Recommend some good new or used minivans.
December 16, 2003 9:11 AM   Subscribe

I have an, ahem, friend who's looking into purchasing a minivan. My--I mean, my friend's--primary concerns are reliability and efficiency first, then price, then bells and whistles. Are there clear winners in the minivan world? And what's word on new or used?
posted by vraxoin to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Car and Driver's comparison tests may help you:

Leading minivans (November 2000)
Tall wagons (April 2003)

Automakers have gotten the formula down pat for minivans. Concern yourself with repair records and features appropriate to you, i.e. which has the most useful seating configurations, easiest entry and exit, etc.
posted by werty at 9:48 AM on December 16, 2003

Honda Oddessy if you want lots of nice, small touches.

Toyota Seinna if you want more engine, better shifting.

It's about an even draw between them. Both will last a lifetime if cared for.

Those are really the only two choices. All else falls distant behind them. They're also both a bugger to pick up used, but if you're really lucky, as a friend of mine was, you can damn near steal them ($10k savings on hers!)
posted by five fresh fish at 9:52 AM on December 16, 2003

If you like your minivans fairly mini, I can say I'm quite happy with the Honda CR-V, which is one of those SUV-like things designed to actually be used the way people misuse their SUV: as a minivan. It's actually built on top of the highly reliable Civic platform, although there are some decidedly unCivicly options available such as dynamic 4WD. I've found it to be pretty much ideal in nearly every respect -- comfort, storage, cool little features like the picnic table -- although I also don't need the third row of seating that a larger van would provide.

The downside is that fuel efficiency isn't all that astounding.
posted by majick at 10:03 AM on December 16, 2003

We used to have a Toyota RAV4, one along the same lines as the CR-V. We bought it because we didn't want a *cough*minivan*cough* but we had a kid to worry about so we needed to get something bigger than the Miata.

So we picked up the RAV4, and for our purposes it was too small within a year. So we sucked it up and bought a 2000 Mazda MPV, and have been very pleased with it.

We briefly considered the Sienna and the Odyssey, but at the time both were out of our price range.
posted by pizzasub at 10:11 AM on December 16, 2003

I would look at the Honda Odyssey, Nissan Quest, and Toyota Sienna in that order.

Chrysler puts out a good minivan, and many of the problems with the 80s models are taken care of, but frankly you can find something more reliable elsewhere.

Insofar as new v. used goes, try to find one year old or "demo" cars if you can. A friend (no, really, a friend) bought his Acura this way and saved something like $8,000. The sacrifice is that it was one year old - it is otherwise flawless.
posted by hijinx at 10:39 AM on December 16, 2003

The Odyssey and the Sienna are undoubtably leaders in the catagory (maybe along with that funky-looking new nissan model). Don't buy anything until you've driven them both.

I've spent a fair amount of time behind the wheel of my parents' '03 Odyssey. It's a good car: it handles well for a minivan (and has a tight turning radius), and is clearly well thought-out, and well-built, inside and out. It's pretty well-equiped even at the base level, as long as you have the dealer toss in a CD-player (might be standard now). And, perhaps surprisingly for a Honda, with their reputation for small engines and efficiency, I think the Odyssey is one of the fastest minivans you can buy: 240 hp attached to a smooth 5-gear automatic (torque-y too), without being a terrible fuel-hog or requiring premium fuel. It rides fairly firmly though.

You might also want to drop into a Chrysler/Dodge dealer. While the quality/design isn't quite as good, their dealers will probably be more willing to negotiate, and their minivan line can be configured in an absurd number of different ways at every possible price-point. And, since they sell-well and don't have the repuation of toyota/honda (and hence the higher prices used), I imagine you could get some really good deals on a used Chrysler.
posted by kickingtheground at 10:45 AM on December 16, 2003

We love our '98 Ford Windstar, which is in the body shop right now as a result of a Dodge Ram 4X4 attempting to poke its snout through our rear hatch. The insurance company rented us a 2003 Dodge Caravan as a replacement, and we don't much care for it. It's smaller than our van, slower, and seems to be built more cheaply. The doors don't close with the solid "thunk" that the Windstar's do, and there seem to be a lot of rattles in the dash area. Even at 106,000 miles, our Windstar is still rock-solid with nary a squeak or rattle anywhere.

