Shopping for a minivan

After weeks of researching and test driving, here is my notes and observations. Please keep in mind that the features and options I mention are not the full list. It’s merely what stood out to me. We currently have a 2004 Acura TL with navigation and a 2011 Toyota Prius Package 3 with navigation. So the information I am providing could contain comparisons and opinions based off on our experiences with those cars as well. Our family size is growing, which is why we are looking into a minivan. Each car I tested will have my likes and dislikes and is not ranked in any way. I was the driver, my wife sat in the second row, and my son and father-in-law in the third row. So enough of me blabbering, here’s our observation during the test drives.


2012 Nissan Quest LE. This is their version of the “Limited”. It has the rear DVD package but no moonroof. We didn’t consider it until we saw a video online that showed its features and options. Then we got curious and gave it a shot. We were also hoping for a good deal considering it was unsold and last year’s model. This one is a 7 passenger.


  • Out of what I test drove, I feel that the Quest has one of the better interior console design for the driver.
  • There’s a “step in” area for the sliding doors which made it easier for my son to get in.
  • The exterior look is different and for me I like it.
  • It has a smart key for all doors including the power sliding door. It’s similar to our Prius but it’s a button to lock and unlock rather than a sensor. But the great thing with the Quest, the sliding doors have it too.
  • Turn radius is as good as Sienna.
  • With the third row up and the head rest up, visibility is better than the Sienna when looking at the rear view mirror.


  • I wasn’t as comfortable driving it, but not to say it wasn’t. Just comparing it to the Sienna. I feel the seats “hug” me more in the Sienna.
  • According to my wife, the seats in the back weren’t as comfortable as the Sienna as well but the ride was the same.
  • I don’t like CVT. It feels weird on a V6 engine.
  • The powered tailgate and sliding doors have sensors so that it won’t close on you. The Quest, I feel needs to recalibrate the sensitivity. I’m 162 lbs and the power sliding door was able to move me a bit before it detected an object in its way and stopped closing on me.
grand caravan

2013 Dodge Grand Caravan R/T. We checked out a 2012 SXT that our friends just got and we loved it. Another friend recommended it after renting one for a trip to San Francisco (8 hour drive). So we got curious and checked on out. We wanted leather so we had to go up to the R/T trim. This was already a challenge being that it’s hard to find this trim in our area. This one is a 7 passenger.


  • Black interior is available! I wish the Sienna has this as an option outside the SE trim.
  • Fully loaded and cost less than others we checked out.
  • The engine is nice. Best acceleration and torque out of what I test drove. Closest feeling to my TL that I will have to trade in.
  • Stow and Go is awesome! Second and third row can be stowed away under the floor leaving you with a flat floor and no folded chairs in the way. You can even use the stow area for other things when chairs are not stored in it.
  • Remote starter and shutdown. Great for cooling the car off in the summer or warming it up in the winter – before entering the vehicle. This is standard for the R/T.
  • The roof rack is also designed as a stow and go. Not a big thing but I thought the stow and go design in general is great.
  • Optional Bluray player with HDMI input. I’m not big on the DVD/Bluray players in cars because for me carrying DVD/Bluray discs as oppose to having movies in a hard drive or phone/tablet is more convenient. But the HDMI input is huge since you can bring your own device and be able to play HD content.
  • Optional third row screen.
  • Overhead compartments in the back. I believe they can hold 9” displays since they look the same as the display holder. This overhead also has a blue ambient light that outlines it. Points for style.
  • Flex fuel capability that 85 gas can be used – at least that’s how it was explained to me. Would be great if there were gas stations in my area that have it. Cheaper? I don’t know. I haven’t seen one in my area.


  • The R/T is very hard to find in my area. It will be tough to get the desired color combination.
  • It felt the heaviest out of all I test drove.
  • Turn radius is the worse out of all. You will have to do 3 point u-turns.
  • Wife will not like driving this.
  • The back up camera quality isn’t that great. It looked blurry. I test drove 2 different R/T from 2 different dealers and was consistent.
  • Third row is stationary. You cannot recline or adjust it.

2014 Honda Odyssey EX-L without navigation. This was the closest experience to the Sienna. It is an 8 passenger. We wanted to check out the one with navigation but it wasn’t available yet.


