Your best bet:
Chrysler's Pacifica is a newcomer, but already, it impresses with its on-road demeanor, tech offerings and near-endless interior configurability.
A solid runner-up:
The most solid all-rounder, the Odyssey packs a great blend of efficiency, usability, technology and reliability.
With seating for up to seven passengers, the ability to change much of that passenger space into cargo space and enough tech to keep both drivers and passengers content, it's hard to top a minivan for family-friendly utility.
But there's more to the minivan than just basic familial transport. These days, you can turn a minivan into transportation fit for an executive, thanks to options like second-row captain's chairs swathed in genuine leather. Of course, these higher-end options can send a van's sticker price north of $45,000, so heed caution if you're shopping on a tight budget.
Surprisingly, all-wheel drive is a fringe feature in this segment, and it always has been. Right now, it's available only on the, which could affect your choice if you buy cars to suit your local climate. Fuel-friendly options aren't prevalent, either, with the only true sipper in the group.
Despite these new additions, the minivan remains formulaic. Every vehicle in the segment includes three rows of seating, giant sliding doors and a six-cylinder engine under the hood. Models that stray from this formula, such as the Mazda5 and Mercedes-Benz R-Class, haven't met with strong sales.
Similar on the outside, not so similar on the inside
When it comes to traditional minivans, there isn't a great amount of physical variation between them. Average vehicle length hovers around the 16-foot, 9-inch mark. The shortest minivan is the Toyota Sienna at a smidge over 16 feet, 8 inches. The longest is the Chrysler Pacifica, at just over 16 feet, 11 inches. If every Planck length counts in your garage, you'll want to make sure your minivan fits.
The most significant exterior difference is in ground clearance. The Honda Odyssey is just 4.5 inches off the ground, and the Chrysler Pacifica is the only other van with less than 6 inches of ground clearance. The Kia Sedona sits atop the rest, measuring 6.7 inches between underbody and the ground below.
While the exteriors are largely the same, the interiors are wildly different, and they will likely play a much larger role when purchasing. There is no clear-cut winner or loser among minivans where interior dimensions are concerned. The tallest minivan, the Nissan Quest, has the most headroom, especially in the front row (39.9 inches), although the Pacifica wins in third-row headroom. The Sienna takes the cake for shoulder room, hip room and cargo volume.
The Sedona brings up the rear, and Chrysler rests about midpack in these evaluations. However, the Sedona also features the greatest overall passenger volume (172.3 cubic feet) -- the Sienna packs the least (164.4 cubic feet). To give you a clearer picture of the difference in capacity, if you packed both cars to the literal brim with 24-packs of your favorite soft drink (0.625 cubic feet each), the Sedona could hold about 12 more cases than the Toyota.
Let's keep the soft-drink analogy going as we look at trunk space. The most voluminous trunk (Sienna, 39.1 cubic feet) can fit about 10 more cases than the least voluminous trunk (Chrysler, 32.3 cubic feet) with the third row up. When you drop the third row, the Odyssey's 93.1-cubic-feet cargo volume can accommodate a whopping 47 more soft-drink cases than the Quest's 63.6-cubic-feet maximum volume.
Those with large families will also want to pay close attention to passenger capacity. The Nissan Quest only offers captain's chairs in the second row, limiting it to seven passengers. The Toyota Sienna, Kia Sedona, Chrysler Pacifica and Honda Odyssey can all swap between seven- and eight-passenger configurations, depending on trim and what options you select.
Let's hope you like six-cylinder engines
You aren't going to find much variation when it comes to a minivan's powertrain. Each sports a six-cylinder engine and an automatic transmission. The Quest is the only minivan with a continuously variable transmission -- the four others all pack traditional six-speed automatics. Horsepower ranges from 248 in the Odyssey to 287 in the Pacifica. These vans are all front-wheel drive, as well. Only the Sienna offers optional all-wheel drive.
When it comes to fuel economy, nobody is a winner, thanks to hefty curb weights and larger engines. That said, the Odyssey and Pacifica share the crown for highway and combined fuel economy (28 mpg and 22 mpg, respectively). The Quest and its CVT has the highest city economy at 20 mpg.
The Sedona ranks worst in all three metrics, with figures of 17 mpg city, 22 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined. Overall, all of these minivans achieve 17-20 mpg in the city and 22-28 mpg on the highway.
Of course, this assumes you don't opt for the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid. Mating a 3.6-liter V6 to an electric drivetrain, the Pacifica Hybrid offers 84 MPGe and an all-electric range of 33 miles, which should be enough for short daily commutes. No other automaker has committed to utilizing hybridization -- yet.
Between the five minivans, available technology and luxury abounds. All five offer rear-seat entertainment options to keep the kids comfortable, and each one also comes with typical creature comforts such as USB ports, Bluetooth hands-free phone pairing and available multizone automatic climate control.
Not all amenities are split equally among the group, however. For example, only the Honda, Toyota and Chrysler have available HDMI inputs. The Chrysler and Toyota are also the only minivans to pack built-in Blu-ray players, but if you have a free video input, you can always bring your own along for the ride.
There are a few optional touches unique to each minivan. The Toyota, for example, offers a microphone system that pipes the driver's words through the rear speakers, so you can talk to your kids in the back. Honda has a vacuum built into the trunk, and Chrysler offers one near the driver-side sliding door. Chrysler also includes Stow 'N' Go seating, which eliminates the need to physically remove and store seats -- instead, they all fold flat into the floor.
Most of the five minivans are somewhat lacking in active safety systems. While the Odyssey, Sedona, Sienna and Pacifica can be optioned to include forward collision warning, only the Sienna and Pacifica possesses autonomous emergency braking. Most can be equipped with backup cameras and blind-spot monitoring, but more advanced systems like automatic lane-departure mitigation are tough to find in this segment outside the brand-new Pacifica. That's somewhat ironic, given the family-friendly nature of the minivan.
The best of the bunch
If you love variety -- well, you're going to find the minivan segment a struggle. That does make recommending a minivan slightly easier though, as there are fewer choices through which to wade.
Overall, we recommend the Chrysler Pacifica as the best family-oriented minivan on the market. It packs solid fuel economy, a full suite of active and passive safety systems and enough technology for the whole family. There's also a plug-in hybrid variant, in case you're feeling green.
The Honda Odyssey is a solid runner-up. With its ample amenities and solid reliability, it's a van you can buy and not worry about for a long time.
Other vans do have their strengths, though. The Sienna is recommended if you encounter inclement weather on the regular, thanks to its available AWD system. If you're looking for more of an executive-style transport, the Kia Sedona's beautiful two-tone leather interior is tough to top.
First published Jan. 28, 7:00 p.m. PT.
Update, Feb. 14 at 3:43 p.m.: Adds new updates.
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