Minivan Buying Guide

Minivan Buying Guide

Finding the Perfect Minivan for You

The sales numbers don't lie. Americans just aren't that into minivans, at least not compared to the SUVs that seem to have us all smitten. Consider that the Ford Explorer, one of America's best-selling three-row SUVs, is on pace to sell roughly as many units in 2020 as every minivan combined.

And yet, the minivan endures. Incredibly, the two models credited with birthing the modern minivan — the Plymouth Voyager and Dodge Caravan — are still making news. Chrysler revived the Voyager in 2019 as a more affordable version of the Pacifica, while the Grand Caravan retains a loyal following even though new production ended in mid-2020. The Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna, meanwhile, have been workhorses for decades. More recently, the upstart Kia Sedona has earned its share of fans.

Hardly a dying breed, then, the minivan stands as a rare triumph of function over form. But which minivan is right for you? That's what we're here to figure out. Let's take a closer look at modern minivans and what they have to offer.

Why Buy a Minivan?

Minivans are cool! There, we said it. And they're fun. No other vehicle can match the minivan for passenger room or cargo space, not to mention the ease of switching between those modes. With seats that slide, fold and tumble in a number of ways, a minivan's interior is a fluid and flexible floorplan. And thanks to a low floor, it's easy to get in or out — or get stuff in or out. These qualities, along with today's expected comfort, safety and connected technologies, make modern minivans ideal for the daily lives of active families.

So what minivans can you buy right now? Here's our expert rundown.

Every Minivan You Can Buy for 2021

With just five models to choose from, the minivan class is small. But each model has a unique niche, so there should be something for everyone, whether you're budget-conscious or looking to luxe your family up.

Chrysler Pacifica

2021 Chrysler Pacifica.

2021 Chrysler Pacifica.

The Pacifica's sophisticated style won't look out of place in a swanky valet line, especially in the top Pinnacle trim. Happily, Chrysler's top minivan is just as capable as a family mover. A strong V6 engine generates enough power to get through traffic, while cargo space is massive enough to rival the class-leading Honda Odyssey. Thoughtful touches include easy-folding Stow 'n Go rear seats, a backseat camera with zoomable front display image, wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connections, and two simultaneous Bluetooth connections.

The optional plug-in hybrid Pacifica further sets this van apart. It combines the V6 engine with two electric motors and a rechargeable battery pack, enabling you to drive up to 32 miles solely on electricity — and returning an EPA-estimated 30 mpg combined after that. The Pacifica also offers all-wheel drive, another rarity in this class.

Chrysler Voyager

2021 Chrysler Voyager.

2021 Chrysler Voyager.

The Voyager was one of the first of its kind when it debuted as a Plymouth model nearly four decades ago alongside the identical Dodge Caravan. Now that Chrysler has retired the (Grand) Caravan in the U.S., the Voyager is offered in its place as essentially a budget-friendly Pacifica. Despite its low price, the Voyager offers the same comfort and performance as the Pacifica, plus the versatility of those easy-folding Stow 'n Go rear seats.

For an entry-level model, the Voyager offers several nice touches, including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and a noise-canceling audio system. Chrysler keeps costs low with just two trim levels, offering optional driver aids (blind-spot monitoring, backup sensors) on either trim. Small luxuries such as three-zone climate control and second-row captain's chairs are available only on the top LX trim. For about the price of a midsize sedan, the Voyager offers exceptional minivan value.

Honda Odyssey

2021 Honda Odyssey.

2021 Honda Odyssey.

As the Dodge Grand Caravan drives off into automotive folklore, the Honda Odyssey becomes the longest-tenured minivan in continuous production. Since its debut nearly 30 years ago, the Odyssey has set a high bar with its comfort, space and driving engagement. Responsive steering and taut suspension make the sizable Odyssey feel more like an Accord from behind the wheel. It's not exactly sporty, but with a powerful V6 and balanced handling, the Odyssey isn't dull either.

Inside, the big Honda features flexible sliding seat configurations, cushy seats, and considerate touches such as active noise canceling to quell road noise and an available intercom system. A full suite of safety features comes standard, although the sensitivity of some driver aids, such as automatic braking and assisted steering, ranges from annoying to unsettling.

