Minivans aren’t the most glamorous vehicles. It’s fair to say that many people buy them because they feel like they have to, not because they want to. Thanks to their association with soccer moms and school runs, most car buyers consider even the best minivans to be terminally uncool, but that’s not entirely fair.
When it comes to moving people, there is no better tool. Minivans are basically boxes on wheels, but without the harsh ride and unwieldy size of more traditional vans. They may not have the “active lifestyle” vibe of crossovers and SUVs, but some minivans share their basic platforms with those high-riding vehicles, and they feature much more efficient packaging.
With that in mind, consider our top minivan picks. Each does what a minivan is supposed to do, making it easy to haul lots of people and/or things. But they’re also just good cars that transcend the minivan stigma.
Why should you buy this: It does everything a minivan should, and more.
Who’s it for: Style-conscious parents.
How much will it cost: $28,995+
Why we picked the Chrysler Pacifica:
The Pacifica drove away from our 2017 Car Awards with the award for Best Daily Driver. Its stylish exterior, thoughtfully designed interior, and refined driving dynamics proved to be a winning combination.
Every automaker seems to be dialing up the effort when it comes to minivan styling, but Chrysler’s designers created the most handsome minivan of all. While other brands have added elaborate styling features in an apparent attempt to combat the minivan’s reputation for boringness, the sleeker-looking Pacifica is simply a pleasing design.
On the inside, the Pacifica’s cabin has a high-quality feel. Particularly on higher trim levels, the quality of the materials is a cut above most mainstream vehicles. The upscale atmosphere of the interior is matched by the refinement of the ride, a benefit of the all-new platform Chrysler developed for the Pacifica.
On top of those fundamentals, the Pacifica offers clever features like the Stow N’ Go folding seat system, which allows the seats to disappear flat into the floor and create a cavernous cargo space. You can even get a built-in vacuum cleaner, and beginning with 2018 models, an AT&T 4G LTE connection that provides WiFi for up to eight devices.
The Pacifica is also the only minivan available with an electrified powertrain. The Pacifica Hybrid adds an electric motor, along with a floor-mounted lithium-ion battery pack. Fully charged, it can cruise for up to 33 miles on electric power alone. The 3.6-liter V6 in non-hybrid models also offers a healthy 287 horsepower.
Our 2017 Chrysler Pacifica first impressions
The best all-terrain minivan
Why should you buy this: It’s the only minivan with available all-wheel drive.
Who’s it for: Families who live in snowy climates.
How much will it cost: $29,750+
Why we picked the Toyota Sienna:
One of the main reasons many people buy SUVs is the availability of all-wheel drive. It’s a useful feature that the minivan segment admittedly doesn’t offer many options for. In fact, the Toyota Sienna is the only minivan currently sold in the United States with all-wheel drive. So the Sienna may be the only choice, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad one.
The Sienna is sensible and reliable, exactly what you’d expect from Toyota. While the basic design is fairly old, the styling still manages to look fresh. The sole available engine option is a 3.5-liter V6, which produces 296 hp and 263 pound-feet of torque, and is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Toyota also offers WiFi connectivity for up to five devices and a bundle of standard electronic safety features that includes pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and automatic high beams.
While the words “sporty” and “minivan” don’t typically go together, Toyota at least tried to make the Sienna fun to drive. An SE model adds sportier suspension and 19-inch wheels, plus some boy-racer styling elements. Last year, Toyota actually sent two Siennas on the One Lap of America, a cross-country marathon where entrants drive to a series of racetracks to compete.
The best high-tech minivan
Why should you buy this: It will keep your kids quiet.
Who’s it for: Parents in need of peace.
How much will it cost: $29,990+
Why we picked the Honda Odyssey:
Redesigned for the 2018 model year, the Honda Odyssey brings an impressive array of tech to the task of keeping a car full of kids pacified.
Available tech features include things you might expect, like an 8.0-inch central touchscreen display, and a rear-seat entertainment system. But it can also tell backseat passengers exactly how much farther it is to the destination, a camera system for monitoring the rear seats, and an intercom to let rear-seat passengers talk to the driver and front passenger. Hopefully there’s a mute button.
An appropriate feature for a vehicle that can seat up to eight people is Social Play List, which allows everyone in the Odyssey to upload songs from their smartphones to the audio system. A 4G LTE system provides WiFi connectivity to power all of those smartphones.
On the mechanical side, the Odyssey is offered solely with a 3.5-liter V6, which produces 280 hp. Base models get a nine-speed automatic transmission, but a 10-speed automatic is available as an option.
The best value minivan
Why should you buy this: You want a lot of space for a lot of money.
Who’s it for: Budget-conscious buyers.
How much will it cost: $26,900+
Why we picked the Kia Sedona:
As you might expect, Kia offers the best value proposition in the minivan segment. The Sedona’s $26,900 base price undercuts its Chrysler, Toyota, and Honda competitors, and Kia continues to offer a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. But the Sedona has other good qualities as well.
In terms of styling, the Sedona offers something for buyers who wish they were driving an SUV. The blunt nose and distinct hood line help give the Kia a less van-like profile. The interior is sensibly laid out, and Kia offers reclining second-row captain’s chairs on higher-end models to provide a more luxurious feel.
The sole available powertrain is a 3.3-liter V6, which sends 276 hp and 248 lb-ft to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. As with other minivans, no one will ever mistake the Sedona for a sports car, but Kia claims the structure is among the most rigid in the segment, which imparts good handling qualities.
How We Test
The Digital Trends automotive team tests vehicles through a comprehensive scrutinizing process. We examine the qualities of the exterior and interior and judge them based on our expertise and experience in the context of the vehicle’s category and price range. Entertainment technology is thoroughly tested as well as most safety features that can be tested in controlled environments.
Test drivers spend extensive time behind the wheel of the vehicles, conducting real-world testing, driving them on highways, back roads, as well as off-road and race tracks when applicable.
What makes a minivan a minivan?
Today’s minivans are too big to be genuinely “mini.” Complicating things further is the fact that several automakers currently offer small vans that aren’t technically “minivans.” So what distinguishes minivans from regular vans?
Chrysler created the template for minivans when it launched the first generation of this automotive species in the late 1980s. The key elements are a car-based unibody platform, and a cabin that focuses more on carrying passengers than hauling cargo. Minivans have gotten bigger over the years, but they still adhere to that basic formula.
The new breed of small vans — including the Ford Transit Connect, Nissan NV200, Ram Promaster City, and Mercedes-Benz Metris — are designed more like conventional vans. That means they are meant to be commercial vehicles as well as passenger vehicles, a distinction that is reflected in their relative lack of refinement and amenities compared to minivans.