Some people simply can't handle minivans. Despite recent efforts by Toyota and others to add some "swagger" to the people-movers, a sporty body kit and stylized sheetmetal can't disguise the fact that a minivan is a family vehicle above all else. There are no pretentions of off-roading ability or active, outdoorsy lifestyles in a minivan. But what they usually do provide is more functionality than a similarly priced and sized crossover.

The sacrifice consumers make by choosing an SUV over an equally capable suburban runabout like a minivan is what brings us here today. It's a choice Chevrolet and Ford buyers can no longer make, as the Traverse is now the go-to vehicle for family-hauling duties for Chevrolet and crossovers like the Flex and the new Explorer are doing the deed for Ford. Assuming you've got a garage big enough for a 200-inch-plus-long vehicle, how much do you give up in cargo room, legroom, and maneuverability by driving a crossover over a less sexy van with sliding doors?

We've gathered all the players on the minivan scene and paired them with the equivalent midsize crossover from the same automaker, where possible. With the Chrysler Aspen SUV long gone, Dodge represents Chrysler's minivan duo. Given the choice, would you choose a Dodge Grand Caravan or Dodge Durango? Toyota Sienna or a Toyota Highlander? Kia Sedona or Kia Sorento?

The minivans and crossovers on the following pages are, for the most part, priced from the mid-$20,000 range to just beyond $40,000. This guide attempts to move beyond superficial concerns about style and break down key differences between the two body styles.

Dodge Grand Caravan and Dodge Durango

The refreshed Dodge Grand Caravan is prepared to battle the minivan competition for the 2011 model year. Then again, the same could be said about the new Dodge Durango against its large SUV competitors. Chrysler's 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 powers both vehicles, making 283 horsepower in the front-wheel-drive minivan and 290 horsepower in the rear-wheel-drive Durango.

Fuel economy for the Durango V-6 is 16/23 mpg city/highway, which is lower than the expected figures for the 2011 Dodge van -- the 2010 Grand Caravan with a 4.0-liter V-6 is rated 17/25 mpg. Those using the Durango as a macho carpool SUV are wasting its capabilities. The Dodge SUV's 6200-pound towing capacity for a rear-wheel-drive V-6 model is significantly more useful than the maximum 3600-pound limit on the minivan. In addition, the Durango handles well for a large SUV. "Throw it at a turn and the Durango will lean a bit," we noted in our recent MT test, "but even two-wheel-drive variants hold tight to the road in emergency maneuvers, giving up only gradual understeer when pressed hard."

Inside, the starkest difference between the two seven-passenger vehicles is in cargo capacity. Take a large family on a road trip and you'll have 17.2 cu.-ft. of luggage space behind the third row of the Durango (and even less in the midsize Journey), compared to 33.0 cu.-ft. in the Grand Caravan. Penny-pinchers who don't mind 16-inch steel wheels with wheel covers should try the Grand Caravan with its $25,830 base price. The Durango has a $30,045 MSRP.

Second/Third Row Legroom
Dodge Grand Caravan: 36.5/32.7 in.
Dodge Durango: 38.6/31.5 in.

Cargo Space Behind Third/Second Row
Dodge Grand Caravan: 33.0/83.3 cu.-ft.
Dodge Durango: 17.2/47.7 cu.-ft.

Turning Radius
Dodge Grand Caravan: 39.1 feet
Dodge Durango: 37.1 feet

Bottom Line
The Grand Caravan for maximum space; the Durango for image-conscious buyers with a boat to tow.

Honda Odyssey and Honda Pilot

Only $245 separate the base prices of the 2011 Honda Odyssey and $28,825 Pilot, but the differences in interior space are huge. The Odyssey has more cargo space behind its second row than the Pilot has behind the first row. That says more about the Odyssey than the Pilot, but however you look at it, it's clear the minivan maximizes its dimensions. The same is true for legroom. The Odyssey has a startling 42.4 inches of legroom in the third row, far more cavernous than the Pilot's 32.1 inches.

