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The redesigned 2005 Honda Odyssey regained the top spot in our minivan ratings by edging out the excellent Toyota Sienna, our previous top pick.
The Odyssey and Sienna are leading an evolution in the minivan category In addition to being comfortable, space-efficient vehicles that are ideal for family use, they now offer many of the attributes of midlevel luxury cars, including smooth, quick powertrains; quiet, well-constructed interiors; good driving dynamics; and an array of the latest features and technology.
Minivan demographics are evolving. Historically, slightly more than 60 percent of the primary drivers of minivans were women, 85 percent of whom had children, according to Art Spinella, president of CNW Marketing Research. Now, about half the primary drivers are men and only 60 percent of those men have children. In other words, more people are deciding that a minivan meets their driving needs regardless of whether or not they have children.
We've found minivans to be a good alternative to large SUVs. They're less expensive, get better mileage, generally ride and handle better, and provide easier access to the third-row seat.
We bought well-equipped versions of the Dodge Grand Caravan, Honda Odyssey, Saturn Relay, and Toyota Sienna. Prices ranged from $30,895 for the Saturn to $34,909 for the Toyota. The Odyssey, Sienna, and Grand Caravan are recommended. We don't have reliability data on the new Relay, but the Venture, on which it is based, has average reliability (On page 59, we've also included an Auto-Test Extra report on the new Buick LaCrosse.)
The Odyssey and Sienna finished in a near tie. The Odyssey had an edge in braking and emergency handling, although the Sienna has a quieter, more comfortable ride and a little more cargo space.
As part of its redesign, the Honda Odyssey got a slightly more powerful engine, standard electronic stability control, and a split folding third-row seat instead of the previous one-piece design. The 255-hp, 3.5-1iter V6 in our EX-L version has a variable-displacement system that shuts off three cylinders when the vehicle is cruising on a light load, but activates all six cylinders when more power is needed. With this system, the Odyssey had a 1 mpg edge in highway fuel economy over the Sienna (28 vs. 27), but 1 mpg worse in the city, meaning both averaged 19 mpg.
The Toyota Sienna, which was redesigned for 2004, continues to be a nicely conceived and refined vehicle. Handling is responsive, though less agile than the Odyssey's. The maze of option packages can be confusing.
Chrysler's long-wheelbase minivans--the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan--were freshened for 2005. Both the second- and third-row seats can now fold flat into the floor. The new Grand Caravan, however, is slightly heavier and noisier than previous versions.
The Saturn Relay is part of GM's quartet of minivans that includes the Buick Terraza, Chevrolet Uplander, and Pontiac Montana SV6. They're freshened for 2005 with SUV-like styling but are still based on an eight-year-old platform. They're improved over the previous minivans (Venture, Silhouette, and Montana), but not enough to be competitive. The Relay rides stiffly, handles reluctantly, and has a weak engine, noisy interior, and many rattles. It has the largest cargo capacity of the group, but you have to wrestle out the heavy seats to use it.
Ratings minivans Overall score 0 100 In this Make & movel issue P F G VG E ([check]) 1# Honda Odyssey EX ** ([check]) 2# Toyota Sienna XLE ** 3 Nissan Quest 3.5 SL 4 Mazda MPV ES ([check]) 5# Dodge Grand Caravan ** SXT 6 Ford Freestar SEL 7 Saturn Relay 3 ** 8 Kia Sedona EX Price as Predicted Make & movel tested reliability ([check]) 1 Honda Odyssey EX $32,410 (b) ([check]) 2 Toyota Sienna XLE 34,909 (b) 3 Nissan Quest 3.5 SL 31,610 (e) 4 Mazda MPV ES 31,845 (e) ([check]) 5 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT 34,140 (c) 6 Ford Freestar SEL 33,285 (c) 7 Saturn Relay 3 30,895 New 8 Kia Sedona EX 26,785 (d) (a) Excellent (b) Very good (c) Good (d) Fair (e) Poor) In performance order. Red check ([check]) indicates a recommended model. Blue key number indicates a Quick Pick. Note: Quick Picks indicated with #.
CR Quick Recommendations
A minivan should combine a carlike driving experience with a large, versatile interior that's easy to convert between cargo- and people-carrying duties. The top-scoring Honda Odyssey (1) and Toyota Sienna (2) easily meet those needs. They are responsive and comfortable, and the versions we tested areas luxurious as many mid-$30,O00 sedans. The Dodge Grand Caravan (5) is worth considering mainly for its unique fold-and-stow second-row seats, which provide extra cargo-carrying versatility.
Of the eight minivans that we have tested, three are recommended. We lack reliability data on the Saturn Relay (7), as well as its GM siblings the Buick Terraza, Chevrolet Uplander, and Pontiac Montana SV6. The Nissan Quest (3), Mazda MPV (4), and Kia Sedona (8) have shown subpar reliability in our annual survey. The Ford Freestar (6) has average reliability but scored too low in our tests.
The Ratings rank vehicles on how well they scored in our tests, irrespective of price or reliability. Recommended models ([check]) not only tested well but also have shown average or better reliability, and performed at least adequately if crash-tested or included in a government rollover test. Quick Picks are recommended models that in our judgment deserve special consideration based on your needs.
Best for general use:
1 Honda Odyssey
2 Toyota Sienna
You wouldn't go wrong with either one. The Odyssey handles better, but the Toyota is quieter and rides more comfortably. Both can seat seven or eight, depending on the configuration. Both have fold-flat third-row seats and should have above-average reliability. The Sienna is the only minivan with all-wheel drive that we currently recommend.
Best in cargo-carrying versatility: 5 Dodge Grand Caravan
Its foldaway second-row seats give it extra flexibility for carrying an array of cargo configurations. But it doesn't compete well …