2007 Hyundai Entourage
2007 Hyundai Entourage; photo courtesy Hyundai Canada. Click image to enlarge

By Paul Williams

Discuss the story in the forum at CarTalkCanada

Photo Gallery: 2007 Minivan Challenge

The family is in many ways a typical one. Mum, dad, baby, dog, stroller, gear, bicycles, two jobs, one compact SUV, lots of driving, and lots of juggling of schedules.

Unexpectedly, however, their compact SUV which used to suit them just fine now seems a little cramped.

“What with the new baby and the dog, and all the things we need to take when we go out, we’re surprised to find that the Kia has become a bit small,” says friend-of-the-author and Ontario resident Dave Jameson (pseudonyms used).

It didn’t take long for me to suggest (half in jest, because I know these guys) to Dave and wife, Carolyn, that what they probably need is a minivan.

“Look at it this way,” I suggested sensibly, “Minivans are designed precisely for your needs. They have lots of room, storage containers where you need them, conversation mirrors for the baby and rear-seat passengers, handy power doors, and they cost less to buy and operate than a big SUV.”

2007 Kia Sedona
2007 Kia Sedona; photo courtesy Kia Canada. Click image to enlarge

But for Dave and Carolyn there was one issue of minivan ownership that I hadn’t addressed, which simply was, “We’re not minivan people!”

Of course, I knew that. It’s why they live in a small village, rather than the suburbs; why they support local boutique wineries instead of the big companies; why they prefer vintage arts-and-crafts furniture to Ikea; and enjoy classic films rather than current blockbusters.

Like most people, they don’t think of themselves as most people. They don’t follow the crowd (and in many ways they truly don’t) – which for them also means they don’t drive a minivan.

I get it, but driving home after a recent visit, I wondered, is there a minivan that could change their minds? After all, I’ve driven the latest minivans and they’re quite impressive. True, minivan ownership in Canada and the U.S. is in decline, with Ford and GM abandoning the segment. But Canadians have embraced minivans for their practicality, and the minivans that are currently available range from the very affordable to the very luxurious. In my experience, people who like them swear by them.

2007 Hyundai Entourage
2007 Hyundai Entourage; photo courtesy Hyundai Canada. Click image to enlarge

And let’s face it: Dave and Carolyn represent the very people who are now eschewing minivans in favour of arguably less practical, more expensive but also more glamorous Crossover Utility Vehicles (CUVs) and SUVs.

So here’s the challenge. Put Dave and Carolyn (and baby Anna, Laila the Boxer, and all their gear) into each of the six minivans currently on the market, one month at a time. We’ll report on their life with a minivan at the beginning, during and at the conclusion of their experience. Readers can have their say on CarTalkCanada.com. Conditions? The minivan price is capped at $40,000, which is about in the middle of the price range for available minivans, and a price Dave and Carolyn would be unlikely to exceed should they, you know, become converted.

2007 Kia Sedona
2007 Kia Sedona; photo courtesy Kia Canada. Click image to enlarge

Who knows what the outcome will be? We don’t. But the manufacturers are all confident that their products are up to the task. And this challenge gives us a chance to discuss each vehicle in a real-life context through to the end of the year. Stay tuned!

Scheduled vehicles include (in the following order):

2007 Hyundai EntouragePhoto Gallery

Available in four trim levels, the Entourage is powered exclusively by a 242-hp, 3.8-litre V6 mated to a five-speed automatic with Shiftronic manual mode. All models include seven-passenger seating, 60/40 split fold-into-the-floor third-row seat, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake force distribution (EBD), anti-whiplash active head restraints and six airbags, including curtain airbags for all three rows. The Entourage is a sister minivan to the Kia Sedona. Both are also the only minivans to earn top ratings from both NHTSA and IIHS in crash tests. The Entourage is built in Sohari, South Korea. Prices range from $29,995-$37,195.

2007 Toyota SiennaPhoto Gallery

2007 Toyota Sienna
2007 Toyota Sienna; photo courtesy Toyota Canada. Click image to enlarge

For 2007, the Toyota Sienna receives a more powerful engine: all models now use a 3.5-litre V6 that replaces the 3.3-litre of 2006, and makes 266 hp to the 2006’s 215 hp. The Sienna is available in seven- or eight-passenger configurations; all trim lines are available in front- or all-wheel drive, a full-time system which distributes torque evenly among all four wheels. The Sienna is a very large minivan, and the extra horsepower in the new engine makes its performance that much better. It’s smooth and quiet, and very well finished inside. The Sienna is built in Princeton, Indiana. Prices range from $31,200-$51,375.

2007 Honda OdysseyPhoto Gallery (2006 Odyssey)

2007 Honda Odyssey
2007 Honda Odyssey; photo courtesy Honda Canada. Click image to enlarge

The Odyssey is available as the LX, EX, EX-L and Touring; all use a 244-hp 3.5-litre V6, but the EX-L and Touring receive Variable Cylinder Management (VCM), which deactivates the three rear cylinders under light load for improved fuel economy. The Honda is powerful, it handles well, and its upper lines have luxury interiors that rival some high-end sedans. It’s a big vehicle and passengers in all three rows of seats have a great deal of room. The Odyssey is built in Lincoln, Alabama. Prices range from $33,300-$48,100.

2007 Nissan QuestPhoto Gallery

2007 Nissan Quest
2007 Nissan Quest; photo courtesy Nissan Canada. Click image to enlarge

For 2007, the Nissan Quest minivan receives a makeover inside and out. Changes include a new grille and front bumper fascia, new lights, revised roof rack design with chrome finish, and new wheels and wheel covers. The 235-hp 3.5-litre engine remains the same, but a new five-speed automatic is now used in all models. This is a smooth-riding and comfortable van, with sliding doors that Nissan says are the widest-opening among the competition, and standard features that include heated seats, curtain airbags and traction control. The third row of seats disappears completely, and the second row folds flat to provide a huge cargo area. The Quest is built in Canton, Mississippi. Prices range from $32,498-$46,998.

2007 Kia SedonaPhoto Gallery (2006 Sedona)

The Sedona uses a 250-hp 3.8-litre V6 mated to a five-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode. Seating is seven-passenger, with second-row captain’s chairs that flip and fold with the touch of a lever, or that can be removed entirely; the 60/40 third-row seat folds completely into the floor. The Sedona is a sister car to the Hyundai Entourage, although the base Kia is $500 less than the base Hyundai. Both are also the only minivans to earn top ratings from both NHTSA and IIHS in crash tests. The Sedona is built in Sohari, South Korea. Prices range from $29,495-$37,795.

2008 Dodge Grand CaravanPhoto Gallery (2007 Detroit Auto Show)

2008 Dodge Grand Caravan
2008 Dodge Grand Caravan; photo courtesy DaimlerChrysler Canada. Click image to enlarge

The Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town and Country are all new for 2008 (and are the only all new minivans on the market this year). Engines include a choice of 4.0-litre V6 (240 hp and 253 lb.-ft.) , 3.8-litre V6 and 3.3-litre FlexFuel V6. Interior options include Stow ‘n Go, Swivel ‘n Go and second-row bench seat with fold-flat third-row seat. Safety equipment includes side curtain airbags, integrated child booster seat and proximity sensors. The Grand Caravan is built in Fenton, Missouri and Windsor, Ontario. Pricing has not yet been released.

Connect with Autos.ca