Sometimes You Just Need A Minivan

By Kevin Miller

10.18.2008

I’ve long been a proponent of choosing a car that is sized no larger than it absolutely needs to be. I’ve scoffed at the childless or single-child families I see running around the suburbs in their minivans or large SUVs. Our family of three (soon to be four) fits nicely in our mid-sized sedan and our mid-sized wagon. I’m unwilling to trade the poor fuel economy and roly-poly handling of a minivan or SUV for the space we would use only on rare occasions. The truth is, I’ve been so single-minded in my fervor against large vehicles that I’ve failed to see the occasions where such a vehicle would be useful.

This weekend, however, my eyes have been opened. Our family of three planned a weekend trip with another family of three to Washington State’s San Juan Islands, which involves a 75 mile drive north from Seattle to the ferry terminal in Anacortes, and then a wait for the 45-minute ferry crossing to our destination on Lopez Island. With the heavy traffic out of Seattle and the expense of driving a vehicle onto the ferry, it made a lot of sense to carpool.

We had intended to take the 2009 Kia Borrego EX I was reviewing, but mechanical problems sidelined the Kia. So instead we ended up making the trip in our friends’ 2006 Honda Odyssey EX-L. Not having been in a minivan for over five years, I was amazed at the space and utility in the current-generation Odyssey. While the seven-passenger Borrego would have squeezed us all in, with a small amount of room remaining for our luggage, the Odyssey had generous room in all three rows of seating plus plus a good deal of room behind the third row for luggage. The dads were in the captains chairs up front, the moms were in the spacious second-row seats, and the girls were in the back, entertained the entire way to the ferry landing watching a DVD during unusually light Friday afternoon traffic.

When we got to the ferry landing, we were surprised to find ourselves in queue for the boat with our host for the weekend. We had an extra seat in the van for our host to join us for “happy hour” while we waited 90 minutes for the boat which would take us and our car to the island. During our weekend getaway, all eight of us were able to comfortably explore the island in just one car.

The Odyssey has dual power sliding doors, three-zone climate control, DVD player, and rear-door sunshades in addition to goodies like leather-upholstered seats (heated and power adjustable up front), and a 6-disc in-dash CD player. With Honda’s fuel-saving VCM (Variable Cylinder Management) that can run the engine in three- or four-cylinder mode under low-load conditions to conserve fuel in highway driving (which cleverly lights up a green ECO lamp above the tachometer when operating), the front-wheel drive Odyssey returns around 25 MPG on the highway. That is equivalent to what I get in my all-wheel-drive (five-passenger) wagon, and better than the 21 MPG highway rating of the Kia Borrego we had intended to bring on the trip.

Suffice it to say I was quite impressed with the Odyssey. It was comfortable to ride in, appeared very well put together, and seated four adults plus our children very comfortably. While I won’t be choosing a minivan for my family’s use, I certainly appreciated the space and comfort afforded by the Odyssey on this trip. My eyes have absolutely been opened to the utility of the modern minivan.

COPYRIGHT Autosavant – All Rights Reserved

Author: Kevin Miller

As Autosavant’s resident Swedophile, Kevin has an acute affinity for Saabs, with a mild case of Volvo-itis as well. Aside from covering most Saab-related news for Autosavant, Kevin also reviews cars and covers industry news. His “Great Drive” series, with maps and directions included, is a reader favorite.

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5 Comments

  1. Come to the dark side, Kevin! I would have bought an Odyssey last December when I was family hauler shopping, but you can’t get them with AWD. The Odyseey is by far the best-driving Minivan out there. My wife absolutely loves our Sienna, though…lots of space, comfy features, and kid-friendly details like the dual power sliding doors and power rear liftgate. The AWD gives me peace of mind, too.

  2. One of my brothers-in-law had once a early 1990s Mazda MPV and he lovin’ it to speed it often on some freeways, I had also some cousins who owned once a Chevy Astro memories… 😉 I also regret then the “van craze” hadn’t reached the minivan, imagine the possibility of customization and all

    Then, it’s too bad then the Dodge Magnum wasn’t successeful, I would like to see a return of the station-wagon and the new Aussie Holden VE Commodore wagon, especially the “muscle-wagon” version done by the folks of HSV http://www.autoblog.com/2008/09/02/baby-got-back-hsv-launches-clubsport-r8-tourer/ could had been a nice “Pontiac GTO The Wagon”

    I wonder if there some places for a LAV (Leisure Activity vehicule but I prefer the French term “ludospace”) in North America? Some vehicules like the Renault Kangoo (aka Nissan Kubistar), Citroen Berlingo, Opel Combo and the Fiat Doblo would be a interesting alternative.

  3. I’m 27, and I love minivans. My Dad gave up his Ram for a Grand Caravan. He takes a lot of cliets out to lunch and couldn’t fit them comfortably in the Ram. The minivan sits so perfect. It’s a shame my wife is so worried about the “stigma.”

  4. My job has us in minivans all the time, with teen-sized passengers. The Toyota is the best in the rental fleets (Honda is too successful to need to sell rental-fleet vehicles). Chrysler/Dodge are the next best, and the Chevys are el-crapo. I used to like the Pontiac Montana, but they’re no longer available. The Toyota drives like a Camry (a compliment in this sense, as the van feels no worse around the corners than the sedan)

  5. The Honda runs a distant second to the industry leader, the Dodge/Chrysler minivans. Mine has 102,000 without a problem and has features the Honda doesn’t!

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