Family Minivans

Slide-3254832 By Jayne O'Donnell

There's an unlikely generation gap in my house.

My 14 year old daughter loves minivans and I don't even like them. When I test drove the new 2014 Honda Odyssey with the built-in vacuum, you would have thought I brought home a Ferrari to a 50-something guy having a mid-life crisis.

She and a friend put all the seats down and hung out doing homework with pillows and blankets as if it were a camper – and a dirt-free one at that.

To me, minivans feel unnecessarily unwieldy, serving little purpose in either inclement weather or for transporting my family of three and assorted teen friends. If I'm going to spend the money and gas for that much room, I want my vehicle to be able to easily go off road to our place in the mountains, especially if there's snow on the ground.

I'm hardly, alone, as its little accident that that there are fewer minivans being made these days. The market for them has fragmented into SUVs and station wagons. Even Ford, which long had an entry in the minivan market, calls what appears to be its entry – the Ford Transit Connect – a "wagon, " no doubt so it doesn't get saddled with the negative stereotype. General Motors is out of the market altogether.

Still, it's silly to rule out a segment of vehicles that holds so much value to some many families with young kids. And, indeed, when I've had the latest model of any minivan, moms everywhere were far more in my daughter's camp – dying to check out my hot new wheels. So bear with me as I explain all the reasons why I'm wrong to be so dismissive of this family workhouse.

Functionality is, of course, the main reason you'd buy a minivan. If you need to transport six or more people on a regular basis, often carry lots of cargo, and aren't likely to be off-roading or braving treacherous winter weather, a minivan is often smarter than a sport utility vehicle and certainly makes more sense than a sedan unless you want to send your sixth on the bus.

With oodles of different seating configurations - and the choice of only using the rear for stuff - you can't get much more practical. Not to mention the new standard feature available on the Honda Odyssey Touring model, the built-in HondaVac. The vacuum conveniently folds into its own compartment and has a stretchable 12-foot hose. Still, the one in my house cost less than $50 and this vacuum is only available on the Touring Elite trim level that costs about $45, 000.

Along with room for seven (or eight in the Odyssey and Sedona), minivans offer drivers the ability to "walk" to the rear of the vehicle if necessary, in a hunched over sort of way. Kids can also get in and out with more ease than even the latest sport utility vehicles allow.

When it comes to horsepower, almost all of the minivans sold today have enough to keep drivers happy. The larger-engine options aren't really as fast as they sound either. A 283-horsepower engine, like that on the Grand Caravan, feels a lot different when it's pulling a packed minivan than a hard-charging Mustang.

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