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Van Overview

Van OverviewVan Overview

If you’re looking for a vehicle that provides ample passenger and cargo space, a van might meet your needs – and provide comfort and utility that’s difficult to match.

Types of Vans

While the boxy shape of most vans make them easily identifiable, van interiors can be configured for comfortable passenger duties or as work vehicles with cavernous interiors. Whether you’re considering a minivan or a full-size passenger van, some manufacturers offer stripped-down versions designed for hauling cargo rather than people. Examples include the Dodge Grand Caravan Cargo Van and the Ford E-Series.

Interior and Cargo Space

SUVs make a great case for themselves as attractive vehicles that can haul your family and their gear. But at the end of the day, even the most cavernous of SUVs will have a hard time standing up to the passenger space and cargo capacity available on the average minivan. While most minivans seat seven people – a number not uncommon in SUVs with third-row seating -- even the iconic Chevrolet Suburban can’t match the cargo capacity of most mini and passenger vans.

While the Suburban boasts 137.4 cubic feet of cargo space, the Kia Sedona bests it with 141.5 – and the Kia costs less, has better fuel economy and is easier to maneuver.

However, if even more space is required, it’s tough to beat the passenger and cargo capacities available in full size vans like the Chevrolet Express and Ford E-Series. Both the E-Series and the Express are available in different lengths, allowing consumers to opt for seating configurations that allow between seven and 15 passengers – a maximum that nearly doubles the seating available in most full size SUVs. Cargo space is also ample in full-size vans. The Chevrolet Express 1500, for example, has 216.2 cubic feet of maximum cargo space.

Convenience Features

Minivans and passenger vans are geared toward comfort and convenience rather than performance. As such, many integrate convenience features and options such as rear-seat entertainment systems, power sliding doors and liftgates, and seating that can be arranged in multiple configurations. Consumers looking for a hint of luxury need not worry that today’s vans are purely utilitarian, as options such as heated seats, navigation and iPod connectivity are widely available on the market.

Shoppers should also pay special attention to second- and third-row seats, which are often removable, swivel or fold flat into the floor. The Dodge Grand Caravan, for example, is available with power third-row seating that can be folded into four different positions at the touch of a button.

Engine, Drivetrain and Fuel Economy

Minivans are generally available with a six-cylinder engine, although some, like the Toyota Sienna, still come with a base four-cylinder engine and a V6 option. Full-size passenger vans like the Ford E-Series and the Chevrolet Express feature V8 power as standard to help manage their added weight and less-aerodynamic profiles. While acceleration and handling of vans will never match that of sports cars, most offer adequate performance for highway merging duties.

Most minivans are front-wheel drive while passenger vans generally put power to the rear wheels. If you live in an area that’s subject to inclement weather, you may want to consider vans such as the Toyota Sienna or Chevrolet Express, which are available with all-wheel drive options.

In addition to cargo space and passenger capacity, the minivan’s also beats most of its SUV competition on fuel economy. Above we mention that the smaller Kia Sedona boasts more maximum cargo space than the Chevrolet Suburban, which is among the largest SUVs on the market. The Kia also offers better 18/25 mpg city/highway fuel economy compared to the Suburban’s 15 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway. The EPA estimates that the average driver will spend $519 more dollars per year on fuel if they opt for the Suburban.

Safety Features

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) perform crash tests that provide a good measure of how today’s vehicles hold up in a crash. NHTSA determines vehicle safety using a five-star rating system, while the IIHS rates vehicles on a scale of “Good” to “Poor” for their crashworthiness. IIHS also names vehicles that come with Electronic Stability Control and receive a top score of “Good” in all tests as “Top Safety Picks” for their excellent ratings.

You can find out how the vehicle you’re considering holds up by researching safety scores on the NHTSA and IIHS websites.

Van Prices and Capacities

Make/Model

Configuration

Drivetrain

Max passenger capacity

Max cargo capacity

Cargo capacity – all seats in use

Dodge Grand Caravan

Minivan

FWD

7

143.8

32.3

Toyota Sienna

Minivan

FWD or AWD

7

150.0

39.1

Kia Sedona

Minivan

FWD

7

141.5

32.2

Honda Odyssey

Minivan

FWD

8

148.5

38.4

Chevrolet Express

Passenger

RWD or AWD

8 to 15

216.2

57.2

Ford E-Series

Passenger

RWD

7 to 15

Not Listed

Not Listed