
Vehicle Score Ranking
Chrysler 82 1
Honda 78 2(t)
Mazda 78 2(t)
Toyota 78 2(t)
Ford 72 3
Pontiac 64 4
Cupholders
Vehicle Score Ranking
Chrysler 88 1
Honda 86 2
Toyota 80 3
Mazda 72 4
Ford 70 5
Pontiac 68 6
Exterior Design
Vehicle Score Ranking
Chrysler 90 1
Honda 74 2(t)
Mazda 74 2(t)
Ford 72 3
Toyota 66 4
Pontiac 58 5
Overall Build Quality
Vehicle Score Ranking
Honda 90 1
Toyota 88 2
Chrysler 80 3
Mazda 78 4
Ford 76 5
Pontiac 70 6
Entry/Exit
Vehicle Score Ranking
Honda 78 1
Pontiac 76 2(t)
Chrysler 76 2(t)
Ford 74 3(t)
Mazda 74 3(t)
Toyota 74 3(t)
Expanding/Loading Cargo
Vehicle Score Ranking
Honda 96 1
Toyota 72 2
Chrysler 70 3
Pontiac 68 4
Mazda 66 5
Ford 60 6
Storage Space
Vehicle Score Ranking
Honda 94 1
Chrysler 84 2
Ford 72 3(t)
Pontiac 72 3(t)
Toyota 70 4
Mazda 66 5

The modern minivan has literally hundreds of features. Every year, the manufacturers come up with new ways to make them more convenient, more efficient and generally better. Our purpose with the features list is to highlight those bits that we think are the most important to the minivan buyer. It also gives us the chance to showcase items that are new technologies or updates of current innovations. For example, who would've ever thought that minivans would have power sliding doors -- on both sides, no less? Now, they're expected, almost mandatory, on any new van. The list also gives you the chance to compare and contrast which vans have certain features and which don't. Let's take a look.

Features List

Features List
  Chrysler Town & Country Limited Ford Windstar Limited Honda Odyssey EX
Adjustable Pedals NA S NA
Adjustable Fore/Aft 2nd-Row Seating NA S S
Double Sunvisors NA S NA
Factory-installed Entertainment System (including video cassette player) O O NA
Hideaway Rear Seat (don't have to remove, 3rd row folds into floor) NA NA S
Front and Rear Audio Controls NA S NA
Front and Rear Climate Controls S S S
Navigation System NA NA O
Reverse Sensing System NA S NA
Power Sliding Doors S S S
In-dash Four- or Six-Disc CD Changer O S NA
Side Airbags S S NA
Steering Wheel-Mounted Audio Controls S NA S
Traction Control S S S
 
  Mazda MPV ES Pontiac Montana Toyota Sienna XLE
Adjustable Pedals NA NA NA
Adjustable Fore/Aft 2nd-Row Seating S NA S
Double Sunvisors NA NA NA
Factory-installed Entertainment System (including video cassette player) O O O
Hideaway Rear Seat (don't have to remove, 3rd row folds into floor) S O NA
Front and Rear Audio Controls NA O O
Front and Rear Climate Controls S O S
Navigation System NA NA NA
Reverse Sensing System NA O NA
Power Sliding Doors NA O O
In-dash Four- or Six-Disc CD Changer O O O
Side Airbags S S O
Steering Wheel-Mounted Audio Controls NA O S
Traction Control NA O O

S = Standard O = Optional NA = Not available
Adjustable Pedals: Although not technically a safety feature, adjustable pedals could quickly become so for shorter drivers. They're standard on the Ford Windstar Limited and not available on any of the other vans.

Adjustable Fore/Aft Second-Row Seating: This feature allows the second-row chairs to be slid back a few inches, thereby giving occupants added legroom. We found it surprising that the new Chrysler vans don't have this seemingly important comfort feature. The Pontiac Montana was the only other van not to have it.

Double Sunvisors: Are we splitting hairs with this often-overlooked feature? We don't think so. As with several other items, the Windstar is the only van you can get with this very handy convenience. A low-setting sun blazing in your eyes can be dangerous and having to flip a visor back-and-forth constantly can be quite annoying. Certainly hundreds of accidents every year can be attributed to drivers' being blinded by the sun. Why can't the other five van makers address this issue like Ford did at least a couple years ago?

Entertainment System: Who wants to watch The Lion King? These systems include a video cassette player (VCP), and they're a great way to keep children occupied on long trips (just as long as there are headphones, in case the driver wants quiet). Entertainment systems are optional on all the vans except the Honda. It's a dealer-installed option on the Chrysler vans and a factory-installed option on the other four.

Hideaway Rear Seat: The Honda Odyssey was the first van to popularize this feature when it was redesigned for the '99 model year, and it eliminates having to remove a heavy third-row seat. The Mazda MPV and Pontiac Montana also have it. The fact that this trick feature isn't even optional on the new Chryslers and Dodges is more puzzling to us than nearly anything else about these vans.

Front and Rear Audio Controls: Controlling volume and source (radio, CD or cassette) is convenient for second-row passengers. And if those passengers use headphones, front seat passengers can ride in silence, if desired. This attribute is not available on the Chrysler, Honda or Mazda vans.

Front and Rear Climate Controls: Controlling ventilation is an important comfort feature for second-row passengers. It's standard on all the vans except the Pontiac, where it's optional.

GPS Navigation System: Honda's navigation system is easy to use, and it will almost always save you if you get lost or can't find a particular address. It's not available on any of the other vans. It's the only available option on the Odyssey EX.

Power Sliding Doors: All the vans except the Mazda have this rarely overlooked feature, which allows you to open the doors when your hands are full with the push of a button on the key fob. They can also be opened from inside the van without leaving the driver seat. Some work better than others. For example, the Chrysler van requires pushing the button on the key fob for the doors to work -- they won't open under power when you unlatch them by hand, and the Odyssey's doors move too slowly.

Reverse Sensing System: This is an important safety feature that helps to avoid backing over small children or objects that might be hidden behind the van. It's also helpful during parallel parking and to keep you from backing over something you can't see in a driveway. This item is only available on the Windstar (standard) and Montana (optional).

In-Dash CD Changer: Strangely, while the Odyssey is the only van with an available navigation system, it's also the only van that doesn't offer this relatively new feature. Standard on the Windstar, it's optional on the other four. The Town & Country has a four-disc changer, and the rest have six-disc changers.

