Q: We'll be in the market for a mini-van soon! I never thought I'd want one but have been using one overseas for the past 2 years and realize I can't live without all the room! We've got 2 toddlers and a dog. I'm a little out of touch with the new features on vans...have seen some commercials where you can store stuff ...in the floor, built-in DVD players behind the front headrests, etc. Which models do you like and why?
A: Minivans are popular with Baby Bunchers for many reasons and once you get inside you'll see why. Lots of options. Lots of room. Bonus is getting everyone inside and THEN getting everyone strapped in. Heck, isn't that what the original VW bus was for? Linda's parent's (back in the early 80s) even had a pop-up table. (Pre-car seats/booster, of course.)
Today there are many choices to make when choosing a minivan for your Bunch. It's no secret that the top two out there are the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna (note, the Sienna is not included in Toyota's recent recall related to faulty accelerators). Car & Driver Magazine continually rates the Odyssey, especially, as one of the top ones each year because it outperforms the competition and is fun to drive, which is a big bonus for dads. Cara and Linda have both owned (or currently own) some kind of Honda vehicle and can vouch for all things Honda!
While Linda refuses to ever own a minivan (though she secretly covets the extra room her friends have over her RAV-4), Cara reluctantly delved into the world of minivans a few years ago by purchasing a Hyundai Entourage. Once the ugly stepchild of Asian automakers, Hyundai has significantly increased in both safety ratings and reliability in recent years. It was the price tag (a full 10K lower than a comparable, fully loaded Sienna) and extended warranty that lured Cara to the Entourage in the first place and she has never looked back.
So what to consider when buying a van?
Naturally, safety-related features (air bags, tire pressure warning systems, rear/sensors and backup cameras, etc.) are of concern, so do your Consumer Reports homework.
Practical features we consider pretty important:
-Seating. Middle and rear seating come in various bench/captain configurations, but only the Odyssey and Sienna have eight-passenger seating options last time we checked. So if you're locked in on that extra seat, your options are a little more limited off the bat. Also, some models feature reconfigurable 2nd row seats, so if you're wanting to maximize seating, ask about that.
-Fold-flat third row seat. Even though most Bunchers max out their minivans with car seats, it's still handy to have the third row for cargo space for when you've got Dad at home to watch your Bunch so you can remove a car seat and run out and buy that second crib.
-Automatic doors/rear lift gate - So, so handy to be able to open/close all doors with a click of your remote. Careful, though - Cara's Entourage is not as sensitive to sensing tiny bodies obstructing the door as she wishes it was, so watch your kids around the doors at all times.
-In floor storage - Dodge Caravan, Chrysler Town & Country, and the Odyssey have it. Who among us isn't constantly searching for more ways to contain our crap?
And the fluff:
-Cup holders. Cara has 3 drinks going at all times (water, coffee, and usually a Diet Coke) plus drinks for all of her Bunch. Excessive number of cup holders = Cara's dream vehicle.
-DVD/Entertainment System - Cara (and Linda) opted expressly AGAINST this so she didn't have to fight that battle every morning on the way to school, but some moms consider it a plus.
-Built-in sunshades - We hear they've been in luxury cars for years (not that we would know anything about that) and they're migrating over to minivans. Big improvement over our cheapy BabiesRUs ones that break all the time!
-Navigation system - Yeah, many of us have it on our cell phones now. But it's just easier to have it on a screen right in front of you.
We thought we'd pass along this ConsumerSearch site with a few things to consider as well. Share any other tips/features you love that we missed!
Stay tuned next Wednesday for a question on moving kids in with each other.