Our conclusion is that, as with many things, you get what you pay for. The Sedona shouldn't be considered inferior. It costs less and gives less, though from a pure size and stuff-holding standpoint, it's all about a wash. The question of which of the two segment leaders to choose is less clear than it was last time we paired off the Grand Caravan and Odyssey. Indeed, we couldn't agree on a winner (see sidebar). Interior features are important, but competition has escalated to the point where minivan-makers are offering things customers aren't asking for. How do you judge the relative value of the Honda's foldaway seat versus the Dodge's power rear tailgate? Performance and utility are so close between the Grand Caravan and the Odyssey, the choice will depend more on such intangibles as which brand you prefer, which one just feels better to you, and who offers you the best deal.
Agreeing To Disagree
What does a bachelor know about minivans? Enough to hold two conflicting opinions of them. One is that, unless you have more than two kids, I don't see why you wouldn't buy a $21,000 midsize sedan instead; the other is that minivans as practical family appliances should be available to the average family for no more than $21,000. So, the Sedona should be my pick on price alone. But I don't think Kia is ready for prime time; the Sedona is too sluggish, with ride and handling that feel unsettled.
The Grand Caravan is a good hauler with exceptional handling, and it deserves to be at the top of the segment. The Odyssey is noisy, and I was dubious about the quality of the first-year models, but it's my choice, by a hair. The Honda's quick, sophisticated 3.5-liter V-6 has plenty of power for confident freeway merges, and it has the handiest third-row seat in the game. Plus, its front-row-center tray is more convenient than the Dodge's gimmicky moveable center console. Good reasons why Honda hasn't been forced to offer any incentives on the Odyssey.--T.L.
The Korean-built Sedona presents an impressive price challenge to its competitors, but it comes at the expense of many cool features that aren't offered. The Sedona lacks powertrain grunt and weighs too much. It has noticeable handling, ride noise, and ride-comfort penalties. But like several other Kia products, its long-term warranty, significant value message, and steadily increasing quality force comparisons with segment leaders.
The Honda just edges the Dodge on engine muscle, navigation system availability, the fold-into-the-floor rear bench, and reliability reputation. Over the past year or so, the Chrysler Group has put as much as $3000 on the hood of certain Caravan models, along with zero-percent financing. The Sedona recently offered a $1000 customer incentive and 3.9-percent financing. Yet, the much-in-demand Honda needn't offer any such spiffs. Do the math: The Dodge is a terrific value factoring in possible incentives, its sweeter interior and exterior styling, the better ride comfort, and interior quiet. I say, Go Caravan.--J.K.