  • It seems quieter (engine noise) than the Sienna but then again it could be the same. It’s been a few days since I last test drove the Sienna.
  • The middle seat in the second row is removable and what’s left is just the hooks that hold it in place. It’s less obtrusive than the Sienna when the seat is removed. But no storage for the seat.
  • There are 2 screens in the front center console. One for displaying information and the other is where you can select different options.
  • The tailgate hatch is powered, even when you open it from the handle on the back. This was the only one that has this feature. All others are powered (through remote and button inside) but when you open it from the handle, it becomes manual.
  • There is a camera on the passenger side mirror. It is activated when you turn on the right turn signal. The video is displayed in the top screen. It’s not a major like but I thought it was neat so it’s worth mentioning. It’s great if the area you live in has many bike lanes. I never had it, I just look over my shoulder during turns, and could live without it. But the idea seems cool.
  • With the third row up and the head rest up, visibility is better than the Sienna.
  • The front console design is nice. I would say it’s as nice as the Quest if not nicer.
  • According to my wife, the ride height is a little lower than the Sienna. She felt it was easier to get in and out through the sliding doors.
  • The ride was as good as the Sienna and Quest.
  • It was explained to us that in case of a front impact accident, the engine is designed to drop on the ground so that the impact will not cause the engine to go into the cabin as well as reduce the force felt. I think this is a great safety design and many other vehicles have this. I’m not sure the Sienna has it. The Dodge Grand Caravan and Nissan Quest has it as well, based on information by the sales associate.
  • There’s a plastic ring to hold a small trash bag/container. This is located in the center between the front and second row.


  • It is comfortable but I still feel the Sienna is more comfortable as a driver. My wife agrees – as a passenger in the second row. All the test drive we done, she sat in the same spot to give a fair comparison. But it’s just a slight difference.
  • The third row windows do not open unless you get the Touring package.
  • There is no shade in the third row.
  • The middle seat in the second row is removable but no storage space is set aside to store it. You need to know whether or not you will need that seat removed before leaving for your trip or it will take up space just to set it aside during the trip.
sienna xle

2013 Toyota Sienna XLE with navigation and Entune. The Entune hardly impresses me because of the lack of apps it supports and there’s a monthly charge after 3 years. Hopefully, they will update it and have more apps. The model tested is the 8 passenger with the removable middle seat from the second row.


  • Turn radius is great for its size. I was able to make u-turns in one shot – no 3 point.
  • The vehicle felt light for its size. Felt close to my TL (size wise, not performance).
  • We love the smart key from our Prius. The XLE with navigation has the same feature but the passenger door also has it not just the driver door.
  • Push to start.
  • There is a storage space for the removable middle seat in the second row found in the back trunk.
  • Powered tailgate – open and close. Becomes manual when you use the handle to open it.
  • Powered windows for all windows. “Auto” feature for front and second row windows where it’s one push to open all the way or close all the way. There is also a safety feature to prevent the window from closing on an object such as your hands and elbows.
  • Safety feature on power sliding doors and tailgate also exist to prevent the door from shutting on an object.
  • Uses 87 gas – probably standard on all minivans. Guess I just got used to my TL where the recommended fuel is 91 and higher.
  • Comfortable ride as the driver. This is very important since I’ll be the driver for the long trips. According to my passengers, it has a soft ride. The leather feels great and soft.
  • Third row can be stowed away easily. Might be the easiest out of all we checked out.
  • Removable second row if we need the extra room for hauling large objects.
  • Wood-grain trim, maybe that’s why they only have light colored interior available.


  • The interior color is only available in silver and bisque (somewhat of a beige color). I wanted a black or gray. The black interior is only available in the SE model which only has leather wrapped seats not full leather.
  • No Sirius/XM radio! Very huge dislike! You have to get the premium package for it to come included which starts at an additional $4K.
  • Radio antenna in the front. It just looks archaic to me. Since we’re planning to get XM and not use the radio, I may replace it with a shorter one or remove it completely.
  • The height is a little high for my son. Maybe we could get running boards or just wait for him to get bigger and it solves itself haha.
  • With the third row up and the head rest up, it makes visibility when looking in the rear view mirror a little difficult but not impossible.
  • I prefer the 7 passenger over the 8 but it’s more expensive.
sienna limited

2012 Toyota Sienna Limited with AWD. This was by far the most luxurious out of the minivans we checked out and also the most expensive. We wanted to check it out since it was still a 2012 model and brand new – hoping to get a great deal on it. This is a 7 passenger. The 2013 is very similar to the 2012 model. No Entune feature since it was introduced with the 2013 Sienna.


  • Same as the XLE
  • The Limited package is great. Here are the features I liked.
    • The second row can be reclined with has a long slide feature. Pretty much you can kick your feet up. Both seats do this.
    • Halogen headlights
    • Dual moon roof – front and back. Both have their own controls with the front having control for the back as well.
    • The side mirrors fold in/out with a touch of a button.
  • Even though it has AWD, it smart enough to know when to enable/disable. Because of this, the MPG isn’t affected significantly.


  • Same as XLE unless the feature/option exists in the Limited.
  • With an MSRP of over $40K, it still didn’t include a rear DVD entertainment system. It’s another package on top of the Limited package for an additional cost. Not sure if you will lose the moonroof in the back with this feature installed.

The Odyssey is the closest to a Sienna in terms of comparison. We will more than likely go with a 2013 XLE with premium package, if the dealer is going to match a price we found on the internet. If not, we got a good price for the 2013 XLE with navigation. Hopefully this helps some of you. Again, the things I mentioned are based on my opinions and not the full features and options, just ones that stood out to me. It’s always fun looking for a new car.

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