Cars.comparison: Minivans

With school back in session, you may be looking to update your family's people-mover. Our experts take three around the block.

 = Category winner
The Contenders
2006 Dodge Grand Caravan SE2006 Kia Sedona EX2006 Toyota Sienna XLE Limited AWD
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MSRP
Base
$23,265$25,795$38,380
As tested
$28,535$29,665$42,517
Engine/transmission performance
Something raspy lurks under the Grand Caravan's hood, but it delivers acceptable performance. The robust V-6 and cooperative automatic transmission give this powertrain plenty of appeal.Transmission shifts are smooth, but the engine's adequate acceleration drops off at highway speeds.
Ride and handling
The carlike driving position is appealing, but the bouncy ride and numb steering aren't. The suspension is defiantly firm, and the steering wheel's detached, lifeless feel isn't inspiring. A firm suspension limits excessive body roll, and the Sienna's precise steering requires little effort. Some bumps can make the body structure shudder, though.
Comfort/roominess
Stow 'n Go is a marvel of engineering, but it doesn't make for marvelous comfort. The seats have thin cushions and they sit too close to the floor.A fine mix of interior dimensions and overall comfort, though we've noticed that the cloth seats in the lower trim level are less comfy. Strictly by the numbers, the Sienna and Sedona's interior dimensions are comparable, but the Sienna has a higher second row and more-comfortable seats overall.
Folding seats
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After manhandling the heavy captain's chairs in the other two, you begin to wish every minivan had Stow 'n Go seats. The Caravan's third-row seat also flips rearward for tailgate seating.
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It's easy to operate the Sedona's adult-sized, folding third-row bench seat, but the heavy second-row captain's chairs are best left alone.
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Besides a fold-flat third row, the Sienna's heavy second-row captain's chairs can be positioned to form a bench seat.
Interior refinement
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With outdated dash controls and low-grade trim and seat fabric, the Grand Caravan makes it seem like it's 1995 all over again.
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Materials quality is respectable overall, though the seat and door fabric seem dated. Its terrible new-car smell should fade with time.
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The faux wood trim is a bit tacky, but overall the cabin is pleasing to the eye. The Sienna feels like the most expensive minivan of the bunch, which, er, it is.
Visibility
The Grand Caravan's side mirrors could be larger, but all-around visibility is very good. An expansive windshield lends excellent forward views, and the decent rear view can be enhanced with parking sensors. The Sienna provides good visibility, and it can have front and rear parking sensors and a rearview camera, if you're willing to pay for them.
IIHS crash-test ratings
With optional side curtain airbags, the Grand Caravan manages only "Acceptable" scores in frontal-offset, side and rear tests. With top scores of "Good" in frontal-offset, side and rear tests, the Sedona is a Top Safety Pick 2006 (Gold). The Sienna receives "Good" ratings in frontal-offset and side tests, but a "Poor" rating in the rear test.
Power sliding doors
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Impossibly noisy.
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Most sensitive to limbs in their path.
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Perfectly acceptable.
Gas mileage (city/highway)
19/2618/2517/23
Warranty (years/miles)
Bumper-to-bumper
3/36,000 5/60,0003/36,000
Powertrain
3/36,000 10/100,0005/60,000
Roadside assistance
3/36,000 5/60,000N/A
Cargo capacity (seats up/maximum)
26.4/160.7 cu. ft. The highest maximum volume and trouble-free Stow 'n Go seats make the Caravan truly Grand. 32.2/141.5 cu. ft. The maximum cargo volume is lowest, and loading 4x8-foot sheets of building material is complicated by a hatch opening that narrows near the floor. 43.6/148.9 cu. ft. There's a good mix of minimum and maximum cargo volume, but the 67-pound removable captain's chairs are a chiropractor's dream.
 
Editors' choice
Despite well-executed Stow 'N Go second-row seats, the Grand Caravan feels stuck in an earlier minivan era. Considering its price, the Sedona's top crash-test scores, strong engine and unmatched warranty are more than enough to make us overlook (undersmell?) its malodorous interior.Even in base form, the Sienna doesn't provide the Sedona's level of value, and it offers little to justify its premium pricing.
Posted on 9/1/06
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