The Most Affordable Minivan and the Best Affordable Minivan are Two Different Things
When children arrive and transform a couple into a family, a minivan starts to make all kinds of sense. These are typically large, heavy vehicles featuring the kind of protection you want for your screeching bundle(s) of joy. And because they are typically large vehicles, they offer more cargo space than other kinds of cars and SUVs, important when you’re lugging strollers, toting overflowing baby bags, and hitting up the local big-box warehouse store for diapers.
Here’s another minivan benefit that many people overlook: thanks to sliding side doors, it is very easy to lift children into and out of the family car – even in tight quarters. Yes, minivans are back savers.
Trouble is, the arrival of a child is accompanied by the arrival of extra household expenses. These added financial obligations range from higher living costs associated with a bigger domicile to medical bills associated with pregnancy and birth. Some parents also choose to become a single-income family at the same time, further stretching tight resources.
That’s why Autobytel’s list of affordable minivans for 2012 is a great resource for families. We’ll show you how much they cost, tell you what equipment they include, and share with you their fuel economy and crash-test ratings. Whether or not you determine these are the best affordable minivans for 2012 is up to your own personal requirements and standards.
The five most affordable minivans of 2012 are listed on the pages that follow, with the least expensive model on the last page. Good luck in your search for 2012’s most affordable minivan!
The 2012 Nissan Quest S is priced at $26,815 including the destination charge, making it one of the most affordable minivans of 2012.
Standard equipment includes everything you need for basic family duty except for Bluetooth. Air conditioning, power door locks, power front windows, power sliding side door windows, and power mirrors are standard, as well as a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, cruise control, and a stereo with an auxiliary audio input jack. The driver’s seat includes a manual height adjuster, and every Quest includes dark-tinted privacy glass, a trip computer, an illuminated cargo area, and keyless entry with push-button start.
The 2012 Quest S has a 260-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 engine paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The EPA says it gets 21 mpg in combined driving, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) finds that it just misses “Top Safety Pick” status due to an “Acceptable” rather than a “Good” rating for roof crush strength. The NHTSA has not performed crash tests on the Quest.
Notably, the Quest’s second-row seats don’t fold down into the floor and cannot be removed to expand cargo capacity. Instead, they, and the third-row seats, fold flat. For this reason, the Quest isn’t as good at hauling cargo as other minivans, but is roomier than an SUV with the same seating design.
The most basic version of the Toyota Sienna qualifies as one of the most affordable minivans of 2012 thanks to a price tag of $25,870, including the destination charge. There’s a reason this van is so inexpensive, however, and you’ll find it under the hood.
The standard Sienna is equipped with a 2.7-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes just 187 horsepower. Given the van’s 4,275-lb. curb weight and seven-passenger seating capacity, that ain’t much. And it definitely explains why the four-cylinder engine gets the same 21-mpg combined fuel economy rating as the more powerful V6 engine in other Sienna models. The good news is that Toyota provides free scheduled maintenance for the first two years or 25,000 miles of ownership.
Standard equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels, triple-zone air conditioning, power windows, power door locks with remote keyless entry, power mirrors, a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, cruise control, and a stereo with an auxiliary audio input jack. The driver’s seat offers manual height adjustment, and the base Sienna includes auto-off headlights, a front wiper de-icer grid, and a parabolic “conversation” mirror that allows the driver to check on all passengers in both rear rows of seats. What the Sienna lacks is dark tinted rear windows.
In IIHS crash tests, the 2012 Sienna achieves a “Top Safety Pick” rating. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says the Sienna achieves a 4-Star overall crash-test rating, but it should be noted that the rating for the front seat passenger in the frontal impact test rated just 3 Stars.
At $25,700, the 2012 Kia Sedona LX is $170 less expensive than the base Toyota Sienna, and it’s better equipped, too. Standard equipment includes front and rear air conditioning, power windows, power mirrors, power door locks, remote keyless entry, a tilt steering wheel, cruise control, floor mats, and a stereo with satellite ratio, an auxiliary audio input jack, and a USB port. Bluetooth connectivity is standard, and the Sedona LX is also equipped with dark tinted rear glass, parking sensors in the rear bumpers, and a “conversation” mirror.
A 271-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 is standard, and is covered by a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty. Additionally, Kia provides a five-year/60,000-mile warranty with 24-hour roadside assistance for the rest of the van. In combined driving, the EPA says the 2012 Sedona gets 21 mpg.
The problem with the Sedona is that the IIHS gives this minivan its lowest possible rating for roof crush strength: “Poor.” In all other IIHS tests the Sedona received the best score of “Good.” For this reason, and although the Kia Sedona LX is certainly one of the most affordable minivans for 2012, it definitely is not one of the best affordable minivans for 2012.
The 2012 Dodge Grand Caravan starts at $21,990 with the destination charge, making it the most affordable minivan of 2012 that is designed to carry seven people plus a whole bunch of stuff.
The American Value Package (AVP) model includes air conditioning, power front windows, power heated mirrors, power door locks, remote keyless entry, a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, cruise control, and a four-speaker stereo with an auxiliary audio input jack. Stow ‘N Go seats fold into the floor to create maximum cargo capacity, and when the seats are raised the Grand Caravan provides in-floor storage bins.
A standard 3.6-liter V6 engine makes 283 horsepower, and the Grand Caravan is rated to get 20 mpg in combined driving. The IIHS calls Dodge’s minivan a “Top Safety Pick,” and in NHTSA crash tests the Grand Caravan receives an overall rating of 4 Stars.
While the Grand Caravan isn’t quite as fuel efficient as other minivans, it certainly is safe. And even with the optional Uconnect Bluetooth hands-free calling and music streaming setup ($690), the AVP model runs just $22,680. That means it’s not only one of the most affordable minivans for 2012, it is probably the best affordable minivan of 2012.
By definition, the 2012 Mazda 5 might be the only true “mini-van” available today. Substantially smaller and lighter than the other vehicles on this list, it therefore stands to reason that the Mazda would also be the most affordable minivan of 2012. But the margin of savings over the Dodge Grand Caravan is not as large as you might expect.
The 2012 Mazda 5 Sport costs $20,420 including the destination charge. But that’s with a six-speed manual gearbox. If you want an automatic transmission, plan on spending $21,420, just $570 less than the larger, roomier Grand Caravan AVP.
Though you stand to save a few hundred bucks by choosing a Mazda 5, you need to know that this really is a minivan. It offers three rows of seats, but the Mazda 5 is comfortable for only four people and, maybe, two children riding in the cramped third-row seat. Cargo volume is also dramatically reduced compared to other minivans. The Mazda 5 supplies 44.4 cu-ft. of space behind the second-row seats, while the Grand Caravan swallows 33 cu-ft. of cargo behind its third-row seats and 83.3 cu-ft. behind its second-row seats.
Standard equipment includes aluminum wheels, automatic climate control, a stereo with an auxiliary audio input jack, power windows, power mirrors, power door locks, remote keyless entry, floor mats, a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, and cruise control. The driver’s seat is height adjustable, the two second-row bucket seats slide to adjust leg space and can be folded or tumbled forward, and there are second-row air vents as well as a foldout tray table with storage.
The Mazda 5 does get better fuel economy than other models on this list. According to the EPA, its 2.5-liter, 157-horsepower four-cylinder averages 24 mpg in combined driving. We can’t share crash-test ratings, because neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS has performed crash tests on the Mazda 5.
Yes, the Mazda 5 is the most affordable minivan of 2012. But that doesn’t make it the best affordable minivan of 2012.