Side Airbags: Although the Odyssey got quadruple five-star National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash-test scores without side airbags, it's still the only van in which you can't get them. They're standard on four of the others and optional on the Toyota Sienna.

Steering-Wheel-Mounted Audio Controls: While many vehicles these days have steering wheel-mounted cruise control buttons, our editors considered audio controls on the wheel to be an important feature, because they allow the driver to operate the volume and tune the radio or run the CD player without taking his hands off the wheel. The Windstar and Sienna were the only two in this test that were not so equipped. Optional on the Pontiac Montana, they're standard on the other three vans.

Traction Control: Along with side airbags, traction control was the only other safety feature on this list. It's great insurance in bad weather and allows engine power to be applied incrementally in other slippery conditions. It's standard on the Chrysler, Ford and Honda vans, optional on the Pontiac and Toyota and not available on the Mazda.

Dimensions and Capacities
  Chrysler Town & Country Limited Ford Windstar Limited Honda Odyssey EX
Curb weight, lbs. 4340 4283 4317
Overall length, in. 200.5 200.9 201.2
Overall width, in. 78.6 75.2 76.3
Overall height, in. 68.9 68.2 69.7
Wheelbase, in. 119.3 120.7 118.1
Headroom front, in. 39.6 39.3 41.2
Legroom front, in. 40.6 40.7 41.0
Shoulder room front, in. 62.9 60.9 62.6
Headroom middle, in. 39.1 40.7 40.0
Legroom middle, in. 39.7 38.6 40.0
Shoulder room middle, in. 64.7 NA 64.5
Headroom rear, in. 38.5 37.8 38.9
Legroom rear, in. 38.9 35.6 38.1
Shoulder room rear, in. 62.1 63.2 61.7
Cargo volume, cu. ft., behind rear seat 20.0 29.1 38.1
Cargo volume, cu. ft., behind middle seat 54.2 76.5 NA
Cargo volume, cu, ft., seats removed 167.9 139.4 146.1
 
  Mazda MPV ES Pontiac Montana Toyota Sienna XLE
Curb weight, lbs. 3682 3942 3932
Overall length, in. 187.0 200.9 194.1
Overall width, in. 72.1 72.0 73.4
Overall height, in. 68.7 68.2 66.9
Wheelbase, in. 111.8 121.0 114.2
Headroom front, in. 41.0 39.9 40.6
Legroom front, in. 40.8 39.9 41.9
Shoulder room front, in. 59.8 59.8 60.4
Headroom middle, in. 39.3 39.3 39.4
Legroom middle, in. 37.0 39.0 36.7
Shoulder room middle, in. 60.8 61.9 62.1
Headroom rear, in. 38.0 38.9 37.1
Legroom rear, in. 35.6 36.7 32.8
Shoulder room rear, in. 60.8 59.6 60.5
Cargo volume, cu. ft., behind rear seat 17.2 32.3 26.6
Cargo volume, cu. ft., behind middle seat 54.6 84.6 62.3
Cargo volume, cu, ft., seats removed 127.0 140.7 133.4
Engine/Transmission/Fuel Economy
  Chrysler Town & Country Limited Ford Windstar Limited Honda Odyssey EX
Type 12-valve OHV V6 12-valve OHV V6 24-valve SOHC V6
Displacement, liters 3.8 3.8 3.5
Horsepower, SAE net at rpm 215 @ 5,000 200 @ 4,900 210 @ 5,200
Torque, ft-lbs. at rpm 245 @ 4,000 240 @ 3,600 229 @ 4,300
Transaxle 4-spd automatic 4-spd automatic 4-spd automatic
Final drive ratio, :1 3.43 3.56 3.94
Fuel Economy, EPA city/hwy estimates 17/23 mpg 18/24 mpg 18/25 mpg
Fuel Economy, observed 19.7 mpg 19.4 mpg 19.6 mpg
 
  Mazda MPV ES Pontiac Montana Toyota Sienna XLE
Type 24-valve DOHC V6 12-valve OHV V6 24-valve DOHC V6
Displacement, liters 2.5 3.4 3.0
Horsepower, SAE net at rpm 160 @ 6,250 185 @ 5,200 210 @ 5,800
Torque, ft-lbs. at rpm 165 @ 4,250 210 @ 4,000 220 @ 4,400
Transaxle 4-spd automatic 4-spd automatic 4-spd automatic
Final drive ratio, :1 4.37 3.29 3.71
Fuel Economy, EPA city/hwy estimates 18/23 mpg 19/26 mpg 19/24 mpg
Fuel Economy, observed 18.4 mpg 19.8 mpg 20.5 mpg
Performance
  Chrysler Town & Country Limited Ford Windstar Limited Honda Odyssey EX
Zero-to-60 mph accel., sec 9.5 9.6 9.1
Quarter-mile accel., sec @ mph 17.2 @ 78.8 17.3 @ 78.4 16.9 @ 81.8
60-to-zero mph braking, sec 133 133 141
600-foot slalom, mph 57.4 55.2 58.2
 
  Mazda MPV ES Pontiac Montana Toyota Sienna XLE
Zero-to-60 mph accel., sec 11.6 10.1 9.3
Quarter-mile accel., sec @ mph 18.4 @ 74.2 17.4 @ 79.2 17.0 @ 81.6
60-to-zero mph braking, sec 128 138 131
600-foot slalom, mph 57.1 56.3 56.7
Suspension, brakes, wheels, Tires
  Chrysler Town & Country Limited Ford Windstar Limited Honda Odyssey EX
Suspension, front Iso struts with integral gas shocks, coil springs, asymmetrical lower control arms, antiroll bar MacPherson struts, lower control arms, coil springs, antiroll bar Struts, lower control arms, coil springs, antiroll bar
Suspension, rear single-leaf springs, tubular beam axle, track bar, gas shocks beam axle, coil springs, gas shocks independent double wishbone, coil springs
Front brakes vented disc vented disc vented disc
Rear brakes solid disc drum drum
Wheel size, inches 16x6.5, cast-aluminum 16x7, cast-aluminum 16x6.5, cast-aluminum
Tire Size 215/65R16 215/65R16 215/65R16
Turning radius, feet 39.4 39.3 37.7
 