Kia Sedona

2021 Kia Sedona.

2021 Kia Sedona.

Like the Chrysler Voyager, the Sedona delivers exceptional minivan value. It starts with a robust V6 engine and unique second-row seats that slide forward and flatten upright against the front seatbacks (Kia calls it Slide-n-Stow). The third-row seats stow under the floor, making it easy to switch between passenger and cargo modes. The Sedona's ride can be harsher than the segment norm, and some of the value falls away if you want optional driver assistance features. But even an optioned-up Sedona can be considerably cheaper than a comparably equipped rival.

Outside, the Sedona's styling includes some distinctive SUV-inspired flourishes. The lines are straight and lean, the proportions are right, and the Sedona looks aggressive without being cartoonish. If you're not quite feeling it, consider waiting for the redesigned 2022 Sedona, which looks to double down on the current Sedona's success with more crossover-like cues.

Toyota Sienna

2021 Toyota Sienna.

2021 Toyota Sienna.

The Sienna and its primary competitor, the Honda Odyssey, have traded places on annual sales sheets so many times that they resemble a congressional district in a swing state. The Sienna has slid down the charts over the past few years, but the redesigned 2021 Sienna looks primed to turn that trend around.

The new Sienna features more dramatic exterior styling that's highlighted by a big, wide grille and stylized taillights, while innovative features include four-zone climate control and a digital rearview mirror. But the boldest change lies under the hood. The Sienna's V6 engine is gone. In its place, a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine pairs with two electric motors to provide hybrid propulsion in every Sienna. Down about 50 horsepower compared to its predecessor, the new Sienna is noticeably less capable when passing or merging, although the rival Pacifica Hybrid also sacrifices some performance in the name of fuel efficiency. As far as that goes, the 2021 Sienna gets a whopping EPA-estimated 36 mpg combined, and Edmunds found it capable of even higher numbers in real-world use.

Most minivans top out at around 22 mpg combined and even the Pacifica Hybrid is limited to 30 mpg combined, so the Sienna has re-set the bar very high. The Sienna also continues to offer all-wheel drive, which is a big deal for shoppers who might otherwise drive off in an AWD crossover SUV. On the other hand, the Sienna's second-row seats can't be folded flat or removed, so maximum cargo capacity is modest for a minivan.

Should You Buy a Hybrid Minivan?

The Pacifica Hybrid brought minivans into the electric age. With its unique plug-in design, it remains a game changer for drivers with short work commutes or who shuttle children to nearby activities. Covering local miles on rechargeable electricity means fewer trips to the pump. And when you venture away from town, the gas-electric hybrid powertrain picks up the load after the battery runs out.

The new Toyota Sienna doesn't plug in. It's a conventional hybrid, with electric motors taking the lead at low speeds and assisting the gas engine as necessary during faster travel. But the Sienna's astonishing fuel economy makes a strong case for drivers who need minivan versatility with maximum efficiency, especially on long trips.

Hybrids typically cost more than their gas-only counterparts, and whether they save you money in the long run depends on your local gas and electricity costs. Consider that a base Pacifica Hybrid costs around $5,000 more than the gas-only version. The 2021 Sienna, meanwhile, costs around $2,800 more than the outgoing non-hybrid van. That's a lot of gas either way, but there's also peace of mind in knowing you're using less fuel, so it's not always strictly about dollars and cents. We recommend a thorough test drive of hybrid minivans alongside their conventional counterparts since the driving experience is definitely different in a hybrid, from the feel of the brakes to the sensation while accelerating.

What About Electric Minivans?

2021 Volkswagen I.D. Buzz.

2021 Volkswagen I.D. Buzz.

Edmunds visitors save an average of $2879 off their new car. How much can you save?

We know what you're thinking: If the Tesla Model X and the smaller Model Y — technically classified as crossover SUVs — offer three rows, then why aren't there any electric minivans? The simplest answer is that no major automaker has a platform at the moment that can accommodate the hardware for a fully electric minivan. A minivan's low floor height makes it difficult to install large battery packs, so starting from scratch and redesigning around battery packs makes more sense.

Along those lines, Toyota's new global platform reportedly has an electric-specific configuration, and an EV minivan is included in the company's long-range product plans. The Mercedes-Benz EQV is an electric van available in Europe that could, in theory, come to the States. But perhaps the most anticipated EV is Volkswagen's I.D. Buzz, the electric reboot of VW's classic Microbus. The Buzz is likely to lean more lifestyle than family-style — think Coachella, not cello recital — when it arrives in a few years, but it should present an interesting alternative.