But life is about more than just cargo capacity and space for eight passengers, so how do these Hondas drive?

When the latest generation Pilot arrived, we were impressed for the most part: "Those who genuinely prefer comfortable, controlled cruising to high-intensity corner-carving will love the 2009 Pilot's even more surefooted demeanor and improved ride."

The Odyssey and Pilot use a 3.5-liter V-6 making 248 horsepower in the minivan and 250 horsepower in the crossover. Both offer a five-speed automatic transmission, though high-end Odysseys offer a six-speed automatic. Fuel economy falls in the Odyssey's favor. A five-speed Odyssey is rated 18/27 mpg city/highway, while the front-wheel-drive Pilot gets 17/23 mpg.

From behind the wheel of the 2011 Odyssey, "the news is mostly good," we said in our recent first drive story. "Steering feels overly weighty at low speeds, making the van seem heavier than it is, but at speed it's just right...The brakes apply with a reassuring firmness, and the van corners with less roll than the Sienna or the 2010 predecessor and with surprisingly little fuss from its eco-friendly tires."

Second/Third Row Legroom
Honda Odyssey: 40.9/42.4 in.
Honda Pilot: 38.5/32.1 in.

Cargo Space Behind Third/Second Row
Honda Odyssey: 38.4/93.1 cu.-ft.
Honda Pilot: 18.0/47.7 cu.-ft.

Turning Radius
Honda Odyssey: 36.7 feet
Honda Pilot: 38.6 feet

Bottom Line
For all-wheel drive: the Pilot. Maximum space: Odyssey by far.

Kia Sedona and Kia Sorento

Kia's Sedona is a small player in the minivan segment, but that doesn't mean you should ignore it. Newly refreshed for the 2011 model year, the Sedona is the only minivan in this article with a five-year/60,000-mile base warranty. The Sorento, which has sold five times as well as the Sedona so far this year, has the same warranty wrapped in a popular crossover package.

That crossover may be the biggest Kia currently has to offer, but it's still considerably smaller than the Sedona. Like the cargo capacity in the Dodge Journey, the space behind the third row seats in the Kia Sorento is small: just 9.1 cubic feet. Fold down those rear seats and you'll have 37 cubes to play with, but the larger Sedona offers 80.1 cubic-feet of space behind the second-row seats. If you need maneuverability, the Sorento crossover has a 35.7-foot turning radius.

Only the Sorento offers a four-cylinder engine, though in a three-row vehicle with seven passengers, we're not sure that's the smartest choice. Instead, try the Sorento's 276-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 (five horsepower more than in the Sedona) which, like the Sedona, comes with a six-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy for the Sorento V-6 is 20/26 mpg city/highway and 18/25 mpg on the Sedona.

As you'd expect for Kias, prices on the Sedona and Sorento are reasonable. A base Sedona starts at $25,390 while a Sorento LX is priced at $26,190 ($25,090 for a three-row I-4 model).

Second/Third Row Legroom
Kia Sedona: 40.9/34.0 in.
Kia Sorento: 38.5/32.1 in.

Cargo Space Behind Third/Second Row
Kia Sedona: 32.2/80.1 cu.-ft.
Kia Sorento: 9.1/37.0 cu.-ft.

Turning Radius
Kia Sedona: 39.6 feet
Kia Sorento: 35.7 feet

Bottom Line
Try the Sorento for maximum fuel economy and an updated interior.

Mazda5 and Mazda CX-9

Few who consider a Mazda5 mini-minivan will keep the large CX-9 crossover on their shopping list, but the Mazda5 seats six, more than Mazda's Tribute and CX-7. For now, the Mazda5 is a one-of-a-kind vehicle in the U.S., forcing some to question whether they really need a larger vehicle. In fact, cargo space with the third-row seats folded down in the 200.2-inch Mazda CX-9 is only 3.9 cubic-feet greater than inside the 180.5-inch Mazda5. Second row roominess is comparable too, though the CX-9 has about 2 inches more third row space.

