What is the Most Fuel Efficient Minivan?

Craig Cole
by Craig Cole

Nothing screams “commitment” or “responsibility” louder than a minivan, well, maybe a saggy pair of elastic-waist mom jeans but who’s counting?

Love ‘em or loathe ‘em these versatile vehicles are designed to excel at hauling, whether it’s taking a passel of kiddies to soccer practice after school or hauling a load of building material home from the lumber yard.

Stylish and sporty they are NOT, but modern minivans are as practical and honest as the week is long. They’re also pretty thrifty, maximizing cargo capacity while minimizing fuel consumption. And that’s a subject on the top of every consumer’s mind these days: efficiency.

But what kind of economy do these versatile vehicles deliver? Here’s a breakdown of some popular models and how far they can stretch a gallon of gasoline.

Sedona, it’s more than just a scenic location in Arizona and a hotbed of New-Age nonsense, it’s also the name of Kia’s entry in the coldly contested minivan segment. This bland-looking box is offered in two trim levels, LX and EX. As for pricing it starts at right around $26,000.

No matter the model every Sedona is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine. Those half-dozen cylinders belt out 269 HP and 246 LB-FT of torque; the only transmission offered is a six-speed automatic.

2014 Kia Sedona, 3.5-Liter – 17 City, 24 Highway, 20 Combined

Wonder Van powers, activate! The Pentastar brand essentially invented the modern minivan segment back in the 1980s with its efficient, right-sized, front-wheel offerings. They ignited something of a craze and numerous competitors scrambled to compete with their game-changing miniature vans.

For the sake of brevity we’ve lumped two vehicles into one section here as the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country are essentially identical. They both feature a 3.6-liter V6 engine that delivers a smooth 283 HP with 260 LB-FT of torque; that’s enough beans and franks to blow your stick-figure family right off the back glass. The engine is matched exclusively to a six-speed automatic transmission.

One area these vans distance themselves from the competition is with their flex-fuel capability. They can both run on corrosive, ethanol-rich E85, though with a significant drop in overall efficiency as shown below.

2014 Dodge Grand Caravan, 3.6-Liter – 17 City, 25 Highway, 20 Combined

2014 Dodge Grand Caravan, 3.6-Liter E85 – 12 City, 18 Highway, 14 Combined

2014 Chrysler Town & Country, 3.6-Liter – 17 City, 25 Highway, 20 Combined

2014 Chrysler Town & Country, 3.6-Liter E85 – 12 City, 18 Highway, 14 Combined

Nissan has attempted to do something with its Quest that other automakers haven’t been able to achieve. Right or wrong they’ve injected a bit of design flair into the traditional two-box minivan shape, with mixed results. Blacked-out pillars, a large grille and other interesting details make for an unusually expressive people hauler.

Under its elevated hood is one of Nissan’s famous VQ V6 engines. In this domestic application it delivers 260 HP with 240 LB-FT of torque. The powerplant is saddled with a fun-killing but efficiency-boosting Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) that makes the most of every drop of gasoline. The Quest is impressively thrifty for a big ol’ box on wheels.

2014 Nissan Quest, 3.5-Liter – 19 City, 25 Highway, 21 Combined

Toyota’s Swagger Wagon is a fine choice in the minivan segment, offering buyers all kinds of high-end features and luxury amenities. Things like three-zone climate control, blind-spot monitoring and a premium 10-speaker sound system are all available in the Sienna. This van is also unique in that it has available all-wheel drive for extra traction in slippery situations and extra bucks on the window sticker.

The Sienna is powered by a smooth running 3.5-liter V6 engine that whips up 266 creamy-smooth ponies with 245 LB-FT of twist. A six-speed transmission is standard across the board. This Toyota mommymobile’s got the swagger to really rock your “Baby on Board” placard.

