The world of minivans has evolved over the years. Since Chrysler popularized the concept in 1984 with the very first Dodge Caravan, sales quickly took off and reached impressive figures in the 1990s. With the advent of crossovers, however, manufacturers seem to have given up on entry-level models, offering only luxury minivans instead. Even the venerable Dodge Grand Caravan, Chrysler’s saviour from bankruptcy on multiple occasions, will be retired next year.
For that reason, we selected the Chrysler Town & Country to take part in today's match-up. While this American model shares its chassis with the Grand Caravan, it's more comfortable, better equipped and has more soundproofing: it's the ultimate Chrysler minivan currently on the market (the 2016 version is on the way, and it will be radically different). To take on this icon, I chose a vehicle that I believe represents the best of the new generation of minivans that emphasize comfort over base price: the Kia Sedona. Japanese minivans like the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna would have been very similar choices, but the Kia has been getting a lot of press since its most recent makeover. It has gone from a vehicle without any noteworthy characteristics (besides it's gargantuan fuel consumption) to a more than competitive option: it has an attractive shape, is modern and replete with gadgets. It’s the perfect adversary!
- Also: Fuel Economy Numbers for the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica
- Also: The Dodge Grand Caravan still available in 2017
To properly evaluate minivans, you have to let them do what they were made for: transporting children, filling up their large cargo capacity and using their family-friendly features. But since I'm a bachelor and none of my friends allowed me to rent their offspring for the afternoon, I had to settle for more basic comparison techniques like judging the ride and static evaluation.
I began by test driving the Town & Country. From the moment you enter the vehicle, you can tell that the passenger compartment is well-made. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Chrysler’s stylists have really gone the extra mile over the last few years. Once the worst in the industry, their products are now greatly improved. The leather seats are comfortable, the controls are right where they should be, the steering wheel is the right size and is heated, and the dashboard gauges are quite attractive. However, the small screen between the speedometer and the tachymeter looks outdated: it's a simple two-tone LCD display. The stick shift placed on the console is a brilliant idea in that it frees space in the central console, which is chock-full of little storage spaces. The Town & Country is the undisputed champion of storage, with an enormous amount of small drawers, cubbies and compartments. There's no doubt that this minivan was designed to transport families and all their gear. The amount of gadgets on board is also staggering, and includes two DVD screens in back (one for each row), interior lighting worthy of an airliner, adjustable temperature in the rear with heated second-row benches, and power-opening side doors and liftgate. Moreover, the Chrysler is the only minivan capable of morphing into a transport truck: you can store all the seats in the vehicle's floor, which is particularly practical for transporting large objects.
On the road, the Chrysler is quiet and its Pentastar V6 engine makes passing easy. Note that the gas pedal is very sensitive: if you give it a little too much gas, even on a dry surface, you'll make the front tires squeal. What’s more, to save fuel, the engine disengages from the six-speed transmission as soon as you take your foot off the accelerator. Combined with the aforementioned sensitivity, these two features make the ride less smooth than it should be in a family vehicle.
Overall, the Chrysler Town & Country is perfect for your family. But the pitter-patter of footsteps behind it is actually the Kia Sedona.
Inside the Kia, you’ll notice almost instantly that the new version doesn't settle for half-measures. The passenger compartment is ultra luxurious and all the materials are high quality—you'd think you were in a K900 instead of a minivan! Same goes for the back, where, although the seats cannot be folded down into the floor, they're a lot more comfortable than those in the Chrysler. They seem to be the same as those in the front and are equipped with leg-rests. Backseat passengers also get their very own sunroof, identical to the one above the front seats. Thus, they can lean their sets back and watch the sky! Although the Kia Sedona and the Chrysler Town & Country have similar accessories, the Sedona is superior on the road. It’s quieter, more docile and easy to drive. The windows are surprising in that they provide a 360-degree view. Whereas the Chrysler betrays its humble origins (the basic Grand Caravan sells for $19,995), the Sedona exudes quality and good taste. Moreover, during my test drive, I received several glowing comments about its appearance, while the Town & Country was pretty much anonymous on the road.
After a week driving these two minivans, I had to make a decision: At a similar selling price (fully loaded, both vehicles cost a bit less than $50,000) the Kia Sedona is a more attractive offer. It's more recent and integrates advanced technology, has a better finished passenger compartment, more appropriate handling for a minivan and supreme comfort for you and your passengers.
Kia has sent yet another clear message that it intends to dominate a segment in which it used to play little more than a bit part.