The six-seat Mazda5 is powered by a 157-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder mated to your choice of a five-speed automatic or a six-speed manual transmission. That may be down about 100 horsepower from nearly every other vehicle in this article, but remember, this is a smaller and lighter minivan. The CX-9 - Motor Trend's 2008 Sport/Utility of the Year - is powered by a 273-horsepower 3.7-liter V-6 using a six-speed automatic transmission. As you'd expect, fuel economy is a strong point for the Mazda5: 21/28 mpg city/highway. The 2011 CX-9 is rated 17/24 mpg.

If you can accept the Mazda5's smaller size and engine, you'll be rewarded with a $19,990 base price. Even with the $24,670 Mazda5 GT and its HID headlights, leather seats, and moonroof, you still won't come close to the $29,930 base price of the 2011 CX-9.

We haven't yet had a full test of the 2012 Mazda5, but can tell you the CX-9 has aged well: "The CX-9 is very manageable... Steering is overly light, though we imagine that's how most large crossover drivers prefer it. For its size, the CX-9's wind noise is also kept to a minimum. A luxury crossover for less? Well, not quite, but the CX-9 gets close."

Second/Third Row Legroom
Mazda5: 39.4/30.5 in.
Mazda CX-9: 39.8/32.4 in.

Cargo Space Behind Third/Second Row
Mazda5: NA/44.4 cu.-ft.
Mazda CX-9: 17.2/48.3 cu.-ft.

Turning Radius
Mazda5: 36.7 feet
Mazda CX-9: 37.4 feet

Bottom Line
Go for the Mazda5 for a nimble, affordable six-passenger minivan experience, or the CX-9 for a quality seven-passenger crossover.

Nissan Quest and Nissan Pathfinder

Nissan still caters to off-road enthusiasts, from the five-passenger Xterra to the seven-passenger Pathfinder. While perhaps not the best choice for urban cruising, the Pathfinder has been Nissan loyalists' least-expensive seven-passenger offering -- until now. The introduction of the Quest minivan fills a noticeable void in Nissan's lineup and is a better challenge to vehicles like the Honda Odyssey and Chrysler Town & Country.

With 63.6 cubic-feet of cargo space behind the second-row seats, the Quest isn't the biggest minivan in interior dimensions, but it handily beats the Pathfinder, which has 48.9 cubic-feet of space behind the second-row seats. Oh, and the Pathfinder's third-row seats have far less legroom than in the Quest. The picture doesn't get any rosier when considering fuel economy. A rear-wheel-drive Pathfinder with the 266-horsepower 4.0-liter V-6 achieves 15/22 mpg city/highway, while Nissan expects the front-wheel-drive Quest with the 260-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 will be rated 18/24 mpg.

"As you would expect with the Pathfinder's fully boxed, all-steel frame," we wrote in a review of a 2010 Pathfinder, "the Nissan rides rougher than most crossovers, and the tires will complain if you take a corner too quickly. Then again, few crossovers can tow 6000 pounds like the Pathfinder V-6, when properly equipped."

Prices are about the same for the Quest and Pathfinder, which start at $28,550 and $28,640, respectively. Use Motor Trend's TrueCar pricing guide and you'll see that the real starting price of the Pathfinder is likely to be thousands less in your area. Really, the Pathfinder and Quest are only connected in their offering of seven-passenger seating -- if you want four-wheel-drive or a V-8, head straight for the Pathfinder.

Second/Third Row Legroom
Nissan Quest: 36.7/40.5 (mfr est.) in.
Nissan Pathfinder: 34.2/28.1 in.

Cargo Space Behind Third/Second Row
Nissan Quest: 35.1/63.6 cu.-ft.
Nissan Pathfinder: 16.5/48.9 cu.-ft.

Turning Radius
Nissan Quest: 36.1-36.7 feet
Nissan Pathfinder: 39.2 feet

Bottom Line
With the reintroduction of the Quest, the rugged Pathfinder can continue to focus on what it does best.

