The minivan market has seen a surprising resurgence, with every model on the market receiving a full redesign or significant upgrades over the past two model years:
* The significantly refreshed 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country have new interiors and powertrains. Both models have reformulated their trims and features to stay competitive.
* The completely redesigned 2011 Honda Odyssey improves its gas mileage and has a new look, too.
* The 2011 Toyota Sienna, now the oldest model in the segment, was completely redesigned and features the only four-cylinder engine option among minivans and a new low entry price.
* After a two-year hiatus, Nissan reintroduced the Quest to the U.S. market for the 2011 model year.
So which new minivan offers the best deal in terms of features for the money? We’ll take a look at the Sienna, Grand Caravan, Odyssey and Quest and judge them on how much they cost — not at the bare-bones MSRP, but when they’re well-equipped. The Volkswagen Routan and the Kia Sedona are modest sellers that are addressed in our chart below.
We decided that a modern minivan should have the following features:
* Power sliding doors
* Power liftgate
* USB input
* Rearview camera
* Rear temperature controls
* Anti-theft system
* Bluetooth connectivity
You can argue these decisions in the comments, but we needed a baseline. Here’s how each model gets priced when you select these features.
2011 Dodge Grand Caravan: $29,100, destination $835
2011 Dodge Grand Caravan
The revised Grand Caravan Express ($24,995) comes standard with rear temperature controls, but we have to move up to the Mainstreet trim ($25,995) to start getting the features we want. Dodge’s Power Convenience Group adds power sliding doors and a power liftgate for $1,325. The $695 upgraded media center includes the rear backup camera. The $690 UConnect package includes Bluetooth audio streaming with a smartphone, USB port, auto-dimming rearview mirror and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Add the security system, which includes remote start, for $395, and our desired Grand Caravan comes in at $29,100, excluding $835 for destination, making the Dodge the most affordable entry in the minivan segment.
Notable Features You’ll Get: Driver-side knee airbag, active front head restraints, Stow ’n Go second-row seats, adjustable pedals, 6.5-inch touch-screen with 30-gigabyte hard drive
2011 Toyota Sienna: $32,694, destination $810
2011 Toyota Sienna
Starting at $24,560, the 2011 Toyota Sienna is the most affordable minivan on the market — even more so than the entry-level Kia Sedona ($24,595) and Dodge Grand Caravan ($24,995). Unfortunately, the price quickly escalates when you add our desired features. Getting a rear backup camera, Bluetooth, USB port, rear temperature controls and the power sliding doors is simple and affordable on the Sienna. They’re all part of the LE Preferred Package, which costs $2,735, for a total cost of $28,380. Keep in mind, for nearly 30 grand, you’re only getting a 187-horsepower, 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine, the only four-cylinder offered in a minivan.
However, the power liftgate is a less attainable option. You have to upgrade to the SE trim ($30,850) and select a $1,545 SE Preferred Package to get the feature. Strangely, even though the LE trim has an option for an anti-theft system, the SE trim does not, though we now get a 266-hp V-6 engine. We added the $299 Toyota Vehicle Intrusion Protection dealer accessory for a grand total of $32,694.
The SE is actually a sport-tuned version of the Sienna, so the ride and handling are impacted as well. However, it is the most affordable trim level to get the features we’re looking for.
Notable Features You’ll Get: Driver's knee airbag, brake override system, active front head restraints, windshield wiper de-icer, 19-inch chrome wheels, sport-tuned suspension, Bluetooth audio streaming, satellite radio and leatherette seats with sport fabric insets
2011 Nissan Quest: $34,350, destination $800
2011 Nissan Quest
The Quest starts at $27,750 with nice features like push-button start and a security system, but it has a power window only on the driver’s side; the passenger side uses a crank. Really? The midlevel SV trim ($30,900) has most of the features we’re looking for — including the power sliding doors, Bluetooth, USB connector and backup camera — and includes other goodies, like tri-zone automatic climate control. Unfortunately, we’re still missing the power liftgate. To get that, we have to upgrade to the SL trim, which starts at $34,350.
Notable Features You’ll Get: 18-inch aluminum wheels, leather-appointed seats, front heated seats, 4.3-inch color audio display, auto-dimming rearview mirror, integrated turn signals in the side mirrors
2011 Honda Odyssey: $34,450, destination $780
2011 Honda Odyssey
The Honda Odyssey, which starts at $27,800, is the most expensive entry price among our test group and second highest out of all minivans – the 2011 Chrysler Town & Country starts at $30,160. You’d think the Odyssey would come reasonably equipped, and to some extent, that’s true. But once we get the features we want, the Odyssey becomes the least affordable. All the features we want come standard on the EX-L Odyssey, one of the nameplate’s most popular trims. That gets you a large 8-inch display in the dash — the largest available in a minivan — a noise cancellation system and leather-trimmed seats for $34,450.
Notable Features You’ll Get: Leather-trimmed seats, power moonroof, heated front seats, a cooled storage compartment, 10-way power driver’s seat and seven-speaker stereo with 2 gigabytes of memory
The bottom line is you get what you pay for. To get the selected content, the average minivan in the segment cost $32,134. Most of these models would be priced the same if automakers like Nissan and Honda were as flexible as Dodge and Toyota in allowing consumers to select features a la carte.
While the Odyssey and Quest each cost $2,000 more than the Sienna, they included features like leather upholstery and larger display screens; adding those features to the Sienna would have brought its price up to the same level.
However, even a top-of-the-line Grand Caravan, with all the fixings, only costs $36,235, which is still on par with the middle-of-the-pack Quest and Odyssey. The Grand Caravan’s redesign made huge leaps from the previous year, according to senior editor David Thomas’ recent review. The Kia Sedona, at $29,195 with the desired content, is only $95 more than the Dodge, and it hasn’t received such drastic revisions, only a new engine and some minor cosmetic exterior work.
The Chrysler Town & Country, which comes standard with many safety features like blind spot monitoring and rain-sensing wipers, ends up being more affordable than the Japanese minivans as well, at $31,365.
The Volkswagen Routan gets Chrysler’s new Pentastar V-6 engine for 2011, and the SE trim with the Rear Seat Entertainment option gives us what we’re looking for at $33,790.
Overall, Chrysler offers the greatest value for the equipment we’re looking for, followed closely by the Kia. Toyota straddles the line, despite having the lowest base price, and Honda and Nissan offer the least value when it comes to features for the cost, but they deliver the most upscale interiors.
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