Not that you would know it by the number of crossovers automakers continue to make, but 2011 is shaping up as a banner year for minivans.
"Minivans?", you may ask. "They still make those things?"
Yes they do. Not as many as before. Minivans now make up about 6 per cent of the new car market; half that of 2005. And while former big players in this segment—General Motors and Ford—abandoned the market years ago, almost all the remaining minivan makers are still optimistic about the segment. In fact, all have either launched all-new or thoroughly refreshed models for 2011.
I recently had a chance to drive two of the latest minivans, 2011 models of the Nissan Quest and the Honda Odyssey back to back. And the contrasting approaches the two automakers took begs the question: What kind of minivan driver are you?
Like before, Honda markets its Odyssey as a ‘van for drivers. It’s steering gives more feedback, its ride is firmer than the new Nissan, and with a lower centre of gravity, it felt more planted when pushed hard on twisty roads.
But with a smooth-yet-controlled ride, and a quieter cabin at speed, the Quest does a better impression of a luxury car than the Odyssey.
If not as athletic as the more aggressive Honda, the Nissan offers a more refined ride. And its cabin bests the Honda for fit, finish, and use of hgiher quality materials. It’s a more upscale cabin overall with a stress-free driving demeanour.
The Honda offers seating for eight—one more than the 2+3+2 seating arrangement in the Nissan. But the Odyssey’s middle third row seat is tiny and uncomfortable. While the simplicity of raising and lowering the Quest’s seats (they all fall forward, and are powered on the top line LE) is brilliantly stress free, without the fussy straps and latches you need to deal with in the Honda.
In short: The Quest is the better “minivan for minivan owners”. But the Odyssey is the better “minivan for drivers”.
So what kind of minivan driver are you?