Toyota Sienna and Toyota Highlander

The Sienna and Highlander are significant players in the affordable seven-passenger segment, accounting for 170,000 units of sales between them through the end of November 2010. Backed by the Toyota name, the two vehicles offer a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine on the base trim as well as a 3.5-liter V-6 making at least 266 horsepower. Seven-passenger seating is standard equipment on both vehicles, though the Sienna also offers eight-passenger seating.

A basic Sienna V-6 is thousands cheaper than the base Highlander crossover with a V-6. Even so, as we've seen with other automaker minivan v. crossover comparisons in this article, the Sienna manages to walk away from the Highlander in interior space and passenger comfort for the third row seats. Though prices are similar -- from the mid-to-high-$20,000 range to just above $40,000 -- the Highlander competes against similarly compromised midsize crossovers. Unlike most minivans, however, the Sienna can be purchased with all-wheel drive, like the Highlander.

"The Highlander V-6 remains a very competent, capable, and well-executed three-row crossover. Perhaps to a fault. 'Engaging' and 'fun to drive' are really the only two Highlander boxes left unchecked," reads our road test of a 2011 Highlander.

In a comparison test of the sport-tuned Sienna SE against the Honda Odyssey and pre-refresh Dodge Grand Caravan, the Toyota was awarded first place thanks to its "brilliant (for a minivan) driving dynamics and intelligent second- and third-row packaging."

Second/Third Row Legroom
Toyota Sienna: 37.6/36.3 in.
Toyota Highlander: 38.3/29.9 in.

Cargo Space Behind Third/Second Row
Toyota Sienna: 39.1/87.1 cu.-ft.
Toyota Highlander: 10.3/42.3 cu.-ft.

Turning Radius
Toyota Sienna: 37.3 feet
Toyota Highlander: 38.7 feet

Bottom Line
Oddly enough, the minivan for driving enjoyment and the Highlander for a well-done crossover.

Volkswagen Routan and Volkswagen Touareg

The Volkswagen Routan's pricing tops out where the Touareg luxury crossover's MSRP begins. That means consumers with the means can choose between a luxury five-passenger crossover with the security of all-wheel drive and a seven-passenger minivan with all the features Volkswagen offers. The Routan and Touareg may be Volkswagen's largest vehicles in the U.S., but that's where the similarities end.

The Volkswagen Routan starts life as a Chrysler Town & Country, but with a revised interior and suspension tuning. A Routan SEL Premium stickers for $43,000 and includes a rear-seat entertainment system, premium sound system, leather seats, HID headlights, and a touch screen navigation system. We've found our long-term Routan tester mostly agreeable but not class-leading.

"The 4.0-liter engine, though not refined (too thrashy), is plenty powerful, and the six-speed offers class-leading smoothness in its WOT shifts. It's a shame Chrysler wouldn't let VW use the Stow 'n Go, but at least the Routan retained the cavernous underfloor storage in front of the second-row seats," we said in one long-term test update.

Newly redesigned, the Touareg has in its sights vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz ML more than the Routan. "At wide open throttle, the engine sounds energetic but the hefty Touareg doesn't feel that quick," we write in our Touareg first drive article. "Steering is communicative, the brakes are responsive, and as long as you don't treat the Touareg like a GTI, body roll is kept under control. Wind noise is reduced as much as can be expected for an SUV like this."

Second/Third Row Legroom
Volkswagen Routan: 36.3/31.8 in.
Volkswagen Touareg: 34.9/NA in.

Cargo Space Behind Second Row
Volkswagen Routan: 83.0 cu.-ft.
Volkswagen Touareg: 32.1 cu.-ft.

Turning Radius
Volkswagen Routan: 38.0 feet
Volkswagen Touareg: 39.0 feet

Bottom Line
For 40 grand there are better minivans than the Routan; between the two VWs, we'd opt for the Touareg.

  • «
  • |
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
  • |
  • 4
  • |
  • 5
  • |
  • 6
  • |
  • 7
  • |
  • 8
  • |
  • View Full Article