  Mazda MPV ES Pontiac Montana Toyota Sienna XLE
Suspension, front Struts, lower control arms, coil springs, antiroll bar MacPherson struts, coil springs, lower control arms, antiroll bar MacPherson struts, lower control arms, gas shocks antiroll bar
Suspension, rear beam axle, coil springs, gas shocks open-section beam axle, integral antiroll bar, coil springs, gas shocks torsion beam axle, gas shocks
Front brakes vented disc vented disc vented disc
Rear brakes drum drum drum
Wheel size, inches 16x6.5, cast-aluminum 15x6, cast-aluminum 15x6.5, cast-aluminum
Tire Size 215/60R16 215/70R15 215/65R15
Turning radius, feet 37.4 39.7 40.0
Safety Features
  Chrysler Town & Country Limited Ford Windstar Limited Honda Odyssey EX
Exterior Features      
ABS (antilock brakes) S S S
Electronic brake distribution system NA NA S
Low tire-pressure warning system NA S NA
Self-sealing tires NA S NA
Stability control NA NA NA
Traction control S S S
       
Interior Features      
Child-proof locks for sliding doors S S S
Dual-stage or adjustable deployment front airbags S S S
Integrated second-row child seat O NA NA
LATCH--lower anchors and tethers for children (for installing a child seat) S S S
Side airbags S S NA
Three-point seatbelts at all seating positions NA NA S
 
  Mazda MPV ES Pontiac Montana Toyota Sienna XLE
Exterior Features      
ABS (antilock brakes) S S S
Electronic brake distribution system S NA S
Low tire-pressure warning system NA NA S
Self-sealing tires NA O NA
Stability control NA NA O
Traction control NA O O
       
Interior Features      
Child-proof locks for sliding doors S S S
Dual-stage or adjustable deployment front airbags S S S
Integrated second-row child seat NA NA NA
LATCH--lower anchors and tethers for children (for installing a child seat) S S S
Side airbags S S O
Three-point seatbelts at all seating positions NA NA NA
S = Standard O = Optional NA = Not available
NHTSA Crash Test Scores
  Chrysler Town & Country Limited Ford Windstar Limited Honda Odyssey EX
Frontal      
Driver 4 stars 5 stars 5 stars
Passenger 4 stars 5 stars 5 stars
Side      
Side Impact Front 5 stars 5 stars 5 stars
Side Impact Rear 5 stars 5 stars 5 stars
 
  Mazda MPV ES Pontiac Montana Toyota Sienna XLE
Frontal      
Driver 4 stars 4 stars 5 stars
Passenger 4 stars 3 stars 5 stars
Side      
Side Impact Front 5 stars 5 stars 4 stars
Side Impact Rear 5 stars 4 stars 5 stars
Warranty Information
  Chrysler Town & Country Limited Ford Windstar Limited Honda Odyssey EX
Basic 3 years/36,000 miles 3 years/36,000 miles 3 years/36,000 miles
Drivetrain 3 years/36,000 miles 3 years/36,000 miles 3 years/36,000 miles
Roadside Assistance 3 years/36,000 miles 3 years/36,000 miles NA
Rust 5 years/100,000 miles 5 years/unliminted miles 5 years/unliminted miles
 
  Mazda MPV ES Pontiac Montana Toyota Sienna XLE
Basic 3 years/50,000 miles 3 years/36,000 miles 3 years/36,000 miles
Drivetrain 3 years/50,000 miles 3 years/36,000 miles 5 years/60,000 miles
Roadside Assistance 3 years/50,000 miles 3 years/36,000 miles NA
Rust 5 years/100,000 miles 6 years/100,000 miles 5 years/unlimited miles

For the benefit of the prospective buyer, we removed the second- and third-row seats from each van or folded the third-row seats in the vans so equipped. Noted below are how long it takes to remove and install the seats in each van and also the weight of all the seats that are removable. The vans are listed in order of the fastest combined seat removal/install times.

The process of gathering this information involved having one editor go through each van while another timed how long it took him to remove and install the seats. We'll also note that the weight of each seat is approximate because we were at the test track and used a bathroom scale while another editor held each seat. We subtracted his weight from the reading on the scale to get a number for the weight of each seat.

Honda Odyssey
Removal time: 2:10
Installation time: 2:10
Weight of second-row seats: 51 pounds each
Weight of third-row seat: NA; seat folds into floor
Comments: The second-row seats are light, with no sharp metal hooks. Removal is easy, but inexact slots hamper installation. The door openings are on the small side. The third-row folding seat is easy to store.

Pontiac Montana
Removal time: 2:08
Installation time: 2:17
Weight of second-row seats: 59 pounds each
Weight of third-row seat: NA, seat folds into floor
Comments: The second-row seats have sharp metal hooks on the bottom that require careful handling. The size of the door openings was adequate.

Chrysler Town & Country
Removal time: 2:01
Installation time: 3:00
Weight of second-row seats: 65 pounds each
Weight of third-row seat: 128 pounds
Comments: The third-row seat is very heavy and bulky but overall is the easiest to remove and install compared to that of the other vans. The doors are sufficiently wide, and the instructions are clear and easy to understand.

Mazda MPV
Removal time: 2:28
Installation time: 3:16
Weight of second-row seats: 51 pounds each
Weight of third-row seat: NA; seat folds into floor
Comments: The doors are very small and difficult to get the second-row seats through. Removal of the second-row headrests is required before the seats can be taken out of the van. The seats are relatively light, however.

Toyota Sienna
Removal time: 3:11
Installation time: 2:54
Weight of second-row seats: 58 pounds each
Weight of third-row seats: 59 pounds each
Comments: The third-row is a bulky split-bench that's awkward to carry. The second-row seats are also somewhat bulky. The door opening is wide, and we had no trouble getting the seats through. Reinstalling the seats is easy.

Ford Windstar
Removal time: 3:03
Installation time: 4:43
Weight of second-row seats: 64 pounds each
Weight of third-row seat: 105 pounds
Comments: The release for the second-row seats is difficult to use, with sharp metal hooks on the bottom of the seats. The third row is very difficult for one person to lift by himself. The doors aren't wide enough, and you must maneuver to enter and exit with the seats. The confusing instructions were not very clearly marked.

