Prepare to Be Impressed by the Minivan

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Physician's Money Digest, December31 2004, Volume 11, Issue 24

While SUV sales are floundering,minivan salesare picking up. Drivershave discovered thatminivans provide the most comfortableway to transport more than four passengersand pick up big loads. By far, theyare the best form of transportation forthe old and young, since they're spaciousand easy to get in and out of. And boththe Chrysler Town & Country andHonda Odyssey have been substantiallyredone for 2005.

Spacious and Powerful

Note:

Chrysler's Town & Country Limitedis the company's top minivan and offersthe most comfortable ride. The seats andstorage spaces in this vehicle are marvelous.When the seats are up and in use,there's loads of space beneath them. Ofcourse, both rows of backseats manuallyfold easily into the floor. Chrysleris the only automaker that has middleseats that fold. Because these seats offerowners over 200 possible configurations,the Town & Country is a joy for adventurouspeople who enjoy companionship.

Entertainment note:

Behind the third seat there's a uniqueparcel shelf storage system that is alsovery flexible. Meanwhile, up front,there's an excellent DVD/navigation systemmade by Alpine. On the driver's side,you'll find pleasing electro-luminescentgauges. For entertainment in the back,there's a DVD-based video system.If you want a greatDVD player, don't buy the factory unit.The 7-inch screen is just too small.

The Town & Country's 3.8-literoverhead valve engine puts out about245 foot-pounds of torque at 4000 revolutionsper minute (rpm). Its 6-cylinder(V6) engine and 4-speed automatic transmissionis a traditional package fromChrysler's past—a package with aproven record of reliability. The suspensionand steering are uniquely comfortable.While the rear leaf spring suspensionis a bit truck-like, it does have itsbenefits: The old-fashioned spring systemallows for a thinner undercarriage,resulting in more interior room.

Odyssey Technology

The Honda Odyssey Touring minivanis a bit like the BMW. It uses coilsprings at the four corners, and, like theChrysler, is front-wheel drive only. The3.5-liter, V6 engine puts out 250 foot-poundsof torque at 4500 rpm. Theengine is a technological tour de force—a Swiss watchmaker's dream. The valvetrain deactivates the rear cylinders whenlow power is required. The Odyssey'sfuel economy and power are top-notch.And Honda's experience with motorcyclespays off. Expect smooth yet definiteup-shifts from this 5-speed automatic.

Safety note:

Up front, you'll find Honda's navigationtouch-screen system, which interconnectswith your Bluetooth mobile phone.Although the Town & Country has asimilar setup, Honda's navigation systemis more advanced. In fact, Honda's electronicsare more sophisticated than theelectronics Daimler uses in its Town &Country. Both minivans haveuniquely strong floor structures and unitbodies. The seating has been improved,decreasing the likelihood of seat failure ina crash. To ensure the utmost safety,adjust all headrests.

Distinguished Vehicles

While the Honda Odyssey andChrysler Town & Country both haveside-curtain air bags, antilock brakes,and traction control, Chrysler goes onestep further. The Town & Country alsooffers a driver's side knee air bag. Not tobe outdone, Honda goes one step furtherwhen it comes to active safety with itsstability control system. Both vehiclesoffer a tire pressure monitoring system,and the Odyssey has standard run-flattires and no spare.

The Town & Country and Odysseyare 200.5 and 201 inches long, respectively,and look more like SUVs. Unlikethe SUV, however, a minivan offers theluxury of being able to walk from thefront seats to the back seats withoutobstruction. Center consoles are removableor will fold down. The seats in theOdyssey's middle row each weigh about33 pounds and need to be removedfrom the vehicle if you're looking forextra floor space. The Honda's third-rowrear seats flip into the floor andallow for one of our favorite seatingpositions: tailgating. The hatchback actsas a canopy, providing protection frombad weather. The Town & Countryoffers the same flexibility.

Despite the similarities, each minivanhas its own personality and style.So if you're in the market for a three-rowSUV, consider purchasing one ofthese two people-friendly minivans.Regardless of which vehicle you decideon, be sure to order the towing package.Even if you don't plan on towing,it's a good idea since it ensures greaterreliability and decreases the chance oftransmission or engine trouble. Forlong trips, you just can't beat a minivan'scomfort and its ability to givepeople their separate space.

and Ashly Knapp are independent

research reporters and the founders of

AutoAdvisor.com.

Jean Swenson