Best Minivans of 2012

Last Updated: Nov 22, 2011

Savvy families know minivans are unrivaled marvels of convenience. Nothing on wheels transports your brood in roomier comfort, not even a full-size SUV. Big sliding side doors and low step-in height make getting in and out of a minivan painless. You can move about once inside, reach child-seat latches with relative ease, and fold the rear seats innumerable ways to carry creative combinations of people and cargo. Infotainment gizmos abound and nothing this versatile gets better fuel economy or drives more easily. Our Best Minivans of the Year is your guide to these valets of the road.

1. Honda Odyssey: Responsive handling, top-rated fuel economy, and a refreshing sense of spaciousness are just some Odyssey assets. The 2012 Odyssey represents the second year for an all-new design that brought added features and rakish styling characterized by a “zig-zag” rear-window line.  Odyssey accommodates up to eight passengers and offers up to five child-seat attachment points – more than any other minivan, car, or SUV.  Available features include Honda’s Ultrawide rear-entertainment system with a 16.2-inch video display that projects a single widescreen image or two 8.1-inch images from separate onboard sources. The only engine is a 248-horsepower V-6 with Honda’s fuel-saving Variable Cylinder Management that automatically switches to three or four cylinders in low-demand driving. Top-of-the-line Odyssey Touring models have a six-speed automatic transmission and rate 19/28 mpg city/highway and 22 mpg combined -- the best of any minivan. Less-expensive Odyssey models have a five-speed automatic and rate a still-laudable 18/27/21 mpg.  And that zig-zag window line? More than a styling affectation, it enlarges the side glass to give third-row passengers an expanded sense of airiness. Honda’s no-options policy means Odyssey starts a little pricier than rivals but it’s trimmed in high-quality materials and resale value is No. 1 in class. Base-price range: $29,035-$44,485. (All base prices in this article include the manufacturer’s mandatory destination fee.)

2. Toyota Sienna: Toyota’s eight-seat minivan appeals to the same upscale demographic as the Odyssey and is distinct enough to provide an attractive alternative. Like the Honda, the Sienna was redesigned for model-year 2011 with new styling, added features, and more interior room. It returns for model-year 2012 with enhanced connectivity, including onboard links to Facebook and Pandora Internet radio. Class exclusives include an available four-cylinder engine as an alternative to the V-6, and all-wheel drive (AWD) as a substitute for front-wheel drive. Both engines use a six-speed automatic transmission. The 187-horsepower four-cylinder model starts $1,240 below the V-6 version. It’s admirably capable although its fuel-economy rating of19/24 mpg city/highway, 21 mpg combined is hardly better than the 18/24/20 of the faster 266-horsepower V-6. AWD is a dandy all-weather traction enhancement; it’s available with the V-6 and a merits a 16/22/18-mpg rating. No other minivan matches the top-of-the-line Sienna Limited model’s La-Z-Boy-type reclining second-row bucket seats. And Sienna’s a player in the video-monitor derby with an available 16.4-inch widescreen rear-entertainment system that accepts signals from two separate sources. On the road, Sienna’s ride and handling is a bit softer than the relatively athletic Odyssey’s. But the Toyota has slightly more maximum cargo volume and tops the class for dependability ratings. Base-price range: $25,870-$41,380.

3. Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country: These minivans share basic engineering and design, differing mostly in trim details and in the upmaket positioning of the Chrysler version. While Odyssey and Sienna were fully redesigned for model-year 2011, Grand Caravan and Town & Country were heavily revamped with revised styling, updated interiors, and a new and better engine. For model-year 2012 Chrysler hones Town & Country’s premium message by making leather upholstery and a rear DVD entertainment system standard on every model. Dodge, meanwhile, strengthens the 2012 Grand Caravan’s family appeal by adding the budget-friendly American Value Package edition, priced at a remarkably low $21,830. All versions of these minivans accommodate seven passengers and boast class-exclusive Stow ’n Go seating in which the second-row buckets fold into the floor, eliminating the need to remove them for maximum cargo volume. They use Chrysler Group’s Pentastar V-6 and a six-speed automatic transmission. Horsepower is a category-topping 283 but fuel economy is a middling 17/25 mpg city/highway, 20 mpg combined. Still, they’re very competitive in terms of driving manners and infotainment options and benefit from frequent factory discounts. Town & Country also leads the field in customer-satisfaction scores for initial quality. Grand Caravan is the better seller of the two but nonetheless will be replaced in model-year 2014 or ’15 by a crossover SUV, leaving Town & Country as the corporation’s only minivan. Base-price range: Grand Caravan, $21,830-$30,830; Town & Country, $30,830-$39,830.

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