Chrysler Town & Country owners:

"I spent almost a year deciding on a minivan. I drove my cousin's 2000 Odyssey extensively. It is quiet and rides well, but the driving experience left me cold. The transmission hesitates on downshifts and the low-end acceleration feels sluggish. When I first drove the 2001 T&C, I was amazed at its superiority over all its competitors. The Honda does not offer automatic climate control, power tailgate, leather interior, memory seats and many other features available on the T&C. And the T&C is measurably quieter, drives much better with a very smooth powertrain and has much better power side doors that can be overridden manually. I have had my car a month and have driven 2,500 miles. The vehicle is solid as a rock with absolutely no flaws that I can identify, and I am very demanding about my vehicles. My only complaint is that Chrysler failed to split the third seat in the Limited, although it did so in all the other minivan models. So I took my third seat out and [will leave] it in the garage until I need to carry more than four. Not a problem for me, but definitely an inconvenience for many minivan owners." -- wnycarguy, "Chrysler Town & Country vs Honda Odyssey," #320 of 537, Nov. 9, 2000

"I bought my 2001 T&C LXi a month ago after they had only been on the lot for about a week. The sticker price was $31,805. I was paying cash so I told them I didn't want to B.S., I would give them $30,000. No problem -- that's what I walked out the door paying. Options included were the 3.8-liter engine, dual power sliding doors, power lift gate, removable center console, traction control, the four-disc changer with steering wheel audio controls, roof rack, and side air bags. I love this van! It truly deserves the title of 'best minivan ever.' The engine is quiet at cruising speeds, but roars and lets you know you have an engine when you step on it. The Infinity stereo is probably the best stock system I have ever heard, and the steering wheel mounted controls are so nice. The power liftgate always gets comments and the power doors are even better. Both of my kids get a kick out of pressing the button behind the driver and passenger seats and watching the doors close. It's so easy that even my 2-year old can do it. I only have a couple of complaints. (1) The drink holder blocks the disc changer when holding drinks. (2) The hubcap retaining clips squeak. I've had it back to the dealership twice for this with only 2,000 miles on it, and they say that there's not much they can do and that they've had problems with them before. Not a huge problem since I plan on buying different rims for it anyways, but if you're not, then I suggest going with the premium stock rims." -- axle59, "Chrysler Town & Country vs Honda Odyssey," #311 of 537, Oct. 24, 2000

"Purchased our 2001 Limited four months ago and have only encountered one minor problem. The power liftgate would not open automatically from either the key fob or the overhead console. A simple door latch adjustment fixed this problem. Before buying the T&C we also looked for quite some time at the Odyssey and Windstar. Neither matched the T&C for comfort, ride quality, or quietness. The folding third seat was not a major issue for us since we will rarely, if ever, use the van for cargo (already own a Suburban for the big stuff). Based on our needs, we feel we have made a wise decision in choosing the T&C." -- lingf15e, "Chrysler Town & Country vs Honda Odyssey," #356 of 537, Jan. 3, 2001

"I have never owned a minivan before nor would I have even considered it before this year, but with a 3-year old and a 9-month old (and don't forget the 75-pound Golden Retriever), it only made sense to buy a van. My wife and I looked only at three vehicles -- the Toyota Sienna XLE, the Honda Odyssey, and the T&C LXi. Obviously, we knew the Japanese had good reputations for reliability. So we first drove the Toyota -- what a joke. Very cramped quarters, small cargo area, and who designed that clever stereo system, almost on the floor (that's convenient when your driving)? Also, moved side to side on highway with minimal wind. Next, we drove the T&C LXi with the 3.8-liter engine. Had a nice heavy car-like feel and plenty of options that are very useful (rear liftgate, side doors that worked better than the ones on the other vans, an air conditioning system with three separate zones and auto temp control, a stereo system with four-disc changer and unbelievable sound, trip computer, temp monitor, compass, movable center console with power outlet -- basically, very well loaded). I had never owned an American-made car before. So we were a little apprehensive about liking the van we actually liked best. Next, we went to the Honda dealer. I must admit I liked the Oddy better than I thought I would. The rear flip down seat is great. In the T&C LXi, the seats are 50/50 split -- they are less convenient than the Honda's, but that's only one aspect. Yes, the Honda and Toyota did get a great crash test result. Which is very important to us. Feature-wise, you can't compare the luxury of the T&C to any other van and even a lot of cars and SUVs. As far as resale, we are leasing. So although the residual value is important in calculating a payment, we were happy with the payment on all vehicles. We wound up going with the T&C LXi. So far (three weeks), it is one of the best vehicles I have ever driven. It is solidly built, has plenty of versatility, and hopefully, will not give us mechanical problems. After all, I am used to driving Japanese luxury cars. It is such a quiet ride. It compares interior sound-wise to our '98 Lexus LS 400. What would be a nice feature on minivans is if they would add HID headlamps.... By the way, the steering wheel on the Oddy is very thin and feels like you are driving a cheap import -- not as solid a feel as the sporty steering wheel on the T&C (maybe a very little thing but test driving it on a different day than my wife, we both noticed that). Bottom line: we absolutely love driving the T&C. Also, how come our cap cost for a lease on a $33,450 van retail ($29,000) was only ten to fifteen dollars more than an Oddy leasing at a price of $27,000?" -- bondguy, "Chrysler Town & Country vs Honda Odyssey," #451 of 537, Jan. 27, 2001

