Congratulations, you’re all grown up! At this point in life you’ve probably made it through college with more than an associate’s degree in the field of interpretive dance; you’ve more than likely claimed a life partner that’s the opposite gender and of breeding age and, consequently, you’ve manufactured a genetic replica or two. You’re going places, and you need a suitable vehicle for this exciting new lifestyle.
A Mercedes-Benz Unimog or a Pakistani jingle truck would be killer, but ultimately difficult to put car seats in. Of course a DeLorean DMC-12 kitted out like Doc Brown’s would be tops on the list but the gullwing doors’ side glass doesn’t fully retract, something that makes trips through the drive through a difficult task. There’s no way a White Castle Sack of 10 is fitting through those mail slots.
Crossing these promising options off the list we arrive at the humble minivan. Loathsome and infectiously uncool these vehicles are like caskets on wheels, a perpetual reminder that your youth and its associated fun are dead and buried. Still, minivans offer the ultimate blend of seating capacity, cargo space and fuel economy. Think of them as an automotive wet burrito stuffed with USDA choice practicality, a dollop of refried sensibility and a dash of common sense, all wrapped in a tortilla made of stone-ground pragmatism. All that’s missing is a factory-installed “Baby on Board” placard, though it’s debatable whether such signage actually dissuades drunk drivers from broad-siding you.
This week Shelby reached to us asking for help. Like a well-cared for orchard her uterus has been fruitful, producing a bushel-basket of kiddies; she currently has four little ones in tow. Understandably her family is in the market for a versatile miniature van. Fuel economy, safety and reliability are some of her top priorities, at a price point of $35,000. What’s the best option for her?
Suggestion #1 – 2013 Toyota Sienna SE
First up is the “Swagger Wagon,” Toyota’s versatile Sienna. This rolling monument to emasculation is far from pretty (Ed.: This family man couldn’t disagree more), but it’s dripping with common-sense features families need. Arguably the most comfortable offering of this trio, it’s ready for the boulevard with a smooth ride and plenty of room to sprawl.
In up-level SE trim it can seat eight passengers, which is enough for the Duggars… well, not quite… or rather, not even close, but it’s plenty spacious. It’s also got room for diaper bags and trips to the membership warehouse for bulk-food purchases.
Inside, SE models feature three-zone automatic climate control, second-row sun shades, seats trimmed in a combination of leatherette and fabric as well as a 3.5-inch multi-information display. What more could you possibly need?!
Outside it’s got 19-inch alloy wheels and under-body spoilers for maximum performance. It also features a jutting front bumper that makes the Sienna look like it has a severe underbite. Get this van some braces! Additionally SE versions come dressed up with a “sporty” mesh grille. Attention automakers: Adding this design element to a vehicle does NOT automatically make it more fun or appealing; a crisscross pattern is no sportier than others.
Speaking of design, on their consumer website Toyota is ballsy enough to say the Sienna’s got “sports sedan-inspired styling.” That’s hyperbole with a capital “H;” it’s like saying Mama June from the TV show Here Comes Honey Boo Boo has a “super model-inspired body;” nobody’s buying it.
Mechanically the Sienna SE is propelled by a creamy 3.5-liter V6. It puts out 266 horsepower with 245 lb-ft of torque, respectable but hardly segment-leading digits. The engine is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission that routes all of that milky goodness to the front wheels. A 2.7-liter four-banger and all-wheel drive are also available on other models – but you don’t want it.
Summing it up, the Sienna is a comfortable, spacious cruiser with high levels of quality and reliability. Fuel economy is another plus; it stickers at 18 miles per gallon city, 25 highway. Add it all up and the base price for an SE model is right around $35,500, including destination fees. Shelby, this could be the minivan for you.
Suggestion #2 – 2013 Chrysler Town & Country Touring-L
Proudly representing the good ole’ US of A is Chrysler’s Town & Country. This red, white and blue minivan is imported from Detroit, or more accurately Windsor, Ontario, but who’s counting? It’s another lie from our 51st state, just like Canadian bacon, which is actually just a fancy name for pork loin. Does the deception ever end?
