Ultimate Minivan Results

The Reviewers: David Thomas, Cars.com; Kristin Varela, Cars.com; Jennifer Newman, Cars.com; James Healey, USA Today; Brian Robinson, "MotorWeek"; Travis and Heather Weatherby, family testers.

The Scoring: Expert reviewers made up 65 percent of the final score; the family made up 25 percent; gas mileage accounted for 10 percent. A perfect score would be 1,000 points.

No. 6: 2011 Toyota Sienna; 715.15 points

(See the scorecard, the Monroney sticker or research the 2011 Toyota Sienna)

The term "disappointment" came up again and again in the comments from our expert reviewers when it came to the Sienna. Several noted that while they enjoyed the "Swagger Wagon" marketing for the redesigned minivan, in reality, it fell short of that title.

Pros:
Thomas "found its performance quite good with a strong engine and exceptional handling," while Healey applauded the fact that the Sienna was the "only van available with all-wheel drive, a definite plus." Newman noted, "I like that the Sienna's exterior styling doesn't scream minivan."

Cons: The reviewers' disappointment showed itself in several ways. Many disliked the loud engine noise, while Varela noted the poor interior quality. Several commented that the "loungelike second-row seats" were "gimmicky."
"I'm just not that impressed with the Sienna," Travis Weatherby said. "I was expecting to be blown away." "It's comfortable enough," Robinson noted, "and although there are lots of ways to configure the seats, they're not the easiest or most intuitive to figure out."

Key Features

    • Price as tested: $41,144 (second most expensive of the six)
    • 16/22 mpg; 18 mpg combined (worst in class)
    • Features common to all vans: Bluetooth connectivity, power sliding doors, power liftgate, some form of rear entertainment, V-6 engine and a backup camera
    • Only model with all-wheel drive
    • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick
    • 16.4-inch video screen in second row
    • Lounge seats in second row with retractable foot rest
    • Navigation
    • Leather
    • All windows have auto up and down
    • Two 115-volt house-style power outlets
    • Backup sensors
No. 5: 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan; 721.6 points

(See the scorecard, the Monroney sticker or research the 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan)

Although it wound up at No. 5 on our list, the Grand Caravan earned plenty of props for its low cost and high number of features. "Price is a big bonus," Robinson said. It's "extremely well equipped for $34,000." Still, in a field that was pretty evenly matched, it fell short. "For minivan drivers on a budget, this one is for you," Varela said, adding, "Just don't compare it to other minivans on the market."

Pros: "One of my favorite features in the Grand Caravan was the second-row cupholders that slide out of the back of the center console," Newman said. Several reviewers liked the high number of features for the lowest price among the competitors. "Say what you want about the lack of comfort to the Stow 'n Go seating, I love the under-floor storage that it provides when the seats are up," Robinson noted.

Cons: "A bit disappointing," Healey said, "given that it's so similar to the [Chrysler] Town & Country. Seemed downscale, coarser." "While powerful, the new Pentastar V-6 is noisy," Robinson said, "and fuel mileage, while better than before, is still not that great." "The cloth seats alone would make this a no-go, in my book, for families," Varela said. "If there's a poster child for competency, it's the Grand Caravan," Thomas wrote. "It's good at everything, yet excels at nothing."

Key Features

    • Price as tested: $34,055 (least expensive of the six)
    • 17/25 mpg; 20 mpg combined
    • Features common to all vans: Bluetooth, power sliding doors, power liftgate, some form of rear entertainment, V-6 engine and a backup camera
    • 9-inch video screen in second row
    • Manual third row with tailgate seating
    • Remote start
    • Navigation
    • Cloth seating
    • Heated second-row seats, heated steering wheel
    • Flat-folding second row
    • 115-volt house-style power outlet
No. 4: 2011 Volkswagen Routan; 757 points

(See the scorecard, the Monroney sticker or research the 2011 Volkswagen Routan)

The Volkswagen is in an interesting place. It shares a lot with the two Chrysler minivans in this Shootout, but it retains much of the older, pre-redesigned Chrysler look and feel, though it does have the same, new V-6 engine. It has a slightly changed exterior, and it doesn't have the Stow 'n Go seats. Overall, our reviewers and family felt it was an intriguing choice, both for its value as well as for its VW background.