On the other hand, I sure like the wheels on the removable seats that the Caravan has, and the plethora of seating arrangements available. Our seats go in one spot only, no rearranging, and they're heavy and awkward to lift out.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:57 AM on December 16, 2003

Oh, and as for reliability and efficiency, the Windstar has been great for us, although I've heard of serious head gasket problems in the pre-'97 engines. As I mentioned, it has 106K miles on it and the only thing I've had to replace is the idler pulley for the serpentine belt (and the belt itself as preventive maintenance). We bought it used in 2000, and have made sure to change the oil at regular intervals and have the "major" services done at Ford's suggested mileage points. Loaded with the whole family (us and three big kids 11, 13, and 16) it gets about 22mpg on the highway, and 17 in the city, from a 3.8 liter V-6.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:04 AM on December 16, 2003

Anyone have any experience with the smaller minivans, like Mazda MPV?
posted by PrinceValium at 11:54 AM on December 16, 2003

I have gotten minivans as rental cars before (when they were out of small econo boxes) and been astounded at the caverous space inside those things, but really I think a nice wagon is going to be enough after 1 or 2 kids. You get real car handling and fuel economy plus some space, and everyone seems to be releasing wagons now.

Maybe after I do have kids and have to load up the wagon with junk I'll change my tune, but I still don't see the need for all that space, aside from rare roadtrips or even rarer nights when 8 of my friends want me to drive.
posted by mathowie at 12:35 PM on December 16, 2003

Matt, when the kids were smaller we managed to fit all five of us into a Pontiac Grand Am 4-door, but now that even my daughter is over 5'6" it's just not practical (too many bony knees and elbows). Plus, they all want to bring their own CD players, Game Boys, and what-have-you, so it's nice to have all the space and all the extra power points to plug their adapters into.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 1:59 PM on December 16, 2003

I am very pleased with a 2002 Mazda MPV. It goes camping and if the weather's awful, we sleep in it. Easy seat arranging, too.
posted by sageleaf at 2:57 PM on December 16, 2003

No idea what brand or model you should buy, but make SURE it's silver or grey. That way, you can nickname it "the Millenium Falcon." You will find driving "the Falcon" noticeably less uncool than driving "the Minivan."
posted by scarabic at 2:59 PM on December 16, 2003

Personally, if I had 1 or 2 kids, I'd get a Volkswagen TDI wagon. 50 mpg, lots of power, and fun to drive.

Disclaimer: My father for Honda. No, I can't get you a deal.
I've driven a lot of minivans for both work and while doing things for friends/family/parents, and the Oddysey beats them all hands down. It's got a big V6 in it that doesn't have a lot of low-down tourque ... but the thing pulls all day like a turbine. I've been up over 100 mph in one at various times and it's steady as a rock... and had more to give.

A few of my friends and I decided to go to the Salt Lake City olympics. We loaded up the Oddysey, and proceeded to drive non-stop ('cept for gas) to Salt Lake overnight. The Oddysey got nicknamed "The Race Minivan" for that trip, because it had enough power to outrun just about anything.
I've also moved several times using just an oddysey. It's got enough space in it to haul a full-sized mattress and boxspring, although it might have problems with a King-sized.
posted by SpecialK at 3:02 PM on December 16, 2003

Do not, under ANY circumstances purchase a Chevy Astro/GMC Safari.

They are, in a word, biodegradable.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:00 PM on December 16, 2003

Be careful of the transmissions in the previous generation Honda Odyssey. Just google for those keywords and you'll see the pain many owners had to deal with.
posted by gen at 5:09 PM on December 16, 2003

To my knowledge, what problems Chrysler had with minivans occurred many years ago, most notably when they brought out the 4-speed auto transaxle (1989). The Mitsubishi 2.6L engine in the early models also produced some heartbreak.

People I know who prefer the Odyssey or Sienna usually cite either the fold-down seats or more powerful engines. However, Chrysler is bringing out some slick fold-down seats that produce a flat load floor. (I've tinkered with them personally; they go into production shortly.) As for power, well, I don't know how much you want/need.
posted by pmurray63 at 10:28 PM on December 16, 2003

like mr crash davis, we love our Ford Windstar, but when doing pre-purchase research i found that the models before '99 had a high chance of being problematic. is one of the sources i used when researching which minivan to buy.

make SURE it's silver or grey. That way, you can nickname it "the Millenium Falcon." You will find driving "the Falcon" noticeably less uncool than driving "the Minivan."

ours is dark green, and has an 18" godzilla on the front dash - VanZilla® heh. i think the next vehicle will be silver tho', simply because it doesn't show dirt as much. the dark green is in constant need of washing.
posted by t r a c y at 7:44 AM on December 17, 2003

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