2010 Minivan Buying Guide

Last Updated: Apr 5, 2010

If tough economic times compel Americans to rationalize their spending, does that mean a renewed interest in the minivan, perhaps the most rational vehicle of all?

It would have to be reprioritization on a monumental scale to return minivans to their glory days. That would have been 2000, when the minivan field consisted of 15 different models and sales peaked at 1.37 million. By 2009, the category had shriveled to eight nameplates and sales withered to under 650,000.

Some blame for the fall goes to the soccer-mom stigma that drove families into sportier-image SUVs. And then there’s competition in the form of seven- and eight-seat “crossovers” that blend car, minivan, and SUV attributes.

Still, nothing matches a minivan’s blend of roominess, versatile use of space, easy entry and exit, ride comfort, and the often-overlooked advantage of a configuration that enables occupants to move between seating rows while remaining inside.

No one is predicting a major minivan revival. But the segment is far from dead. In fact, in 2008, a devastating year that saw U.S. sales of all cars and trucks fall 18 percent, minivan sales declined at about the same pace, down some 19 percent. That’s far better than the 24.7 percent drop that hit the light-truck category, which includes minivans, SUVs, and pickups. Cars, affected less by seesaw gas prices, suffered a 10.4 percent decline in sales.     

Indeed, signs of life are evident for the 2010 model year. True, Ford and General Motors have abandoned the minivan market to cast their family-hauler fortunes with the crossover Ford Flex and Chevrolet Traverse. But two of America’s most-popular minivans, the 2010 Honda Odyssey and 2010 Toyota Sienna, are treated to the most significant updates they’ve had in years.

Volkswagen is back in the game with the Routan, a Teutonic take on the Dodge Grand Caravan. And Kia has a restyled Sedona waiting in the wings. Chrysler had enough faith in the minivan to spend $1.4 billon on the 2008-model-year redesign of its Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country. The duo got 35 new or revised features. Reports say Nissan is at work on a replacement for its slow-selling Quest minivan, which is calling it quits after the 2009 model year.  

None of this suggests minivan fans should anticipate radical changes, or that they even desire them. Manufacturers have learned not to toy with the basic big-box formula. They continue to find ways to make all that space inside more useful, however. The latest Caravan and Town & Country, for example, are available with second-row seats that swivel so riders can sit around a table. Rear DVD entertainment is de regle, and the Town & Country and Caravan also have rolling Wi-Fi technology that makes the entire van an Internet hot spot; the coverage extends to a small perimeter -- perfect for tailgate parties.

Minivans are safe, too. Government statistics show they have the lowest fatalities rates of any passenger vehicle. Credit a combination of abundant safety features, relative mass compared to other cars and trucks, and an owner population that spends lots of time in relatively unthreatening suburban and Interstate traffic and is adverse to reckless driving – baby on board, anyone?

With a segment average of about 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway, fuel economy is reasonable, given vehicle size. Toyota is reassessing its pledge to offer a gas-electric hybrid version of every model it makes, so a Sienna Hybrid is no certain thing. But Honda already offers the Odyssey with fuel-saving engine technology that shuts off half the cylinders in low-demand driving. And the company is moving ahead with plans to equip many of its models with a diesel V-6, the Odyssey reportedly among them. The real fuel-economy champ is the delightful mini-minivan Mazda 5, a roomy five-seater that rates 21 mpg city/27 mpg highway. 

Prices are pretty sane, too, considering all a minivan can do. The 2010 Kia Sedona is a value leader, starting under $23,000. The Dodge Grand Caravan is priced from under $26,000. Of course, you can load an Odyssey, Sienna, or Town & Country with leather and the full monte of gizmos, including sunroof, navigation system, and video, and come away with a $40,000 home away from home.

So if you recognize the minivan’s remarkable usefulness -- and you’re secure enough in your identity to drive one -- you’ve got a range of fine choices.

Here’s a rundown of the 2010 minivan market:

2010 Chrysler Town & Country
Continues to emphasize toward luxury while awaiting a sheetmetal freshening for 2011.

2010 Dodge Grand Caravan
Positioned as the value leader for domestic-brand fans; also to be restyled for 2011.

2010 Honda Odyssey
Redesigned for the first time since 2005. Aims to retain its sales and style leadership.

2010 Hyundai Entourage
A cousin of the Kia Sedona, but priced higher and suffers in the showroom for it.

2010 Kia Sedona
The virtues of the Entourage at a lower price. In line for model-year 2011 restyle. 

2010 Toyota Sienna
Redesigned for the first time since 2004. Gets new styling and more third-row room.

2010 Volkswagen Routan
Treats a Caravan to VW styling touches and upgrades to the interior and suspension.