Minivan Features Checklist

Minivans are a relatively homogenous group. Most offer similar features on comparable trim levels, with tweaks at the margins for distinction. The basic formula remains the same: three rows, sliding doors, flexible seating, and room to spread out.

Minivan Styling

Designers can only do so much when forced to work around sliding side doors, so you'll see more outlandish expressions front and rear where there's some creative latitude. Some minivans look puffy and amorphous, others sleek with sharp lines and edges lines, yet all share the same functional hallmarks: low step-in height and cargo floors and easy access to all rows.

Minivan Performance

V6 engines are a minivan staple. An empty minivan is already quite heavy; one loaded with passengers and cargo is heavier still. A V6 offers enough power for most van duties, including light towing. The Pacifica Hybrid throws a curveball in the form of the electric motors assisting its V6, while the Sienna Hybrid redefines expectations with its hybrid four-cylinder engine. Neither hybrid is a performance star, but both address the traditional V6 shortcoming of middling fuel economy.

Minivan Fuel Economy

Today's minivans generally rely on V6 engines developed years ago. These engines trade fuel efficiency for power, earning merely adequate EPA ratings of around 24-28 mpg highway and 21-22 mpg combined. That means they're thirstier than some crossover SUVs, especially those powered by more efficient turbocharged four-cylinder engines. The Pacifica Hybrid and Sienna Hybrid have changed the landscape, though. The Pacifica can run on its battery for 32 miles, then switch to a gas engine rated at an impressive 30 mpg combined. The Sienna is rated at a downright gaudy 36 mpg combined (35 mpg with all-wheel drive). These two are slower than the mainstream V6 vans, but the efficiency will be worth the trade for many.

Minivan Seating

Comfortable and flexible seats are core to the minivan's appeal. Most vans offer standard eight-passenger seating with wide and cushy second rows. Most third rows are best suited to kids and teens, but they beat the pants off of typical third-row seats in SUVs. The middle second-row seat is removable in most vans to create an aisle to the back or to slide two seats together for roomier entry and exit. Many middle seats can also slide far forward, ideal for tending to a fussy infant from the front row. Second-row captain's chairs are another common option.

Minivan Cargo Space

Only the largest SUVs can compete with the cavernous cargo space offered by most minivans. When you fold, stash or remove a minivan's back row seats, you have enough room for any home-improvement errand. Some vans are easier to configure in this way than others, however. The Pacifica's seats disappear into the floor, while the Sedona's slide far forward, then flatten upright. For the Odyssey, you'll need to lift and remove second-row seats. As noted, the new Sienna's second row can't be folded or removed — a big reason why cargo capacity has dropped significantly with this generation.

Minivan Infotainment

Infotainment systems vary among minivans, and it's an area where automakers try to pull ahead of one another. Most of today's models come with an 8- or 10-inch touchscreen display, and nearly all offer Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connections along with multiple USB and power ports. A common option is a rear-seat entertainment system, typically with an overhead display or dual seatback-mounted displays and an HDMI input. Most systems include wireless headphones, while some offer games to keep passengers occupied. Wi-Fi hubs are also an increasingly popular option.

Minivan Safety and Driver Assistance

Minivans are big and tall, so drivers will appreciate some help when changing lanes, parking or maneuvering in tight spaces. Most vans come standard with driver aids such as adaptive cruise control, automatic braking and blind-spot monitoring. Many offer a 360-degree camera view, which can be a real boon in garages and parking lots. Other driver aids focus on in-cabin peace of mind, ranging from backseat cameras viewable on a front dash display — ideal for monitoring a sleeping infant or managing sibling rivalries — to intercom systems that project a front-row voice into the rear speakers or even a wireless headphone system.

Edmunds Says

Rumors of the minivan's demise have been greatly exaggerated. While many Americans are enthralled with SUVs, the minivan will always appeal to shoppers seeking space, comfort and maximum utility in an accessible, easy-to-use package. And minivans will only get better as they continue to integrate hybrid and battery technology. To start your minivan journey, visit https://www.edmunds.com/minivan/ for our latest expert ratings.

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