"I ...had to deal with what van suited me best. I had had two previous trouble-free Chrysler vans, so I was not looking at the Honda because of bad experiences with my Chrysler vans. I just wanted to see if it really was the 'BEST' minivan every magazine was toting. Plus, the price looked convincing. My previous vehicle was a 1996 Town & Country LXi. In a nutshell, I was not too impressed when I looked at an Odyssey EX on the showroom floor (already sold, though). It was nothing compared to my '96 T&C. It didn't have leather (sorry to all you people who think it's stupid or that it 43.56% vinyl), but leather was a must because of the comfort and cleanliness factor for me. It didn't have a power passenger seat, memory driver's seat and mirrors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a trip computer, temperature readout, a digital compass, dual zone air, decent sound system, etc. Some people think those are dumb things to fret about, but once you have them and get used to them, it'd be hard to then step down again. I realize for your basic, medium-equipped van, the Odyssey may bring you a good value, but I'll take my new 2001 T&C Limited any day. Here again, when comparing my new 2001 van to the Odyssey, the Odyssey doesn't offer heated seats, power liftgate (great for when your hands are full), tri-zone digital automatic temperature control, four-disc in-dash CD changer, auto headlights, head/torso side air bags, dual stage air bags, etc. And I got all this for only about $1,800 dollars more than what I was quoted for a loaded 2001 Honda Odyssey EX, which wasn't even loaded in my opinion and had a four-month waiting list. I managed to walk out the door with my new 2001 T&C Limited for about $30,000, where the Odyssey $28,500. I was looking for a van with the most comfort and luxury for the money, and the Odyssey just didn't cut it for my type of preferences. This is all just my opinion, and I realize why other people might choose the Odyssey, whether it be the name, the reputation, the convenient folding seat, a low MSRP, and/or a high resale. One thing to note is many people and magazines are saying the Odyssey has the best bang for your buck at MSRP, and the Chryslers are overpriced unreliable vans that can go up to $36,000 at MSRP. The difference is you can make great deals on the Chryslers and get the MSRP down a whole lot, whereas the Odyssey's price is 'take it or leave it,' with no dealing room...." -- dave210, "Chrysler Town & Country vs Honda Odyssey," #380 of 537, Jan. 15, 2001

Ford Windstar owners:

"We (the wife, two children and myself) love the van. In all honesty, I picked the safety, and she picked the options. She only missed the painted mirrors and heated seats. The children have their theater, and Daddy has peace of mind. The performance of the van has been great, but it only has about 3,000 miles on it. The motor does seem a little loud, but ...it is snappy. We find the interior very appealing (except I feel that the instrument panel is lackluster since I like gauges). The seats are incredibly comfortable, and in general we have never had a vehicle with so much luxury. If the rest of the van's life is anything like the first 3,000 miles, I would recommend this van over any other." -- callo, "Ford Windstar Problems II," #336 of 424, Feb. 17, 2001

"We got a new 2000 SE under the buyback program in the spring. In light of all the knocking of the Windstar is these topics, and our prior experience, I was skeptical [but] we could not wait four months for the Odyssey. However, 4,000 miles later, and just coming off a 1,000-mile round trip to Cape Cod, my impression of the Windstar is becoming more favorable. We loaded it up with baggage and five people, including stuff on the roof, and hung four bikes off a bike carrier from the rear hitch. I expected the van to be a bit ponderous and sluggish, and I barely noticed a change in the responsiveness -- testimony to the strong engine. The road manners were very solid, and I never felt like I was driving an overstuffed and overloaded vehicle. The comfort was excellent and mileage was OK (20-ish fully loaded at 60-70 mph). We also have not had any mechanical problems, yet. The radio is good to excellent. My only true complaint at this point is the noisy engine upon acceleration -- it sounds more like a truck than a car. In summary, we got a good deal because of the $3K rebate and 0.9 percent financing, and I am becoming a believer, although the real test will be reliability and quality as it ages." -- kent25, "Ford Windstar II," #215 of 396, Sept. 12, 2000

Honda Odyssey owners:

"Odyssey has most of what you're looking for in a minivan. Great price, lots of room for cargo and kids, great safety ratings and good resale value. You probably won't find 'super reliability' in any minivan out there these days but our Odyssey has been trouble-free. Our only complaint has been gas mileage -- we've been disappointed that it hasn't been what Honda claims it should be, but it's in the same ballpark with other vans of its size. As long as you don't let dealers add on a bunch of options you don't want, the Odyssey is a great value." -- mojo66, "Best van for family with 4 kids," #5 of 64, Jan. 11, 2001

"When we got our Ody last May our kids were 3 years old and 6 months. We carted those car seats from dealer to dealer to make sure they fit in well. Salespeople loved seeing us arrive!! The Dodge Grand Caravan was a good option for us (as was the Windstar -- really liked the adjustable pedals) and the deals and financing were great, but the features on the Ody met more of our needs. In the summer, we go to Maine almost every weekend. When we get there, we like to pop up the third row and cart Gramma and Papa with us so we can go out in one car. Also, we don't have a garage to store seats, and I can guarantee that my wife is not going to lift seats in and out of a van no matter how light they are." -- robr2, "Chrysler Town & Country vs Honda Odyssey," #488 of 537, Feb. 1, 2001

"When my wife and I were on the hunt for a minivan, we really settled between the Dodge Caravan (T&C) and the Ody. Both drove very well (I was very surprised, as I expected a truck-like handling for such big vehicles), but the Ody handled a bit better for my taste. I knew right off the bat that both minivans would work well with similar expectations for reliability (hey, minivans are very unreliable compared to sedans) -- so the differentiation was heavily on the practical and intangible items. The interior look and feel is very personal and subjective. The Odysseys have been accused of being 'plastic,' but I don't see it. On the other hand, the T&Cs had that cheap plastic mismatched molding look (especially the door locks) -- and still do for the 2001 models. If you want lots of nice knick-knacks, the 2001s have it, hands down. Lots of nice usability stuff, and some extremely well thought out stuff. It really does make the Odyssey's interior looks Spartan by comparison. But, thankfully, the Ody doesn't have that cheezy 'wood trim.' Safety was a big factor, and we've all discussed the validity of real world results vs. safety ratings. I personally chose to weigh the ratings a bit higher than real world results. After my harrowing experience with a drunk driver, I realized that not all accidents can be avoided -- as there are a lot of bad drivers out there. The magic seat was the clincher. We use it every week. Period. There is a price to be paid for the magic seat (that thunking noise on the gas tank when it is full), but it is easily ignored over time. The ability to hide the third seat is a Godsend. If my wife and I were to choose between the 2001 Ody and 2001 T&C, we would be mulling over the decision for a very long time. The big considerations would be: (1) T&C's transmission problems -- is it still there? (2) Honda's lack of side airbags. (3) T&C's automatic doors are definitely safer than the Ody's. (4) Honda's magic seat! (a.k.a. back-saver). IMHO people wait 3 months for delivery because it is worth the wait. If I'm spending my hard earned cash ($26K+ of it), then I want the best car that fits my needs...." -- mliong, "Chrysler Town & Country vs Honda Odyssey," #490 of 537, Feb. 1, 2001

