Photography by Scott Gilbert; location courtesy Six Flags Magic Mountain
Minivans aren't about projecting an image, though they do say something about the families who use them. These multipurpose vehicles don't focus on high performance, either, even if they can outpace many cars in the same tests. Minivans are here to do one thing: Solve the transportation riddles of the modern family.
Our particular minivan trio has much in common. All three come standard in front-engine, 230-to-240-horsepower V-6, five-speed automatic, front-drive configurations (Nissan and Toyota offer all-wheel drive). Each has seating for seven with power-operated dual-sliding side doors (Nissan and Toyota have a power rear hatch as well). The Odyssey used to be the only one to offer that magic fold-into-floor third-row seat; the other two have it now, and theirs are easier to operate. Toyota's splits 60/40 for even more flexibility. All our contenders feature rear air-conditioning and entertainment systems, which consist of a second/third-row DVD player, rear audio controls, and wireless, infrared headsets (Nissan offers two LCD monitors). When properly equipped, each minivan is rated with a 3500-pound towing capacity. They even all turned in an identical 8.7-second 0-to-60-mph time.
As we've discovered, cargo-volume figures are tricky at best and misleading at worst. Depending on whose method of volumetric measurement is used (especially considering that each van's seating flips/stows/removes differently), we don't place much emphasis on these manufacturer-supplied specifications, but use actual cargo to observe how well each stows.