If people can get past the often-irrational desire to see the view above traffic in a macho-but-less-efficient sport/utility, there's a period of life when nothing gets a family's light hauling and transport done like a minivan. It's a fact millions have discovered since this product type emerged almost 20 years ago.
Dodge, the minivan segment's sales leader, sold 242,036 Caravans and Grand Caravans as part of a 1.4-million unit North American van market last year (worldwide, the company claims it sells 600,000 minivans each year.) Although the second-generation Odyssey was still fresh-faced in '01, relative to the upgraded fourth-gen Dodge and its Chrysler Group siblings, it bit a healthy 131,041-unit chunk out of this family segment. The newest kid on the block, the Kia Sedona, went on sale late last year and arrives surprisingly well equipped and ready to go toe-to-toe with the recognized segment leaders with its outstanding price.
How well does the new value leader stack up against the sales champ and the Odyssey, which won its first one-two shootout with the Grand Caravan a few years back? Today's Dodge Grand Caravan eX and Honda Odyssey EX define the heart of the minivan market where transaction prices average $26,000-$27,000. The Kia Sedona EX showed up with a low-ball sticker of less than $24,000, including $850 leather-seating, $595 anti-lock brakes, and a $575 sunroof. Is it "as good for less"--or just cheaper?
Today's minivan powerplant of choice is a medium-size 200-plus-horsepower V-6 typically teamed with a four-speed automatic, although the Odyssey and Sedona both get standard five-speed autos. Dodge's 3.8-liter V-6 propelled our Inferno Red Tinted Pearl eX tester to 60 mph in 9.4 seconds. Not bad. Despite a DOHC 3.5-liter V-6, the same size as the SOHC Honda's, the Kia turned in a barely adequate 10.5-second run to 60. The undisputed drag champ was the Honda, which took just 8.4 seconds to do the same. While we hardly need to point out that these are not stoplight scorchers, having extra muscle is a genuine safety feature for highway merging or handling steep grades, particularly when fully loaded. The EPA numbers for both the Dodge and the Honda are 18/25 mpg, while the Sedona gets a more SUV-like 15 in the city and 20 on the highway. Being the slowest minivan is okay--slowest and thirstiest is not.