As a matter of fact it does, and the buck stops at your local Chrysler dealer. The T&C is a trusted name in the minivan market, having served families for more than two decades. If Toyota’s Sienna is the comfortable schlepper in this comparison then the star-brand’s offering is the value play. Out the door a nearly-top-of-the-line Touring-L model stickers for less than $35,000. But sweetening that offer like a soup ladle-full of honey in your morning tea we suspect there are probably some attractive discounts available right now.
All Town Ampersand Countries are powered by Chrysler’s 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 that’s as smooth as it is powerful, in fact the company claims it puts out the most horsepower and torque in its class… and we’d be inclined to agree. That translates into 283 ponies and 260 lb-ft of twist. A six-speed automatic handles shifting duties.
On the efficiency front the federal government claims the T&C stickers at 17 MPG city and 25 highway, resulting in a combined score of 20, which is one MPG less than the fuel-Scrooge Sienna.
As for amenities this Chrysler comes standard with leather-trimmed seats, three-zone automatic climate control and remote start. It’s also got a 6.5-inch touch-screen display and a 115-volt power socket so you can keep your iPad fully charged.
But hands down the Town & Country’s most interesting feature is something called Stow ‘n Go. Chrysler introduced this Einstein-smart item about a decade ago and it’s still the cleverest thing in the minivan market. Engineers figured out how to make the vehicle’s second-row seats fold flat into the floor, completely out of the way without any bumps or humps. The bucket chairs literally disappear; it’s totally ingenious! This feature allows the vehicle to excel at hauling BOTH passengers AND cargo.
Suggestion #3 – 2014 Honda Odyssey EX-L
So far we’ve covered the comfortable Sienna and value-focused Town & Country, now it’s Honda’s turn to wow the judges with its minivan offering. Does the refreshed 2014 Odyssey have what it takes to beat Toyota and Chrysler at their own game? Quite possibly, and perhaps maybe. Who will win this battle of the vans? Well, let’s get crackin’ and find out!
Of this trio the Odyssey is something of an oddity, delivering a surprisingly enjoyable driving experience. It feels a bit sportier and more engaging than the floaty Toyota or somewhat crude Chrysler, and that’s a win for folks that don’t want to sell their soul when they buy a minivan.
The lower-end EX-L model offers a nice amount of equipment. Like its competitors it features three-zone climate control and leather trimmings, not to mention a rear-view camera, push-button start and cruise control. Beyond these niceties it also features a tilt-and-telescoping wheel, Bluetooth connectivity and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. If you really want to splurge, you can even get a built-in vacuum cleaner mounted in driver’s side of the cargo area, the so-called HondaVAC. It’s only available on the range-topping Touring Elite model, which is far too pricey for this week’s budget.
The only engine offered under the Odyssey’s bonnet is a tried-and-true 3.5-liter V6. It delivers a somewhat lackluster 248 horsepower and 250 lb-ft of torque along with a satisfying VTEC snarl. Getting with the times Honda is finally dumping its long-running five-speed automatic transmission and replacing it with a modern gearbox featuring a half-dozen ratios, which is standard across the board.
Getting the most out of a gallon of gasoline, the Odyssey averages 22 miles per gallon, best of this threesome. Around town is should deliver 19 MPG; on the highway that figure jumps to 28.
This Honda is a hard van to top; it blends quality and performance with technology and design. It’s the best of all worlds with one exception: It’s expensive. Base price for an EX-L model, which is nowhere near the most premium trim stickers for around $36,500, shipping and handling included. Despite this pricing disadvantage we believe the new Odyssey is the best choice on the market today; Shelby, your family-friendly chariot awaits.
As always, good luck Shelby in your quest for a new car and thanks again for taking the time to Ask AutoGuide.
If you need a little assistance shopping for your next vehicle feel free to do the same. Send a short message to ask@AutoGuide.com. Let us know the basics of what you’re looking for. How many seats do you need? What size of vehicle do you want? How much are you willing to spend? With some of those fundamentals out of the way we’ll get busy to come up with two or three must-see vehicles that you’ll have to put on your test-drive list.