2011 Minivan Buying Guide

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Automotive Editor

Armaan Almeida is the Editor-in-Chief of the New Car Pricing Insider blog and publishes daily incentives on new cars in addition to newsworthy articles pertaining to the auto industry.

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, Automotive Editor - November 20, 2014
The 2012 Minivan Buying Guide is now available. Browse »

New Minivans

Minivans are the epitome of the suburban family lifestyle. Able to carry the kids to baseball or cheerleading practice, these people movers provide all the right conveniences for the busy family. They offer good gas mileage and a plethora of convenience and safety options to satisfy the most practical concerns. Minivans also offer better handling prowess than they typical SUV. Nearly every 2011 minivan offers powerful feature-rich entertainment systems to entertain passengers on longer trips and ample storage spaces for any knickknack. Even though this class has seen a modest drop in sales due to the popularity of SUVs and more recently, Crossovers, new platforms which offer more seating and cargo capacity aim to refill garages across the nation.

Price Range: $20,995 - $44,280

Models

The most popular minivan of all time, the Dodge Grand Caravan and its other stablemate, the Chrysler Town & Country are both carryovers from 2010. However, a differentiating feature that both the Dodge and Chrysler still offer is their flexible Stow 'n Go seating arrangement. The designers' main focus was to give passengers the most comfortable, well-appointed interior. The Stow 'n Go seating allows the interior dimensions to grow without compensating the exterior dimensions.

In fact, new Caravan actually weighs less than its predecessor, so acceleration and fuel economy are not compromised. Powertrain options range from a 3.3-liter 175-horsepower V6 mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission to a more robust 4.0-liter 251-horsepower V6 coupled with a first-in-class 6-speed transmission. Fuel economy only drops off by 1mpg compared to the smaller 3.3-liter while netting a whopping 76 horsepower more.

The all-new2011 Honda Odyssey and 2011 Toyota Sienna also come equipped with powerful yet fuel efficient V6 variants. Interestingly, both the Odyssey and Sienna come with one engine option: a 3.5L V6. The Odyssey's produces 244 horsepower while the Sienna's produces 266 horsepower. The Odyssey gets slighly better fuel economy (23/25 city/hwy) due to its more conservative tuning, sacrificing low-end grunt for a smoother, more fuel-efficient engine. The Sienna, on the other hand, rewards its owner with class-leading acceleration and passing, important if you primarily drive on the highway, while getting 21 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway.

A relatively entry in the minivan category comes from Volkswagen this year, and it's as polarizing of a break from their cult-classic, the Vanagon. The 2011 Volkswagen Routan comes equipped with either a 3.8L V6 or a massive 4.0L V6. The 3.8L produces 197 horsepower and gets a 17/25 mpg for city/hwy use, while the 4.0L churns out 251 horsepower and nets 16/23 mpg in the city/hwy. If those numbers sound familiar, it's because the Routan is based on the Dodge Caravan platform, so it shares the same engine, chassis and suspension. However, VW's extensive use of high-quality interior materials are a definite upgrade over its competitors. In addition, the Routan looks sharper and more modern, something buyers often take into account when purchasing a vehicle.

Minivan Safety Guide

As family hauling is its central purpose, most minivans provide integrated child booster seats that are built right into the rear seat and take the place of store-bought seats. Other standard features include dual front airbags, and in many cases, side airbags, which serve as protection to occupants against side-impact collisions.

More advanced features are standard in higher priced models and include anti-lock braking systemsand traction control, which stops the spin of a wheel, and in turn insures maximum contact between your tires and the road. A back-up sensing system is an option that's commonly offered on these models, which is a series of sensors along the rear bumper that alerts the driver to people and/or objects in his blind spot.

Full-size vans play a different role today than they did in the past. Due to the popularity and convenience of minivans and SUVs, the full-size van class has fallen into the shadows as an every day vehicle. Instead, it now finds its place in the working world as a business vehicle or company car. Able to carry more than any vehicle and provide more security than a open-bed truck, these full-size vans play a large role as cargo carriers. In addition, when it is necessary for over 8 people to be transported somewhere these vans can get the job done with space for up to 15 passengers.

While their consumer market has become much smaller, the full-size van class is still finding a place in the modern car market. Manufacturers that continue to make full-size vans are: Chevrolet, Ford, and GMC.

Price Range: $24,950 - $46,940

Models

The Chevrolet Express has changed little over the last 10 years since it's redesign and name change from the "Sportvan" in 1996. On Express 1500s a 295hp 5.3-liter V8 is standard and the 3500 model comes with a 300hp 6.0-liter V8. All-wheel drive is available on the 1500. Edmunds.com says, "the Chevrolet Express (and its twin, the GMC Savana) are pretty much the only game in town if you're looking for a traditional full-size van that doesn't look and drive as if it were designed two decades ago." The GMC Savana is identical to the Chevrolet Express and this year discontinues the 2500 series 3/4-ton van from its lineup.

Ford offers three versions of its full-size van: the E-150, E-250, and E-350 Super Duty. These vans were originally called the 'Econoline' and a multitude of passenger and cargo options are available. The E-150 comes in cargo or 8 passenger options. The E-250 only comes in a 275.1 cubic feet cargo model. The E-350 comes in cargo or up to 15 passenger options. A 225hp 4.6L V-8 is standard on the E-150 and an optional 255hp 5.4L V-8 allows it to tow up to 9,900lbs. The E-250 comes with the same engine options but has a 20inch longer extended van option. The E-350 comes with a 5.4L V-8, but a 305hp 6.8L V-10 can be installed and a 235hp 6.0L Power Stroke V-8 diesel is optional. Edmunds.com says, "Tough, roomy, rugged and reliable, Ford's Econoline has a favorable, well-earned reputation."

Full-Size Safety Guide

As cargo hauling is its modern central purpose, most full-size vans provide minimal cabin safety features. Other than standard dual front airbags, it is rare to see other options available. In higher priced models you might find options for anti-lock braking systems and traction control, which stops the spin of a wheel, and in turn insures maximum contact between your tires and the road.

, Automotive Editor

Armaan Almeida is the Editor-in-Chief of the New Car Pricing Insider blog and publishes daily incentives on new cars in addition to newsworthy articles pertaining to the auto industry.

Follow On: Google+ | Website

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