Minivans are the vehicles most suited to carrying large families and cargo, with versatility, convenience, and comfort being hallmarks. Want to know how to buy the best minivan for you? This minivan buyer's guide will prepare you to choose the models that best fit your needs and budget.
With the rise of the SUV, the minivan market has shrunk in recent years. Many models have been discontinued and the overall variation has diminished, leaving a few similar minivans for shoppers to choose from. Minivans continue to improve overall refinement, while introducing clever packaging features and leading-edge entertainment solutions.
Why buy a minivan?
The main appeal of minivans is versatility: the ability to carry various combinations of people and cargo. Cabins can be configured from the strictly functional to living-room plush, with leather seating, tri-zone climate control, power doors, and rear DVD entertainment systems. That flexibility makes minivans the best choice for a wide range of buyers, from families to commercial users.
Key things to consider
When looking for a minivan, consider how many people you will be transporting, how much cargo space and storage capability you need, fuel economy, safety, and price.
All minivans come with a V6 engine right now. Some offer a choice of V6s but most do not. Power is typically in the 250-hp range. Fuel economy is in the high teens for most models, which is not great, but better than most of the three-row SUVs they compete with. Today's minivans are all based on front-drive platforms that are similar in size--what used to be called "extended length" some years ago. That means shoppers can focus on how they rate for overall performance and reliability, and on packaging and features, rather than deliberating over body size and configuration.
What you'll spend
Minivans are priced in the $25,000 to almost $40,000 range. The most costly models have long rosters of equipment, such as swivel rear seats, a small table or captain's chairs, power rear hatch, and all-wheel drive. Built-in entertainment and navigation systems can add significantly to the price.
Below we highlight important features for you to consider when purchasing a minivans.
Engines and fuel economy
Minivans come with a six-cylinder engine, with few models allowing an upgrade to a larger engine. Fuel economy is similar within the segment, though some models benefit from more advanced powertrain technology.
Today's minivans use front-wheel drive, which is more space efficient and provides better traction than rear-wheel drive in slippery conditions. The Toyota Sienna is the only minivan currently sold that offers an all-wheel drive option. That configuration's run-flat tires are a bit of a liability, though, as they degrade the ride and are expensive to replace. Traction-control, available on many minivans, provides extra grip in slippery conditions but it isn't as effective as all-wheel drive. For more information about drive systems, see our traction-debate report.