"...I'd [recommend] the Odyssey because: (1) For the price it's a pretty good deal all around, even at MSRP. If your near Ohio or Kentucky, they seem to be getting them at $800-$1000 off that. (2) Yeah, you can't put the third seat down with all the kiddies in tow but if you need to haul stuff and can leave two of them at home its ever so convenient. (3) With the third seat up, you can still haul more stuff than any other van out there cause of the deep well that's left for storage in absence of the collapsed rear seat. It's killer when hauling bags of groceries, [because] they don't spill and you can put large number of them in there. (4) If you're into crash test results you can't beat the Ody, except of course, the Windstar (almost a tie, I think), so you could look there I guess. (5) I own one, have three kids 5 and under and love it...." -- masshoosier, "Best van for family with 4 kids," #15 of 64, Jan 21, 2001

"I have about 4,000 miles on my van and am pleased with it so far. It eats gas, in my experience, does no better than 23 on hwy and about 14 in city -- this using the accelerated odometer too, which reads 5 percent fast. On long trips I am able to sleep solidly in the third seat with two girls in captain chairs -- which helps a lot, and my 6-year old and 8-year old haven't had one complaint about their positions there. Stereo is...satisfactory, and I love being able to fade certain children's tapes to the back speakers, which are far enough away so that we can actually talk. The van isn't whisper quiet, but good enough for a van. Sliding doors are convenient, but won't be if they fail.... Handles grandparents and kids excellently. Drives very well, too, really does. I have to remember to keep speed down, just not to wear out brakes and burn up gas. I do feel a bit uneasy sometimes when it's just me driving this boat around -- where's my CVCC when I need it? It is dark when you back up at night, and I wish the interior lights went off automatically -- have left them on once or twice but car has started anyway. Felt disappointed to see the Consumer Reports ratings drop but am consoling myself by saying it's just the doors. Tranny has revved up a bit once or twice -- is that a bad sign? -- and gas sloshing is an absolutely trivial 'problem.' Overall, I am pleased with the purchase -- paid $700 under MSRP at Dan Young Honda in Indianapolis -- but still get a twinge when I see an MPV go by. I drove a couple of them and thought they had a lot of appeal -- including their smaller size...." -- captevans, "Honda Odyssey XX," #1547 of 1858, March 5, 2001

Mazda MPV owners:

"I'm of two minds about the MPV. I own one, and wouldn't trade it for any other one. I don't think [others'] concerns about the engine and powertrain of the MPV are valid. The Ford Duratec has proven itself over the years in the Contour as a reliable piece of work. Admittedly, it is a bit small and takes a while (like a month) to learn how to drive it effectively, but once you do, it's a delight to handle. The transmission is not overbusy. Once you learn how to handle the gas pedal, the transmission finds and keeps its gear on all but the steepest hills. And when you're at highway speed, it cruises effortlessly at 70+. On top of that, the car itself handles better than the '98 Jeep I traded on it. One of the posters on the MPV site called it a driver's van, and he nailed it. Handling is simply phenomenal. It's like a tall touring sedan.... The MPV is smaller (on the outside) than the Dodge Caravan is. On the other hand, there is much more usable space on the inside. The side-by-slide second-row seats move sideways AND back and forth. In the rear, you've got a seat that tumbles down into a spacious well (incredibly useful for groceries etc. when the seat is up) for additional luggage space. But on the best of days, it won't carry that legendary 4x8 sheet of plywood flat on the floor. I guess it comes down to how much room you need and what for. If you need seven-passenger seating and a lot of luggage room on top of it, no good. If you need four- or five-passenger seating and a lot of room intelligently laid out, give the MPV a good look and a long (overnight, if you can manage it) test drive.... I haven't regretted my decision for one second." -- rjr425, "Best minivan value for $25,000?" #4 of 13, March 26, 2001

"I felt that the MPV was the best value, by far. I really liked the Sienna, but for comparable amenities as in the MPV, it would be over a budget [of $25,000]. I would have paid approximately $3,500 more for a comparable Sienna as I did my MPV ES, and the Sienna doesn't have the tumble seat or the second row windows that go down (no other van does)." -- blondemom1, "Best minivan value for $25,000?" #2 of 13, March 26, 2001

"I drive a 2000 MPV LX everyday and I really enjoy it. The sound system is great, and my daughter loves the TV. As a previous poster wrote: 'you will see a lot of people posting about lack of power.' I have seen people write such things but it's ridiculous. Every body is in such a hurry to go nowhere these days and they think more horsepower will help them get there. This van has plenty of power for the sane driver." -- rotarykid, "Mazda MPV vs Nissan Quest," #6 of 7, March 21, 2001

"Have a minivan: yes. Have a gorgeous wife: yes. Have 4 kids: yes. Have a dog: no (don't want one)Have any problems with van, wife or kids: no. The MPV works great for us and my wife's friends are always goo-goo eyed when we roll down the side windows so they can see the kids." -- maltb, "Best van for family with 4 kids," #43 of 64, Jan 24, 2001

"We have had our MPV ES for 15 months now and couldn't be happier with it. We still have people stopping us and asking us about our 'beautiful new van.' It is a great red color with nearly all the options (leather, sunroof, 6 CD, rear air, 4 seasons package, etc....) and has been problem free -- no complaints. We have taken it cross-country, and it travels great. I would recommend it to anyone to try." -- otish, "Mazda MPV vs Nissan Quest," #7 of 7, March 21, 2001

Pontiac Montana owners:

"One month since I picked up my 2001 Montana. My wife and kids love it, and I kinda like it, too (staunch Ford fan, eh). I'm impressed by the ride and handling. Pickup isn't too bad for the engine and size of the van. Get a loud vibrating sound from the left rear that lasts for five seconds or so, most often just after startup but sometimes after shutdown, too. I kind of suspect that it's got something to do with the compressor or air leveling. Fit and finish is much better than many here described, only a small burn spot on the driver's seat for which they're going to replace the cover. No rattles, no creaks, no leaks. Fuel consumption is off it's Energuide rating by about 4l/100 km but maybe that will improve as I get a few more km on it. Had a weird one happen this morning: got a scraper out and one of the overhead lights stayed on after all the others went out. Had to get in, let the lights turn off, then push the light off. Light wasn't on last night or this morning. At least I didn't think I left it on. Started fine, no sign that anything was wrong after, i.e., light didn't stay on again. Overall, not too shabby." -- bcbob, "Pontiac Transport/Montana," #385 of 406, Feb. 15, 2001

