Six short years ago, the minivan segment was thriving. Sales were a million strong and nameplates were as diverse as the sweet selections in a box of See's chocolates. From Japan (Honda Odyssey, Mazda MPV, Nissan Quest, Toyota Sienna) and Korea (Kia Sedona) to the good ol' US of A (Buick Terraza, Chevy Uplander, Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Caravan, Ford Freestar, Mercury Monterey, Pontiac Montana, Oldsmobile Silhouette, Saturn Relay), the minivan menu offered savory -- and, let's face it, some unsavory -- choices for every mom and dad.
And then something happened. A seed called the three-row crossover was planted, and it sprouted like bamboo on a Miracle-Gro drip. Suddenly, automakers were clamoring to harvest these hip, urban transporters and many decided to axe their no-longer-so-cool minivans. Sales of the sliding-door transporters tumbled to around 400,000 in 2009. Since then, however, the numbers have steadily increased, and they're trending to more than 500,000 in 2011.
Two big reasons for the spike in minivan interest are the all-new Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna, both thoroughly redone for the 2011 model year. Each boasts an aggressive dose of standout style, myriad luxuries and amenities, and refined V-6 powertrains featuring available six-speed automatics. Honda ups the ante with a new Touring Elite trim that offers a blind-spot warning system and standard leather trim, navigation, and DVD entertainment. Toyota, meanwhile, is providing something for everyone, thanks to a catalog that includes a base four-cylinder, a decidedly sporty SE, and a top-of-the-line Limited. And let's not forget about rejuvenated Chrysler, which recently updated its Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan haulers with freshened styling inside and out and a new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6.