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Vans with the Best Utility

Jim Sharifi
February 25, 2011
Vans with the Best Utility

Despite the current crossover craze, it’s difficult to beat the utility of a minivan when it comes to interior features, seating, and cargo capacity. Most of today’s vans can seat about seven people, and they offer more cargo space than crossovers with the same number of seats. Here are a few tips on how to pick out the minivan with convenience features that will make your trips around town just a bit easier.

Passenger Space

The Mazda5, currently one of the most diminutive vans on the market, seats six people. Most other minivans, which are a touch larger in size, seat seven or eight people. If you’re buying a minivan, you probably need a little additional passenger space, so make your passengers part of the shopping experience when you set out to buy a new van.

If you have young children, take them -- and their car seats -- along to make sure that they fit in the back comfortably. If you’re frequently loading kids into car seats, make sure that there’s enough room for you to easily secure them into their seats. It’s also a good idea to note the interior storage options within the second and third rows of the van. Is there console storage, door cutouts or cubbies where they can stow books or toys? Are there cup holders that they can reach? If your younger passengers have their belongings easily within reach, that will make your drive a little bit easier.

Another important consideration for shoppers who have children in car seats is the number of LATCH connectors that are available. LATCH stands for Lower Anchor and Tethers for Children, and they are required by law to ensure that car seats can be securely fastened in the vehicle. If your kids are in car seats, you’ll want to make sure that the anchors and tethers are easily accessible, and that your new van has enough LATCH connectors for multiple children. The Honda Odyssey offers the most of any minivan, with five sets of connectors.

If your passengers are all grown up, be sure to hop in the second and third row seats to ensure that they’re comfortable for adults. The Toyota Sienna earns high marks for its adult-friendly third row, while the back seat of the smaller Mazda5 is best left to kids.

Innovative Seating

Some of the most unique features of today’s minivans are the various seating configurations that are possible in the second and third rows. Look for seats that easily slide, fold and recline to improve passenger comfort or cargo space. Dodge Grand Caravans feature standard “Stow ‘n Go” seating that can fold flat into the floor, allowing unique arrangements to accommodate passengers and cargo. Also available on Grand Caravan models, are “Swivel ‘n Go” second-row seats, which can turn and face the third row to create a unique face-to-face seating arrangement. Dodge also includes a removable center table with its Swivel ‘n Go seating, giving rear passengers a place to play and eat.

Rear Cargo

Aside from seating, cargo space is an important aspect of most new vans on the market. Picking a minivan that has the most cargo space with all seats in use is a good idea if you want to ensure you’ll have a lot of storage room. The Toyota Sienna and the Dodge Grand Caravan both seat seven, but the Sienna has 39.1 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row, 6.8 more cubes than the Dodge’s 32.3. While today’s minivans to feature unique seating systems that can fold to accommodate additional cargo, the extra space available in the Sienna will surely come in handy if you’ve got a full load of passengers on a trip that will last more than a couple hours.

Interior Cargo

Most minivans on the road today come with basic storage features such as door cutouts, a glove compartment, cup holders for all your passengers’ beverages and usually at least two 12-volt power outlets. Models like the Dodge Grand Caravan also have storage trays under the second- and third-row seats that can be used to store kids’ belongings, as well as second-row seats that fold flat into the floor -- a welcome feature if you need to stow some cargo, but don’t have time to remove the seats.

Exterior Features

Certain key exterior features can really enhance the utility and ease of use of your new minivan. Options such as power sliding doors and rear liftgates are a welcome addition to parents who have their hands full. A roof rack might also be a welcome addition as an innovative solution for how you transport your gear. Most can be fitted with a variety of attachments to carry bikes, skis, kayaks and cargo boxes.

The Most Utilitarian Minivans


Mazda Mazda5

Dodge Grand Caravan

Toyota Sienna

Kia Sedona

Honda Odyssey







Max Seats






Max Cargo Capacity













Front and rear

Front and rear


Front and rear

Front and rear

Standard Interior Features

Second-row vents with fan control, steering wheel- mounted audio and cruise controls

Stow ‘n go seats, tri-zone manual climate control, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, 13 cupholders

Tri-zone manual climate control, six cupholders, front and rear door map pockets with bottle holders, four grocery hooks

Tri-zone climate control, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, Bluetooth & USB connections, conversation mirror

Dual-zone climate control, front center floor tray, 10 cup holders, rear-seat vents, four grocery bag hooks