We have our 2001 Montana for 2 weeks now and are happy we got it. My wife and sons wanted a van and I did not. We had a '94 Transport 6 years ago that we liked a lot and was a good vehicle mechanically. We decided to test drive the Montana and were extremely happy with it's looks, ride and features. We love the room and most importantly, the second row captain's chairs really keep my two boys from fighting. Great vehicle!" -- oemman, "Pontiac Transport/Montana, #400 of 406, March 6, 2001

Commentary from 2001 Chevrolet Venture and Oldsmobile Silhouette owners:

"My wife and I took delivery of our 2001 Chevy Venture in November 2000. We were leasing a '98 that was do to expire in February '01 but we wanted the seven-passenger seating instead of the eight-passenger version.... We did not want the folding bench. We like the versatility of being able to remove or fold down one seat while leaving the other rear seat in place. We ordered a 2001 but we were no longer able to get the seven-passenger version, so our dealer did a search and found exactly what we were looking for. We took it. We love our new Venture WB edition. The pros outweigh any cons. The ride is great, the kids love it, the dog loves it! As for the leather/cloth seats -- the reason they put the cloth in the center is so your bum does not get cold. I think they could have made the seats all leather and put heaters in them; however, this could be costly with 7 bucket seats, 5 that are removable! Many of our friends, who were turned off by the safety reviews, have been won over after driving or riding in our Venture. It is a great van! If you are on the fence, just stop someone in a parking lot and ask them how they like it. I did that when I before I bought my last car...." -- cugolfn, "Chevy Venture," #650 of 722, Feb. 4, 2001

"We bought our 2001 Silhouette Premiere on August 24 (we had ordered it in June). It has 6,500 miles on it today, I've changed the oil three times (once at 1,000 miles and then each 3,000 miles since). We've done a lot of mountain and highway driving and the van's been great. The entertainment system is great at keeping the kids occupied when there's nothing they want to see on the road. The wireless headphones are a godsend! The only problem I had was when I put in a bad CD and it 'broke' the player. The dealer ordered a new one and replaced it while I was there in about an hour. The seat warmers in this year's model are great. You never know you 'need' something until someone invents it! I do have a couple of gripes, but they wouldn't prevent me from buying this van again. My gripes -- I ordered the third row captains chairs. When they're up, they impede rear view mirror vision through the van. I usually have them put down. The new cup holders in the front stack -- when you have anything in them you can't reach the buttons for your rear wiper, fog lights, etc. [This is] minor, but annoying. The chrome wheels -- don't buy them if you live in a city that gets lots of snow. The stuff they put on the road along with all the dirt makes them dirty all the time. Unless I'm scrubbing them all the time, they look like the alloys! Anyway, I traded in my 1997 GLS with 75,000 miles for this one. I'm glad I did. We'll just see if we all end up with orphan vehicles!" -- KKLOTZ, "Oldsmobile Silhouette II," #165 of 247, Dec. 12, 2000

Toyota Sienna owners:

"We purchased a 2001 Toyota Sienna LE about two weeks ago. We looked at a 2000 Sienna LE, Mazda MPV, Dodge Caravan and tried to check out Honda Odyssey. The 2000 Sienna LE had the highest sticker, $27,800, but it drove quietly and felt like the car was made out of one solid piece. My parents just bought a Lexus GS300. It is a beautiful and extremely confident-felling car. The Sienna felt very much like the Lexus. It had enough power to accelerate effortlessly; the transmission shifts were imperceptible; road noise was subdued; the ride was a bit soft and queasy but comfortable for my wife who was also in the car. But, above all, all the switchgear and the doors moved silently, smoothly and with minimal effort with appropriate feed back.... I drove my '94 Accord 140,000 miles before I traded it in for the Sienna. Those miles weren't trouble free. After 90,000 mi, I was putting in about $1500 a year replacing worn out or non-functioning parts such as the fuel-gauge sending unit, the speedometer, pumps, muffler, etc.. So I decided that an Odyssey wasn't desirable enough for me to wait two months for the car and to pay MSRP plus dealer-installed, profit-fattening options. Granted, the price of an Ody LX at MSRP+ was still comparable to my 2001 Sienna LE's price of $24,600. However, looking at the invoice price difference between Sienna and Odyssey, I can't help but thinking that Odyssey had to have a few cut corners to be $2000 cheaper in comparison to Sienna. So far, my 2001 Sienna is turning out to be as splendid as I had hoped it would be. The 2001 models have more power, better headlights and sliding third bench seats, which help tremendously in the rear cargo capacity. I have 700 miles on the car with one 350-mile trip last weekend. It rides beautifully on the highway; the adjectives that come to mind are solid, effortless, supple, quiet, luxurious and competent." -- jung5, " Toyota Sienna vs Mazda MPV," #169 of 212, Sept. 29, 2000

"I've had four of the 'gotta-have' SUVs in the last 10 years (Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Chevrolet Tahoe, and Ford Expedition). I bought the darn things 'cause I needed the room for work. They were all perfectly fine cars, but each fell short in some way. My '92 Explorer was a brilliant 'better idea' from Ford, but the thing had a punishing ride. The Grand Cherokee was pretty 'grand,' but too small made even smaller by that dumb spare in the back. (Didn't hold much more than my wife's Volvo wagon.) The Tahoe was plenty big, quick, and fun, but seemed like a very well done car straight out of the 80s. The brakes were downright dangerous. The Expedition was the best of the bunch -- a little too tall yet very well done inside and out, but the 11 mpg in town and 50 bucks a fill-up was unacceptable. I finally put my ego aside and bought a 2001 Sienna (you bet, you gotta have a pretty good self-concept to move from a sexy, gotta-have-SUV to a soccer-mom minivan). I love the darn thing. It's supremely quiet, unbelievably smooth, plenty quick, and surprisingly roomy. It's got that curious Toyota quality that does not come across until you drive it a while -- that quality you don't quite get when you test the thing off the lot (and ask yourself what all the fuss is about), but a quality you learn to love the longer you drive it." -- dardson1, "Toyota Sienna VI," #499 of 581, March 8, 2001

