2008 Minivan/Van Buying Guide



So you've decided it's time to get practical and haul the family in comfort, but the thought of actually buying a minivan is making you question your own existence. Well, tell your ego to take a chill pill and rest easy in one undisputable fact: The minivan remains the most effective vehicle for moving people around. They aren't as cool as SUVs or as hip as crossovers, but they do have those easy-access sliding doors, fold-flat third-row seats and the most efficient use of interior volume that is part and parcel of building a box-on-wheels. In other words, the minivan is the SUV/crossover for "self-actualized practicalists."

And as practical-minded people movers go, this segment offers several strong choices. The default recommendation remains Honda's fabulous Odyssey. This van has led the minivan segment since 1999 as a large, comfortable and highly functional family hauler while maintaining a healthy "fun-to-drive" factor. It was redesigned again in 2005 with further improvements to power, storage capacity and family-friendly features. Certainly, there are cheaper vans out there, and several competitors offer even more high-tech gadgetry. Still, if you're looking for the best overall minivan, it would be hard to go wrong with the Honda Odyssey.

If you don't want an Odyssey, we'd steer you toward either Toyota's Sienna or the all-new Chrysler Town & Country (along with its corporate twin, the Dodge Grand Caravan). The Sienna was last redesigned in 2004, but it benefited from an engine upgrade for 2007, making it the most powerful minivan on the market with 266 horsepower (the Odyssey makes a still-more-than-adequate 244). Toyota's van isn't as fun to drive as the Odyssey, but it does offer several features the Honda doesn't. These include an optional power-folding third-row seat and radar cruise control, as well as available all-wheel drive. If any of these items matter to you, the Sienna is a solid choice.

All-new for 2008, the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan have been given a more powerful engine option (251 hp) and new six-speed automatic, but the big news comes in the form of several family-oriented items. These include the Swivel 'n Go second-row seats (that allow second- and third-row passengers to face each other), power-folding third-row seats and Sirius Satellite TV, among others. If you're looking for the latest in family-hauling features the Chrysler and Dodge twins are worth a test-drive.

Filling out the minivan segment are several strong entries that aren't quite up to the Chrysler/Dodge twins, Honda Odyssey or Toyota Sienna in terms of overall capabilities, but still merit consideration. The Kia Sedona and Hyundai Entourage siblings are capable with regards to power and driving dynamics, though they are a bit heavier and less refined than the top-tier players. They also provide useful features while being offered at more competitive prices. Keeping the "mini" in minivan, the Mazda Mazda5 comes in a reduced exterior size and offers only six-passenger capacity. This reduces the Mazda's functionality for large families with large hauling needs, but the Mazda5 could be the perfect choice for smaller families that appreciate minivanlike qualities (including the easy-entry sliding doors) in a fun-to-drive and easy-to-park package.

Finally, Nissan's Quest continues to struggle with "creative" design issues, both inside and out, but will certainly meet most families' basic requirements for minivan transport. Meanwhile, Ford and GM have abandoned this segment by euthanizing their offerings for the 2008 model year. They won't be missed.

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