Minivans may not be the most exciting vehicles to drive, but they serve a vital role in transporting families and cargo. While they have a reputation for boring looks, the recent crop of Minivans have been spiced up with attractive styling so parents no longer have to sacrifice aesthetics for functionality. No matter how physically attractive and technology-laden they become, minivans will always emphasize safety, spaciousness and versatility.
Our CarsDirect editors trimmed an already shallow field to just the five best minivans. The result is two minivans that realistically have a shot at best-in-class honors and three capable minivans that excel in different areas.
Like that versatile do-anything knife, the 2012 Toyota Sienna can do it all. The Sienna is the only minivan on this list with an available four-cylinder engine and all-wheel-drive for confident handling in harsh elements. What really impresses us is that the Sienna gets its best fuel-efficiency ratings (18/25 mpg) from its 266-horsepower, V6 engine. Seat up to eight and enjoy La-Z-Boy-esque second row captain's chairs that recline for optimal lounging comfort. With a base price starting near $25k, the Sienna is very affordable compared to other minivans on this list. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) named the 2012 Sienna a Top Safety Pick with "Good" ratings in every category.
What the Odyssey lacks in power and handling, it makes up for in style, quality of materials, and top-notch safety ratings. The quality of materials is slightly better than the Sienna, including the instrument cluster and dash controls. The rear cargo area dips down so you can easily stow the 60/40 -split third row flatly. Parents with small children will love the second row that can accommodate up to three car seats. A sliding middle section moves forward 5.5 inches so that parents can reach their kids easily. Nasty, wrapper-filled minivans are a thing of the past with the Odyssey's flip-up trash-bag ring behind the second row. The Odyssey scored perfect marks for safety from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (5-Star Overall rating) and IIHS (Top Safety Pick).
If you're a fan of Nissan-styling, then you're bound to like the Quest's handsome exterior. The Quest has the turning radius of the Altima and a smooth CVT transmission for smooth handling around town. We like the finish and comfort inside the cabin, but unfortunately the Quest only seats seven occupants by using captain's chairs instead of a bench in the second row. Both the second and third rows do not fit into the floor, but instead fold forward. That might be good for loading flat objects, but it won't be good for maximizing overall space. In fact, the Quest's 108 cubic feet of cargo room is far less than the Odyssey (148 cubic feet) and Sienna (150 cubic feet). The Quest received a rating of "Acceptable" in rollover testing from the IIHS.
The 2012 Town & Country won't win any awards based on looks, but it is by far the most accommodating minivan in terms of cargo/seating flexibility. It doesn't have the overall cargo space that the Sienna and Odyssey do, but it makes stowing both rows of backseats a snap. Instead of removing the second row altogether, the Town & Country's Stow 'n Go seating hides all of the seats in the floor with the simple tug of a strap - allowing for a completely flat floor. A 283-horsepower engine is the most powerful engine on this list, and more torque at lower RPM means more response from driver input. The Town & Country earns Top Safety Pick status from the IIHS, but takes a hit from the NHTSA with an overall 4/5-star rating.
The 2012 Kia Sedona won't win any beauty pageants, but it will get the job done with a best-in-class warranty (10- year/100,000-mile powertrain) and amiable price. The functional Sedona needs a refreshing makeover like the Sonata and Optima to stand out. But once you get beyond the physical appearance, there is a lot to love about it. The Sedona is perfect for parents that want a minivan for everyday tasks like grocery shopping and taking the kids to and from practice. The Sedona offers many upscale options, like leather upholstery, heated front seats, a sunroof, rear-seat DVD entertainment system, and 10-speaker Infinity sound system. However, the Sedona earned a rating of "Poor" in rollover testing from the IIHS - the worst classification possible.