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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.