Pros: "I grew more fond of the Routan as the family inspected it," Thomas said. "When they saw it was priced the same as the Dodge, but added a second DVD screen and leatherette seats, it was easy to be swayed. That swayed me, too." Robinson liked the "European tuning. OK, it's probably not actually tuned in Europe, but the Chrysler vans are already pretty good handlers, and this one seems a bit better." Healey felt that the Routan "has much nicer seats than the Chryslers." "It looks like a 10 all around," Travis Weatherby said, "because of the price point." Newman called it "wonderfully quiet."

Cons: "It carries over the obnoxious center stack, rickety gearshift lever and awkward interior front-door handles of the previous version," Healey said. "It's missing VW's legendary styling," Newman added. "How can this feel cheaper than the Grand Caravan?" Robinson asked, and Varela noted that "there's no telescoping steering wheel. Wow. What year is this?" She damned it with faint praise: "The Routan looks and feels like a really well-kept and clean rental car that's not quite up to par with how other vehicles have evolved over the past couple of years."

Key Features

    • Price as tested: $34,750 (second least expensive of the six)
    • 17/25 mpg; 20 mpg combined
    • Features common to all vans: Bluetooth, power sliding doors, power liftgate, some form of rear entertainment, V-6 engine and a backup camera
    • Dual 9-inch video screens for second and third rows
    • Navigation
    • Leatherette seating (simulated leather)
    • Tailgate seating for third row
No. 3: 2011 Nissan Quest; 769.1 points

(See the scorecard, the Monroney sticker or research the 2011 Nissan Quest)

Nissan returns to the minivan game after taking a couple of years off, and the reviewers were largely happy with the results. The combination of a high-quality interior with an extremely quiet and comfortable ride helped it score highly against the more established competition. Still, it's not without its faults.

Pros: "This is a different level," Travis Weatherby said about the Quest's interior, which said a lot since the Quest was the last van he drove for the day. "If there was a van I'd buy, this would be it," Thomas raved. "The fact that you can fold all of the seats flat in the Quest without having to remove any of them is fantastic," Varela added. "The Quest's mixture of chrome and faux wood trim was understated and looked luxurious," Newman said.

Cons: Healey was less impressed. "Odd-looking, pricey, not especially well-suited to the American market, but boy, those seats are great." Odd-looking was a common refrain. "I still don't care for its ugly squared-off rear that makes it look like a brick on wheels," Newman said. On the other hand, Robinson applauded that look: "I like that the styling is still big, boxy and minivan-looking." Still, he didn't care for "the smell of cheap leather." Both Robinson and Travis questioned why a $38,000 van wouldn't have navigation. "Navigation is almost standard today, isn't it?" Travis said.

Key Features

    • Price as tested: $38,040 (fourth most expensive of the six)
    • 19/24 mpg; 21 mpg combined
    • Features common to all vans: Bluetooth, power sliding doors, power liftgate, some form of rear entertainment, V-6 engine and a backup camera
    • 11-inch screen in second row
    • Dual moonroofs
    • Only model without navigation
    • Crossover-SUV-like folding second row
    • Leather
    • Removable second-row center console
    • 115-volt house-style power outlet
No. 2: 2011 Chrysler Town & Country; 822.4 points

(See the scorecard, the Monroney sticker or research the 2011 Chrysler Town & Country)

Chrysler has long been the minivan king, with the success of both the Grand Caravan and the Town & Country. For 2011, both were redesigned extensively, with new interiors and engines. The changes to the Town & Country wore well for our reviewers and our test family, which liked not only how the interior looked, but also appreciated its smooth ride, quick engine and overall flexibility. "I liked the Honda, but I might like this better," Heather Weatherby said.