"Tough choice but I ended up with the Sienna. After spending time driving a lot of vans, I bought the Sienna over the Town & Country and the Odyssey. Why? Personal choice. The Oddy was on the lot -- in fact, five EXs were there as this Honda dealer does not pre-sale. He had added leather on all at $2000, and some had video at $2500. [Other extras included] a Rosen unit, which retailed for $1500, or a moonroof for $2000. Some had all [of these add-ons]. Extra markup was a bit high, I felt. But it was still a very good van. I got most of this on my Toyota anyway. Price was a non-factor even after I said all that about the Oddy. I preferred the seats in the Toyota, as they were better for me. I liked the way it drove and handled. Also, size [was a factor] as I have been driving in Europe and like smaller cars. the Honda was too big. That all said and done, either van is a good choice. Toyota just fitted me better for my needs. Was very surprised by the new Town & Country. Came close on that one, but past reputation held me off." -- gbush1, " Honda Odyssey vs. Toyota Sienna V," #405 of 461, Dec. 10, 2000

"...There's nothing on the road I'd rather be driving, the ride is excellent, the seats are comfortable and luxurious (leather), and after a Chevy Blazer LT, I enjoy making only one stop to the gas station per week. I'm averaging 17-19 mpg for combo driving. I thought it was going to be hard to transition from a SUV to a minivan, but I don't miss it all, and now I don't even want that Navigator or Land Cruiser I thought I would always get when I made it big. My two little ones love it and as for size, it is very functional. I replaced the Firestones with the 80,000-mile Aqua Grip and told them I'd be keeping the Firestones and [to please] place them in the van (bagged, of course) I flipped the 3rd row seats forward and went shopping. To my surprise, I returned to see that all 4 tires were upright in a row without impeding the closing of the rear door. I then got a week's worth of groceries in the cargo area to go with them...." -- crystaltod, "Toyota Sienna VI," #473 of 581, Feb. 28, 2001

"I have two power doors on my XLE and love them. My requirement was one, but we wanted the XLE and the package (moon roof, dual sliding doors) came with two. It has been great (I guess it depends on the age of your kids). My kids are young teens -- they play with them a little, but they are really handy if ...someone gets out of the car, especially if their hands are full with book bags and school projects and someone can't easily or forgets to close the doors (and you are driving and can just push a button on the dash and close them). I just think they are great -- no problem with them. AND if you have toddlers you can completely disable them and they become manual -- by a 'per door off' button on the dashboard. They also have child safety locks that can prevent kids from opening the doors on the inside." -- blizz1, "Toyota Sienna VI," #466 of 581, Feb. 26, 2001

Commentary from owner of 2001 Odyssey and 2001 Sienna:

"We own a 2001 Sienna LE and just received our 2001 Honda Odyssey EX. (We previously had a Grand Caravan and Chevy Venture, both of which were in the shop too often for our likes. That is why we're back with foreign. Way back, we also had the smaller Honda Odyssey, great 'van' but was too small for our growing family.) I am 6' 3" and I find the Odyssey much more comfortable. I feel somewhat cramped in the Sienna. My wife, who is much shorter, is more comfortable in the Sienna. Both give a great ride, the Sienna is a little more car-like in the drive and a little quieter. I do not find the noise level in the Odyssey bad, though. (Especially after the Chevy!) Storage space in the Odyssey is great, but the smaller space in the Sienna isn't really that bad since we usually fold up one of the back seats. It ends up giving us an L shaped storage area. In comparison to the other vans we had, the Caravan was very comfortable to drive, the Chevy not bad, but it had lots of engine and road noise and seemed to be very top heavy and would lean a lot. Neither the Sienna or Odyssey seem to lean...." -- van fan, "Toyota Sienna VI," #300 of 581, Dec. 9, 2000

— Edited by Erin Riches

Final Rankings
  Chrysler Town & Country Limited Ford Windstar Limited Honda Odyssey EX
Personal Rating (9% of score) 79 36 98
Recommended Rating (9% of score) 55 45 100
20-pt Evaluation (18% of score) 84 70 81
Performance Testing (10% of score) 88 82 95
Feature Content (18% of score) 46 78 50
Price (18% of score) 72 77 99
Safety Feature Content (18% of score) 70 84 79
Total Score 69.8 71.1 82.9
Final Ranking 4 3 1
 
  Mazda MPV ES Pontiac Montana Toyota Sienna XLE
Personal Rating (9% of score) 43 40 55
Recommended Rating (9% of score) 33 38 71
20-pt Evaluation (18% of score) 71 70 75
Performance Testing (10% of score) 63 77 93
Feature Content (18% of score) 43 71 64
Price (18% of score) 100 80 77
Safety Feature Content (18% of score) 70 69 85
Total Score 64.2 66.9 74.8
Final Ranking 6 5 2

Personal Rating: Purely subjective. After the test, each participating editor was asked to rank the vans in order of preference based on which vans he would personally buy if given the chance. Scoring was calculated on a point system, and the scores listed are an accumulation of all of the participating editors' opinions.

Recommended Rating: After the test, each editor was asked to rank the vans in order of preference based on which vans she thought would be best for the average consumer shopping in this segment. Scoring was calculated on a point system, and the scores listed are averages based on all participating editors' opinions.

20-Point Evaluation: Each editor ranked every van based on a comprehensive 20-point evaluation sheet. The evaluation covers everything from exterior design to cupholders. Scoring was calculated on a point system, and the scores listed are averages based on all participating editors' opinions.

Performance Testing: Each van was put through a battery of instrumented testing. For the minivan test, we evaluated the vehicles via 0-to-60 mph acceleration, quarter-mile acceleration, 60-to-0 mph braking and speed through a 600-foot slalom. For each test, the van that obtained the best result received a maximum score. The remaining vans received scores based on how closely their results matched the top van. The final number shown is an accumulation of results from each test.

Feature Content: For this category, the editors picked the top 14 features they thought would be most significant to the consumer shopping in this segment. For each van, the score was based on the amount of actual features the van had versus the total possible (14). Standard and optional equipment were taken into consideration.

Safety Feature Content and Crash Test Scores: A safety features list was compiled but was not voted on by the editors. Rather, all relevant features were included and were scored in a similar fashion as the regular features. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash-test scores were also factored into the overall score in the area of safety features. The safety features list and the crash-test scores were weighted equally in the overall outcome for the category.

Price: The numbers listed are the result of a simple percentage calculation based on the least expensive van in the comparison test. Using the "as tested" prices of the actual evaluation vehicles, the least expensive van received a score of 100, with the remaining vans receiving lesser scores based on how much more each one costs.

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