2012 Honda Odyssey
2012 Honda Odyssey

Best minivan

The best-in-class 2012 Honda Odyssey carries over this year with minimal updates after being completely redesigned in 2011. Reviewer consensus is that it's still the minivan to beat; it's powerful, efficient, with good handling and a comfortable ride. Well-designed, modern infotainment options keep passengers entertained, while flat-folding rear seats and the ability to accept five LATCH child seats add to its versatility. Experts say the 2012 Toyota Sienna (Base MSRP: $25,060 to $40,570) is the top alternative to the Odyssey, and it's the only van that offers all-wheel drive. The Chrysler Town & Country (Base MSRP: $29,995 to $39,300) is another solid runner up.
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Base MSRP: $28,225 to $43,675 Estimated Price
2012 Dodge Grand Caravan
2012 Dodge Grand Caravan

Best budget minivan

Budget minivan shoppers have a solid choice in the Dodge Grand Caravan. It's the cheapest full-size minivan, starting at $20,995. Though the lowest-price examples don't come with as many features as the best-rated minivans, such as the Honda Odyssey (Base MSRP: $28,225 to $43,675) and the Toyota Sienna (Base MSRP: $25,060 to $40,570), the Dodge costs thousands of dollars less while offering similar overall utility. The Kia Sedona (Base MSRP: $24,900 to $29,190) is also cheaper than the top overall models, but it still costs more the Grand Caravan.
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Base MSRP: $20,995 to $29,995 Estimated Price
See a side-by-side comparison of key features, product specs, and prices.

Minivans Runners Up:

2012 Mazda Mazda5 Base MSRP: $18,379 to $22,495

3 picks including: Car and Driver, Edmunds.com…

2012 Toyota Sienna Base MSRP: $25,060 to $40,570

2 picks including: FuelEconomy.gov, Edmunds.com…

2012 Chrysler Town & Country Base MSRP: $29,995 to $39,300

2 picks including: FuelEconomy.gov, Edmunds.com…

2012 Kia Sedona Base MSRP: $24,900 to $29,190

1 pick including: FuelEconomy.gov, Edmunds.com…

Evaluating new minivans

Minivans may not be flashy, but it's hard to argue with their inherent practicality. Other vehicles can try -- and some big crossovers like the Chevrolet Traverse, Mazda CX-9 and Honda Pilot come close -- but none are simply as good at accommodating eight passengers, carrying mountains of cargo,,delivering car-like ride and handling, and keeping everyone inside entertained. Ultimately, most three-row midsize and large SUVs give up something to a comparably sized minivan, whether it's handling, usable space or fuel economy.

Back in 2009, Cars.com compared minivans and crossovers concluding that "minivans still get the advantage as the quintessential family-hauler," as they "have more interior room, as well as features targeted specifically to entertain second- and third-row passengers." In addition, minivans, with their wide-opening sliding doors, are just easier to get in and out of. Even little kids have no trouble clambering onboard thanks to low doorsills. Yes, if style is paramount, then a crossover or SUV will win out, but if you want the most useful vehicle for your family needs, nothing is better than a minivan.

Though there are only eight models on the market today, the competition is fierce. Nearly all are solid choices, and almost all have been redesigned within the last few years, including the best overall 2012 Honda Odyssey (Base MSRP: $28,225 to $43,675) and the 2012 Toyota Sienna (Base MSRP: $25,060 to $40,570) .

The latest crop of minivans is better-looking, more feature-laden and more fuel efficient than the selection offered just a couple of years ago.

We found a variety of excellent minivan reviews, each detailing the strengths and weaknesses of the various minivan nameplates. To find out which vans are the safest, most fuel-efficient and most reliable, we turned to sources such as ConsumerReports.org, FuelEconomy.gov, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. We found it easiest to unearth nuts-and-bolts information (prices, features, specs, etc.) at Edmunds.com. Other publications weigh in on economy, toughness and value, and the major publications and websites such as Motor Trend, Inside Line, Car and Driver, and Cars.com all provide excellent minivan solo and comparison tests. 

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