Pros: "Generally excellent," Healey raved, a thought seconded by Thomas: "I couldn't believe how upscale the Chrysler interior was versus the Dodge." "I'm not a Dodge guy," Travis Weatherby said, "but I'm impressed by this Chrysler. You can't beat the horsepower in this thing. It makes you feel fancy driving it." "The Stow 'n Go captain's chairs, combined with a power folding third row, easily make the T&C the most flexible minivan we tested," Varela said. "This might be the simplest minivan to live with."

Cons: "Like the Grand Caravan, the loud engine noise is inconsistent with the level of luxury on the interior," Robinson noted. "I felt a little claustrophobic and smooshed up against the windshield," Varela said. "The Stow 'n Go seat storage compromises comfort," Healey noted, while Newman bemoaned the lack of visibility: "Seeing out the rear window was difficult because the second-row head restraints got in the way."

Key Features

    • Price as tested: $40,835 (third most expensive of the six)
    • 17/25 mpg; 20 mpg combined
    • Features common to all vans: Bluetooth, power sliding doors, power liftgate, some form of rear entertainment, V-6 engine and a backup camera
    • Dual 9-inch video screens for second and third rows
    • Power folding third row with tailgate seating
    • Navigation
    • Remote start
    • Leather
    • Heated front- and second-row seats, heated steering wheel
    • Flat-folding second row
    • 115-volt house-style power outlet
    • Blind spot monitoring system
    • Backup radar

And the winner is ...

No. 1: 2011 Honda Odyssey; 854.55 points

(See the scorecard, the Monroney sticker or research the 2011 Honda Odyssey)

"The Odyssey has the most updated and modern exterior styling without being too strong or offensive," Varela wrote, and the others agreed. Our family may have been a little biased toward the Odyssey since they previously owned one. The combination of ride, features and handling made this one the winner for our experts and our family. And while you may think that the more expensive a van is — and the Odyssey was the priciest van in our Shootout — the better it will perform, please note that the Sienna, the second most expensive van, came in last.

Pros: "It doesn't look like such a mommy car," Heather said. "I love the smooth, powerful, nearly carlike ride," Varela chimed in. "Satisfying to drive," Healey said, and it "gets good mileage for a van." "Only two of the vans" stereos impressed me," Thomas said, "and the Odyssey did the most impressing." "The outboard seats in the second row are the comfiest seats in the Shootout, and the expandable second row seats three car seats," Newman noted. "By far the best handling of the bunch!" Robinson enthused. "It really comes down to which van fits you best as far as comfort and use of controls, and for me, it's the Honda Odyssey," he said. "One thing I think this shootout proved was just how good the Odyssey is," Thomas wrapped up. "It does everything very well."

Cons: That look. It's angular, it's different, and our reviewers either loved it or hated it. "Crossover-like styling fools no one," Robinson said. "Looks atrocious." "Distressingly ugly in profile," Healey agreed. The Weatherbys and Thomas were happy with the looks, though.  For Newman, "a lot of road noise crept into the cabin." And, she noticed, "the Odyssey has floppy seat belt buckles, which are a major annoyance to older kids in booster seats." And finally, Varela pointed out, "For more than $42,000, I demand power folding third-row seats. I'm also surprised at this price point that the Odyssey doesn't have push-button start. Seriously, I have to use a key to start it? How retro."

Key Features

    • Price as tested: $43,250 (most expensive)
    • 19/28 mpg; 22 mpg combined (best in class)
    • Features common to all vans: Bluetooth, power sliding doors, power liftgate, some form of rear entertainment, V-6 engine and a backup camera
    • 16.2-inch video screen in second row with HDMI input
    • Navigation
    • Only minivan with room for eight occupants
    • NHTSA five-star overall score (revised 2011 methodology)
    • Second row has adjustable seat width and removable center seat
    • Leather
    • 115-volt house-style power outlet
    • Blind spot monitoring system
    • Backup radar
© Cars.com 05/20/2011