Looking for a minivan..any suggestions?

We are 2 adults and 3 children aged 16 months, 4 months and 4 years. I was wondering what your opinions are on the different models for carrying capacity, handling, safety, and overall dependability. I know the Honda Odyssey and Toyata Sienna are top of the line but they are out of my price range. It would more than likely be 2003 or older as the 2004 are once again out of my price range. I live up in Canada so AWD would be nice. I was looking at the Venture but have heard it isn’t the best. Any help, comments or suggestions would be appreciated.
Thanks in advance for all your help.

I’ll tell you our experience. We live in Texas. Got a wife, two kids and were expecting a third. We decided to get a bigger car, and since we have Dodges already, we went to Dodge. We got a new 2002 Dodge Grand Caravan Sport for about US$23K. It has dual A/C (a must in Texas), quad seats, AM/FM/CD, cruise, etc. We’ve been quite happy with it. The seats don’t fold into the floor, like some of the other vans do, but they seats are VERY easy to remove. All seven seats are very comfortable, with plenty of leg-room for all. For power, it has a 3.3 liter 6. It has plenty of power to run the van up and down hills with both air conditioners blowing. Unfortunately, the mileage is only around 19MPG on the highway. I wish it were a bit better.

Consumer Reports has the Caravan rated kinda low, but we really like it. The only problem we have had is the power sliding door is a bit balky on cold mornings. Other than that, we’ve been very happy. I have no experience with the AWD version other than to know that it is available. Years ago, we had a 1992 Caravan (short base, not “Grand”). We mostly enjoyed it, but it was not nearly as comfortable as our 2002 Grand Caravan.

I forgot to mention that it has LATCHes in four positions for child seats. Those are required in the US, don’t know about Canada. But, hey, the van was built in Ontario. That has to be worth something. Safety-wise, we haven’t crashed ours, so I can’t testify to its crashworthiness. I will say that the body seems to be very solid with good integrity. The doors are all larger than their openings, preventing them from being crashed into the cabin space. The sliding doors latch in multiple locations. The auto-locks secure the doors and all the power assisted doors are disabled when the vehicle is in gear. However, the car’s computer is programmed to unlock all the doors in the event of a crash. If it detects that the vehicle has stopped and the air bags have deployed, the doors will unlock.

General Questions is for questions with factual answers. IMHO is for opinions and polls. I’ll move this to IMHO for you.

DrMatrix - GQ Moderator

For pre-2003 AWD minivans the pickin’s are pretty slim. Either an old style Chevy/GMC van which is mostly highly valued for its towing capacity, another GM product like a Montana/Venture which are pretty mediocre, or the Chrysler/Dodge models. We purchased a 2001 Chrysler LXi AWD and absolutely enjoy it. It is fairly high-end however, new about $36K, but perhaps now you can get it for closer to 20-25K–I haven’t checked the books.

The ride is great, it looks attractive (unlike Odyssey and older Siennas), very very quiet, and I don’t mind the lack of fold-into-the-floor seats–with two kids and their friends we mostly move bodies these days. The AWD works really well too–I like to take it into the mountains or the desert and get out there. This was our first American car (we are in our late 40s) and I have been pretty impressed with the build quality. Not quite Toyota/Honda level but good enough. Do purchase an extended warranty.

I’ll chime in here for the Dodge/Plymouth/Chrysler.

I just traded in my '96 plymouth Grand Voyager about 3 months ago. It didn’t have all wheel drive that you’re looking for, but I liked it just the same. It was a pretty reliable car up until about a year ago. I drove it pretty hard too. Of course now I have a Chevy SUV, and I’ve been happy with it so far.


Please take this advice FWIW and make your own decisions.

We have had a 1998 Pontiac TansPort/Montana for the past two years. In those two years we have had the following:

  1. Chronic Power Door problems (Apparently computer related… no way to fix).
  2. Transmission go out. Had to replace it at a cost of approx $1800 USD
  3. Flakey problems with the display for the Radio/CD player. Not a big issue as it still plays.
  4. Support piston on the back hatch going bad.
  5. Two… count them… TWO cracked heads. Just recently repaired for a grand total of $2000 USD

I don’t know if these problems are confined to just this particular year of Montana, but when I get around to finding another minivan, it WON’T be a GM vehicle.

Get a hold of me – I can get you a discount on Ford/Lincoln/Mercury/Volvo – how’s 4% over employee price? Plus you have the satisfaction of knowing that your Ford minivan is built in Oakville, ON (I think they still are) – be patriotic, you know?

NO – this offer isn’t open to anyone else.

Oh, the catch is it has to be brand new – no demos, off leases, used, or anything like that.

I’d like to thank everyone for their input, and it has gotten me thinking and considering certain models (and discarding others). All the minvans just seem so alike and it is not an easy choice, so once again thank you dopers for all your help.