Tuesday, December 05, 2006

"If you're going the minivan route, you wind up with the Odyssey"

That's what our friend Maureen says anyway. It turned out that way for us, as we just traded in the grey BMW wagon for a 2007 Odyssey:

Here's how we got there.
Step 1: Enough legroom for tub (who is 6'9" tall):
  • Caravan SXT -- excellent
  • Pontiac SV6/Saturn Relay/Chevy Uplander/Buick Terraza -- excellent
  • Honda Odyssey -- adequate
  • Hyundai Entourage/Kia Sedona -- barely adequate
  • Toyota Sienna -- hopelessly inadequate
Not evaluated: Ford Windstar, Dodge Sprinter

Step 2: Basic driving dynamics?
  • Caravan: Marginal handling, with vague sloppy steering. Excellent throttle response and very crisp shifting from a 4-speed manual transmission. Lots of road noise.
  • GM: Terrible handling with excessive body roll. Poor throttle response, sluggish 4-speed transmission, and marginal overall power.
  • Hyundai/Kia: Adequate handling and throttle response, reasonably quiet. Smooth-shifting 5-speed transmission.
  • Honda: Smooth handling, shifting. Adequate power. OK ride. Not particularly quiet.
Step 3: Research
  • Caravan: Poor reliability, poor resale value. Excellent incentives ($4000 cash rebate) and reasonable base price. Mediocre mileage (18/25)
  • Honda: Average reliability. Good gas mileage (20/28) with EX-L and Limited trim. No incentives and relatively high base price. No options.
  • GM: Named by Forbes magazine as one of the 10 worst cars you can buy in America due to abysmal reliability scores.
  • Hyundai/Kia: Unknown reliability (new model). Anecdotes from edmunds.com not promising. Mediocre mileage (18/25) with anecdotal reports of much poorer mileage.
Step 4: Extended test drive
  • Caravan: Rented a white 2007 SXT from Enterprise for a weekend trip to New Hampshire. Versatility of stow-and-go seating was excellent. Tons and tons of room for people and stuff. Very relaxed driving experience. Very secure during a torrential rainstorm (kept up 65-70 MPH under abysmal conditions without trouble). Controls were extremely simple to use. Front seats offered zero lower back support, with squishy cushions and revolting fabric colors. Dashboard and interior materials cheap in the extreme. Somewhat bouncy ride, and not especially quiet. Wife declares "no way" because of the uncomfortable seats.
  • Honda: Borrowed a 2007 EX from Bernardi Honda for the day. Very pleasant, car-like driving experience with good visibility. Controls somewhat complex. Seats comfortable. Reasonably quiet. No problems.
Step 5: Model selection
  • LX: Manual front seat doesn't offer as much legroom as power seat in EX and above, so scratch this.
  • EX: Cloth seats only. Not good for 3 year-old who requires continuous feeding.
  • EX-L: About $2500 more. Leather seats plus variable-cylinder control motor for better mileage, and sunroof.
  • Touring: Another $2500 gets you fog lights, lazy susan underfloor storage, power liftgate, and run-flat tires with an oddball wheel size.
So, EX-L it is.

A few testing highlights:

Best Feature:
Dodge Caravan power doors: Switches work easily but you can always open and close the door manually (it has a simple clutch mechanism). Contrast this with the Honda, where you must disable the power doors to use them manually.
Biggest Surprise:
The Hyundai looks great on paper, and it's gotten great reviews from media as diverse as Consumer Reports and the New York Times, but it is as unrefined and crude as a pickup truck (and that includes the dealership experience).
Where Honda is Behind:
A separate key fob for the remote controls. Even the Dodge has the buttons integrated into the head of the key.