The clutch on my five-year-old (only 83,000 km!) Hyundai Elantra broke this summer while driving on Hwy. 401. The experience has hastened my family’s search for a more reliable vehicle. We are an active family of four and are most likely looking at a minivan. My Hyundai experience suggests to me that I should eliminate the Kia Sedona from our short list. In your opinion does it still come down to Toyota and Honda in terms of predicted reliability or should I include the Dodge and Chrysler product offerings as well? My primary concern is long-term reliability. – Darren
Richardson: Can you believe it? A reader who actually admits to wanting a minivan!
Gentile: That’s a first. I thought minivans were dead?
Richardson: Not quite. Kia’s just announced a new Sedona that should come to Canada later next year, and Toyota just debuted the Sienna hybrid van. But there aren’t many minivans to choose from these days. Most customers prefer the image of SUVs.
Gentile: I don’t have kids, but if I did, I’d prefer an SUV over a minivan any day. I know minivans are useful with smart features such as sliding rear doors, which are great for kids. But minivans don’t have the “cool” factor.
Richardson: I’m in my 50s. I’ve given up on being cool. I really like the feeling in a minivan of being like a pilot in a large plane, with the super-smooth ride and bazillions of convenience features.
Gentile: The features do impress. But generally speaking, when I’m behind the wheel of a minivan I feel like I’m driving a big, boring school bus.
Richardson: And what’s wrong with that, if the kids aren’t yelling at you?
Gentile: Minivans just aren’t fun to drive – they’re not engaging, from the driver’s perspective. They’re utilitarian and designed for kids, not drivers.
Richardson: And Darren’s not asking for something that’s fun to drive. He’s asking for something reliable with plenty of space, and I’m sure he’d like a good deal on it, too.
Gentile: Who wouldn’t want a good deal? Fall is a good time to buy a vehicle because dealers are anxious to move 2020 models out the door to make room for 2021 models in the showroom. And if a vehicle gets a major overhaul, like the 2021 Toyota Sienna minivan, then there’s a better chance to snag a deal on a 2020 Sienna.
Richardson: The Sienna is a great van and the first one I’d test-drive. Totally reliable, and very comfortable and spacious. It’s expensive compared to the almost-gone Dodge Grand Caravan, but it holds its value and like you say, there’ll probably be deals now if you don’t care about the hybrid.
Gentile: Exactly, and if he wants a hybrid he can wait for the 2021 model. We haven’t driven it yet, but we’ve both had extensive walkarounds of it. Inside, it’s impressive. It has rear sliding doors that open by kicking under them, an optional built-in vacuum cleaner and onboard refrigerator, 18 cup holders, 7 USB ports, and 10 airbags. The list goes on and on.
Richardson: As soon as Honda introduced a vacuum cleaner in the Odyssey, everyone copied it. And it’s a brilliant addition, always useful, if you don’t mind paying close to $2,000 for a $250 Shop-Vac.
Gentile: Yes, it’s an expensive add on, but it’ll come in handy for quick cleaning. And speaking of the Honda Odyssey, that should also be on Darren’s list to test drive. It has excellent cargo and passenger space and a strong V6 engine. It’s packed with safety and convenience technology. But the second-row seats can be difficult to remove.
Richardson: Anyone looking at the Sienna should look at the Odyssey, and vice-versa. They’re priced against each other, so it comes down to what features you want. And the reliability is excellent. But if you want storage, the Pacifica or Grand Caravan always win because their second-row seats stow under the floor.
Gentile: And not to mention the Chrysler Pacifica comes in a hybrid, too, so it’s fuel efficient. It also has a range of 835 kilometres so fewer stops at the gas station. That’s something important to consider when you’re driving a big heavy vehicle with seating for up to 8.
Richardson: It is, but the hybrid Pacifica keeps its heavy batteries below the floor of the cabin, so there’s no room for the Stow’N'Go feature. Pushing all those seats into the floor, instead of sliding and folding the second row forward like all the other vans, or pulling them out and leaving them in the garage, is the main selling feature for me.
Gentile: Good point. Darren, skip the Pacifica. But definitely check out the Dodge Grand Caravan – it’s been Canada’s best-selling minivan for more than 35 years. Besides the seat flexibility, it’s the cheapest minivan money can buy, starting around $26,000.
Richardson: The Grand Caravan is the best value but he’ll have to be quick – Dodge stopped making it in August and rebranded it in Canada as a Chrysler. And of course, the price went up.
Gentile: Yes, that $26,000 for the Dodge includes $7,000 in incentives, but the Chrysler starts listing at $30,000, including $8,000 in incentives. That’s a $4,000 increase, and more in line with the Honda, Toyota and Kia.
Richardson: The Grand Caravan sometimes suffered from transmission problems. If Darren is looking for a reliable and comfortable van, he’ll be safest to invest in either the Honda Odyssey or the Toyota Sienna, or maybe the Pacifica. He’ll get what he pays for – unless he wants the vacuum cleaner.
Gentile: Skip the Pacifica, Daren; I’d stick with a new or used Toyota Sienna or Honda Odyssey.
What car should you buy? Write to Mark and Petrina at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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