Our course for this unique comparison test was the varied freeways, surface streets, and back roads of car crazy Southern California. Even in family cars, here, you are what you drive. With that in mind, we gathered eight five-passenger sedans, with the only stipulation being that each must have a sticker price of less then $25,000 before delivery and destination charges. Turns out, it was impressive to see the amount of content these cars had in them at that price.
Recently, we've teamed up with our friends at Cars.com and USA TODAY to pick the best mid-size sedan and crossover. And while sedans and crossovers work for many family duties, everybody knows the ultimate family vehicle is the minivan. So join our testing trio as we put six top contenders to the test in our Ultimate Minivan Shootout.
Minivan popularity has come and gone over the years, but we were able to find six contestants willing to do battle. And a $45,000 price limit made for a no-holds-barred, options galore smack down.
So we headed down I-85 to one of the biggest city in the South, Atlanta, Georgia, where we were joined by a local family to help keep us car writers grounded as to what a real family actually looks for in a minivan.
And off we go. Our contestants this time around are all 2011 models, have over 100 cubic feet of long and tall cargo space, are either all-new or recently updated, have V6 power, and are all front-wheel-drive, with the exception of the Toyota Sienna, the only minivan that's available with all-wheel-drive.
It's joined by the heavily revised Chrysler Town & Country and the Dodge Grand Caravan, both with new Pentastar power.
The crossover-styled Honda Odyssey is all new as is the funky Nissan Quest with the only CVT transmission in our test, and finally, the mixed-heritage Volkswagen Routan.
Our testers, young and old, spent the day trying every feature, folding every seat, and checking every storage nook and cupholder. Narrowing it down to our top four was fairly easy, declaring a winner somewhat less so. If you didn't win this competition it doesn't mean you're not highly versatile, it just means you got out-flanked in family friendly features and comfort.
2011 Volkswagen Routan
So with that said, our fourth place finisher is the Volkswagen Routan. With its Chrysler roots but decidedly German tuning, the Routan was the most fun to drive. For $34,750, its well equipped, with dual DVD screens, but without Chrysler's Stow-n-Go fold into the floor second row seats. Just like its other Pentastar equipped cousins, it gets 17 miles-per-gallon City and 25-Highway with its 283-horsepower, 3.6-liter V6.
JIM HEALEY: Volkswagen Routan is essentially the last generation Chrysler minivan with the new generation power train and some Volkswagen tweaks, and it's not bad.
DAVE THOMAS: Most people might not know that the Volkswagen Routan is based on the Dodge minivans, and it gets similar upgrades; so it rides nice, has a nice V6 engine, but they haven't upgraded the interior like the Dodge and the Chrysler.
2011 Nissan Quest
After red-shirting for a year, the Nissan Quest has returned to the minivan game and takes third place in our comparison. With a mid-pack price of $38,040, it included dual moon roofs and an 11-inch DVD screen, but was the only van in our competition without navigation. Maximum cargo volume specs are also the lowest. Its 3.5-liter V6 puts out 260-horsepower and gets 19 miles-per-gallon City and 24-Highway.
BRIAN ROBINSON: Of all the vans here, the Nissan Quest has the most resent re-design, and I like the fact that it still has a boxy shape to it. They didn't make a lame attempt to make it look like a crossover. However, inside is very crossover-like with the way the seats work.
DAVE THOMAS: Nissan is back in the minivan game with the re-designed Quest. It's got a funky lookin' outside, but inside it's really luxurious. It's also one of the quietest minivans I drove.
2011 Chrysler Town & Country
Second place goes to the Chrysler Town & Country, which won praise for major upgrades including much more comfortable seats, an upscale interior, and better sound insulation. It featured dual DVD screens with Sirius TV. The 283-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 is rated at 17-City and 25-Highway while pricing was toward the top of the list at $40,835.
KRISTIN VARELA: The Town and Country is great because it has a power folding third row. Now this is important to a lot of families who are going to be using a mix of seating and cargo flexibility.
TRAVIS: The Chrysler Town & Country was a good pick for us because it had all the technology we could ever want. It's got the dual DVD screens, and everything can be separate you know; we can have 3 different media things going on at one time. It did have the horsepower, which I liked. The leather seats, the fold back rear tailgate seating, my kids really enjoyed that.
2011 Honda Odyssey
That leaves us with our shootout winner: the Honda Odyssey. Coming in at $42,250, it's the most expensive van in our test. Crossover-like styling didn't endear it to many, but the ultra-comfortable interior did, as did its 150 cubic-feet of cargo space, the test's largest. Its 248-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 was the least powerful in our test, but it was also the smoothest and got the best fuel economy at 19-City, 28-Highway. All reasons MotorWeek also picked Odyssey as this year's Drivers' Choice Best Minivan.
JENNIFER NEWMAN: The Honda Odyssey has a lot of great family-friendly features in it, including an expandable second row. It goes out about 1.5 inches on each side. That allows you to fit three child safety seats across the second row.
BRIAN ROBINSON: All of these vans have a ton of features. They all handle like minivans, and for the most part, they all look like minivans. It really comes down to which one fits you best, both in comfort and where the controls are. And for me, that's the Honda Odyssey.
Love 'em or hate 'em, there's no denying that minivans are an incredibly intelligent family choice. So the Honda Odyssey is our Ultimate Minivan winner. But all of our boxy six aim to please.[/i]
[MotorWeek: Road Test]