Vehicle Type: Minivan

History / Description: Few can argue with the overwhelming value of a minivan when it comes to affordably moving around families, their things and their pets. Sliding doors, plenty of space for the buck, and plenty of versatility make a minivan a machine that’s ready for anything – including growing up with and adapting to the family that’s made it their own. Or, if you’re not a family person, maybe you’re using a minivan as a pickup truck, with the seats yanked out. Or, as a camper. Or as a delivery vehicle for your business. There are plenty of reasons to run a minivan, and most centre around the benefits of having lots of space for not a lot of money.

The most popular minivans on the road, and the models that arguably formed the segment, are from Chrysler – in the form of the mainstream Dodge Grand Caravan, and the more upscale Chrysler Town and Country. Each launched for 2008 in their most recent full generation, and both are currently being phased out to make room for a new-generation minivan model called the Pacifica.

Expect great ride quality, countless thoughtful touches, and plenty of power. Feature content, depending on the year and model, could include power doors and liftgate provisions, remote start, navigation, a back-up camera, power-folding rear seats, rear-seat entertainment consoles, a pop-up activity table and plenty more. A household power outlet, advanced safety systems, automatic lights, wipers and climate control, and numerous other high-tech features could be specified, too.

Storage bins built into the floor could be used to fold seating implements into for added interior space, or to accommodate gear, tools or additional cargo best left out of sight. No surprise that storage and all-around utility were highly rated by owners.

Engines: An update for model year 2011 and on saw a new-age Pentastar V6 engine (3.6L, 285 hp) replace numerous previous V6 engine options, with an eye for improved performance and efficiency. If your budget allows it, a 2011 or newer unit, with the new engine, is the way to go. Earlier engines ranged in displacements from 3.3 to 4.0 litres, depending on the year and model. All units were front-wheel drive and came with an automatic transmission.

What Owners Like: Space, comfort, noise levels and all-around utility and flexibility were highly rated by owners and their families. A great combination of affordable pricing and generous room helped round out the package. Grand Caravan is said to be accommodating, handy and ready for any activity. Town and Country owners report an even more upscale cabin and premium finishes.

What Owners Dislike: Typical owner complaints centre around poor fuel mileage on some models, cumbersome handling, and difficulty parking, given the vehicle’s length.

Here are some owner reviews of the Dodge Grand Caravan, and some more owner reviews of the Chrysler Town and Country.

The Test Drive:  Some owners have reported shorter-than-expected life of various brake and suspension components, as well as tires. Be sure to have each of these inspected by a mechanic ahead of your purchase if you’re not sure how. There’s some more reading here. And a little more. Note that driver habits, locale, and maintenance all play a role in the lifespan of parts like tires, brakes and suspension components, though a check of each is advised nonetheless.

A “Sexy” Minivan? First Drive: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica

Unwelcome noises from beneath the vehicle on a test drive, including popping or clunking sounds, are key indicators of a worn-out suspension component, and uneven wear of the tire treads across their width typically indicates an alignment-related issue. Finally, note that squealing from the front of the vehicle typically indicates that a brake job is needed.

Shoppers are also advised to triple check for proper operation of the air conditioner, and rear-seat climate control system on their test drive. Here’s some more reading on A/C system problems. Note that failure to properly maintain a clean A/C condenser, and cabin air filter, can cause issues with air conditioner performance. Both components should be addressed by regular maintenance, and are common causes of non-functionality.

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