2014 Toyota Sienna, 3.5-Liter, FWD – 18 City, 25 Highway, 21 Combined

2014 Toyota Sienna, 3.5-Liter, AWD – 16 City, 23 Highway, 19 Combined

Honda’s Odyssey won’t win any beauty pageants but its boxy body is cleanly styled and purposeful looking. Its appearance reinforces the fact that it’s a no-nonsense vehicle that’s built for the long haul… plus you can get one with an integrated vacuum cleaner.

Aft of the giant “H” on its grille is a 3.5-liter V6 engine that’s fortified with VTEC for enhanced performance and cylinder deactivation for better economy. All told it churns out 248 HP and 250 LB-FT of torque. Power is routed to the Odyssey’s front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. This drivetrain combination may be fairly blasé but it works really well. Just look at those numbers!

2014 Honda Odyssey, 3.5-Liter – 19 City, 28 Highway, 22 Combined

Now for the smart-sized Mazda5. This product proves that family-focused vehicles don’t necessarily have to be gargantuan and ungainly to drive. The company’s famous Zoom-Zoom DNA is baked right into this vanlette.

All Mazda5s are powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. With 16 valves and variable camshaft timing it delivers a pretty mediocre 157 HP with 163 LB-FT of peak torque. Shattering convention this vehicle offers either a five-speed automatic transmission or a fan-f***ing-tastic six-speed manual gearbox. Here’s how well it does at the pump.

2014 Mazda5 Automatic Transmission – 22 City, 28 Highway, 24 Combined

2014 Mazda5 Manual Transmission – 21 City, 28 Highway, 24 Combined

Staying in the shallow-end of the market we come to the redesigned Ford Transit Connect Wagon, a vehicle that’s all-new for 2014. This mini-minivan focuses on getting things done, with blue-collar, utilitarian sensibility. It’s also offered as a dedicated cargo van for serious hauling.

Ford’s Tranny offers customers two engine choices, a bottom-feeder 2.5-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder with 169 HP and 171 LB-FT of torque or an up-level 1.6-liter EcoBoost unit with 178 HP and 184 LB-FT. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard across the board. Additionally, Ford offers two wheelbases with the Transit Connect Wagon: short and long. With compact dimensions and a downsized, turbocharged engine it delivers the best fuel efficiency here.

2014 Ford Transit Connect Wagon, Short Wheelbase, 2.5-Liter – 20 City, 28 Highway, 23 Combined

2014 Ford Transit Connect Wagon, Short Wheelbase, 1.6-Liter – 22 City, 29 Highway, 25 Combined

2014 Ford Transit Connect Wagon, Long Wheelbase, 2.5-liter – 20 City, 28 Highway, 23 Combined

Craig Cole
Craig Cole

Born and raised in metro Detroit, Craig was steeped in mechanics from childhood. He feels as much at home with a wrench or welding gun in his hand as he does behind the wheel or in front of a camera. Putting his Bachelor's Degree in Journalism to good use, he's always pumping out videos, reviews, and features for AutoGuide.com. When the workday is over, he can be found out driving his fully restored 1936 Ford V8 sedan. Craig has covered the automotive industry full time for more than 10 years and is a member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).

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  • 5Fan 5Fan on Jan 06, 2014

    I've been driving a Mazda5 Sport 6-speed for two years now. It is my first family car (also have a 90 Miata autox toy and a TT). It is the closest I've come to fun driving in a minivan / SUV. It carries my family of three, two 26" adult mountain bikes (front wheels removed, bikes upside down facing the rear) , a 16" kids bike (standing up across the back cargo area) and a days worth of food/gear. Yet many times people still mistake it for a Honda Fit or the like. It's simply awesome, and cost me 18500 out the door. If Mazda gives it their new design style facelift and a stronger motor (with manual), I'll be at their doorstep once again.

  • HotRod HotRod on May 05, 2014

    Can these writers come up with anything more original than the old "if you're so uncool that you have own a minivan, which one is best quality/value/economy" schtick? "Soccer Mom" vehicles are clearly SUVs now - how many 5' tall women have you seen driving Suburbans with nobody else in the vehicle? SUVs are the new un-cool.