There may not be many automakers left fighting it out in the trenches of the minivan wars, but that has just made the competition for the dollars of families on the go that much more intense. Minivans are getting more advanced with each passing year, adding new features, new drivetrains and improved styling in order to catch the eye of buyers who need a practical and comfortable people mover that can handle whatever hauling tasks life might throw its way.
Let’s take a look at five seven and eight passenger minivans that each have something new to offer for the 2011 model year.
The original minivan, the Dodge Grand Caravan, receives a host of improvements for the 2011 model year. Perhaps most important is the simplification of the Dodge Grand Caravan’s drivetrain options: instead of last year’s trio of V-6 offerings, the 2011 Grand Caravan comes with a single 3.6-liter unit. This all-new Pentastar V-6 generates 283 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, and matched with a six-speed automatic transmission the engine delivers fuel economy figures of 17-mpg around town and 25-mpg during highway cruising.
What else has changed for the 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan? A new, more muscular look has been adopted by the van’s sheet metal (a motif that is even more pronounced on the performance-oriented R/T trim), and interior materials have been upgraded as well. Underneath the van’s chassis, an improved suspension system helps to insulate riders from bumpy roads while not completely eliminating steering feel. Stow n’ Go seating also remains present and accounted for, helping the Grand Caravan achieve 143.8 cubic feet of total internal cargo space.
The 2011 Honda Odyssey has been completely redesigned compared to the 2010 model, and naturally the fresh platform brings with it numerous upgrades. More attractively styled than in years past, the Honda Odyssey also stands apart from the minivan crowd thanks to an interior that has been given additional passenger and cargo space (with the latter topping out at 148 cubic feet). Owners will find the Odyssey’s interior easier to reconfigure as well, thanks to several changes that have been made to the second row of seating.
The biggest news for the 2011 Honda Odyssey can be found in the fuel mileage department, where the minivan’s 248 horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 now returns 18-mpg city and 27-mpg highway when equipped with a five-speed automatic transmission, and 19-mpg city and 28-mpg highway when matched with the available six-speed autobox. These improved numbers are thanks in part to the decision to spread Honda’s cylinder deactivation technology across the entire Odyssey lineup.
Not wanting to be left behind, the Toyota Sienna was also given a makeover for 2011, gaining a new platform, a new exterior design and 150 cubic feet of interior cargo room to complement its available eight-passenger seating. Like the Dodge Grand Caravan, Toyota has give the Sienna a new sporty trim (the SE), which attempts to offer more engaging driving dynamics than are typically found in the minivan segment.
Last year, the Toyota Sienna was only available with V-6 power but for 2011 the vehicle now offers an entry-level four-cylinder engine that displaces 2.7 liters and offers up 187 horsepower. The minivan’s 265 horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 is now option on base models and standard on higher trim levels of the Sienna, and while both engines are matched up with a six-speed automatic transmission, the V-6 can also be paired with all-wheel drive. Fuel mileage for the four and six-cylinder editions of the Sienna is not all that different: the former offers 19-mpg city and 26-mpg highway, while the latter checks in one and two miles per gallon lower for each respective measure.
The 2011 Nissan Quest – as always – has made look-at-me styling one of the central points of its latest design upgrade. The Nissan Quest is perhaps the butchest of all minivans currently available, although it tempers some of its aggression with sleek nods to aerodynamics. The new Quest is not quite as large as some of its competitors, offering just 108 cubic feet of total cargo space, but it makes good use of its available passenger room and provides a quieter interior than in years past.
A major difference between the re-engineered 2011 Nissan Quest and the competition is its continuously-variable automatic transmission. In addition, the vehicle’s 3.5-liter V-6 engine has been upgraded compared to the 2009 model (there was no 2010 Quest), putting out 25 more horsepower to bring the total to 260 ponies. Fuel economy for the van is rated at 18-mpg city and 24-mpg highway, which keeps the van competitive with other six-cylinder models.
The most affordable minivan on this list of updated people haulers is the 2011 Kia Sedona. The Kia Sedona hasn’t gone through the wringer like many of the minivans it finds itself up against for the current model year, but it does come with a tweaked exterior look and has also dropped the less capable short-wheelbase model from the lineup, going exclusively with a standard length edition that is better able to comfortably swallow passengers and cargo.
Also new for the 2011 Kia Sedona is a 3.5-liter V-6 engine that generates 271 horsepower, replacing last year’s less impressive 3.8-liter, six-cylinder unit. The additional 27 ponies come with a fuel mileage upgrade to 18-mpg city and 25-mpg highway, which bumps up the van’s efficiency by 1-mpg around town and 2-mpg during highway cruising. A six-speed automatic transmission sends the V-6’s output to the front wheels.