Though often maligned as a ‘mom-mobile,’ the minivan remains the most efficient and practical way to move large numbers of people and/or copious amounts of cargo—certainly in comfort, and maybe even with a little style.
The Toyota Sienna was one of the leading entries in the ‘modern’ minivan market, starting in the early 2000s. Dual sliding side doors, folding third row seats and a car-like chassis are now ubiquitous in the minivan market.
Today’s Sienna offers comfortable heated leather front seats. Dual automatic climate control for the front and a third climate control for the rear insures passenger comfort throughout the cabin. A large touchscreen in the center of the front console with surrounding hard buttons displays information for the radio, navigation and vehicle settings, and is fairly easy to use. Redundant radio controls on the steering wheel allow audio adjustment, while keeping one’s hands on the steering wheel. But fake wood trim on the dash and console and hard plastic trim on the doors seem a bit second-rate for a van selling north of $40,000.
The second-row seats slide forward and aft to allow for adjustment of leg room between the second- and third-row passengers. While allowing for adequate leg room in the second row, there’s plenty of leg room in the third row, even for adults. Rear-seat passengers also get their own panoramic moonroof, which supplements the front moonroof to provide a sunny, airy feel to the interior. Sunshades for the rear side windows can block out excessive sunlight. A large, wide screen drops down from the ceiling behind the first row to rear-seat passengers with video entertainment. A 110v plug in the rear of the van also allows you to plug in a video player or game console. Sliding side doors and the rear hatch are all electrically operated, as are the 60/40 folding third-row seats.
Power from the 3.5-liter, 266-horsepower V-6 is plentiful, and braking is equally good. The 6-speed automatic has a manual shift mode that will likely never be utilized. The ride is soft and comfortable—more luxury than sport—though handling is decent for a minivan. Gas mileage is 18 city, 25 highway. A back-up camera, front and rear parking sensors, a blind spot monitoring system and a rear cross-traffic alert are very useful available safety features.
“The Sienna’s best feature is its reliability. Additionally, it offers a nice ride, available all-wheel-drive, and a long list of safety features,” according to Brent Ward, general sales manager at Weiss Toyota.
Prices for the Sienna range from about $27,000 to $42,000, depending on trim level and options.
For those who like the comfort and convenience of a minivan for a smaller family, the Mazda 5 offers a right-sized alternative—call it a ‘mini minivan.’ It still has sliding side doors and a rear hatch, but it seats six instead of eight. It also has minimum storage behind the split folding third-row seat, so it’s a great vehicle for a four person family that sometimes drives carpool or Grandma and Grandpa, or has need for a large cargo area. It’s really in a class by itself, perfect for those who think a five-seat SUV is not big enough but a minivan is too much. Compared to a ‘full-size’ minivan, the 5 is smaller, easier to drive, gets better gas mileage, is less expensive and is even somewhat stylish.
The interior is quite nice, with well-bolstered front seats, individual second-row seats (great for separating kids), and a split folding third-row seat. Controls are extremely simple and easy to use. Thank you, Mazda, for not making us do everything through yet another video screen. Reliability should be much better than some of the more ‘technologically advanced’ interface systems. Broken sliding-door motors also will not be a problem since the easy-to-slide side doors are manually operated. Rear seats are roomy enough for adults. Automatic climate control with rear vents is standard, and the list of available amenities includes leather and heated seats, a moonroof, remote keyless entry, satellite radio, backup sensors and rain-sensing wipers.
With less mass to carry around, the 5 gets by with a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder 157 horsepower engine mated to a 5-speed automatic—or if you’re really cool, a 6-speed manual. Thank you again, Mazda! Though it’s not going to win any races, it’s powerful enough to get out of its own way, and the suspension is comfortable yet pretty sporty for a minivan. The reward is gas mileage of 22 city, 28 highway.
John Eyermann, salesman at Lou Fusz Mazda, notes, “I like the 5 for its sportiness and driveability. It’s a different vehicle for those who don’t want a full-size minivan.”
Prices for the Mazda 5 range from about $20,000 to $25,000.
Robert Paster (robertpaster.com) also is an attorney in private practice, concentrating in estate planning and probate.