Garage Mate For Your EV: How About A Minivan?

The best choice for many active families

The three-row crossover SUV may have usurped the minivan as today’s popular kid-schlepper choice for frazzled parents, but really, a minivan is a better choice. Toyota Motor Sales

What is the ideal garage companion for your electric vehicle? If you’re an active family where one, or both, parents regularly have to drive cars in different directions and you need something big enough for the weekly soccer practice or school runs, a seven- or eight-seat minivan should be a strong consideration.

The three-row crossover SUV may have usurped the minivan as today’s popular kid-schlepper choice for frazzled parents, but really, a minivan is a better choice. Here’s why.

High Seating Position: Like crossovers, minvans have a higher driver’s seating position than cars that provides a good view of the road ahead.

Sliding Doors: Sliding doors are simply easier to open and close than SUV doors that open out. And, combined with a lower ride height, the minvan’s sliding door means little ones can get in and out easier than a taller SUV.

Car Seats: Putting child seats in an SUV can be a real pain. Minivans allow frustration-free child seat installation, and getting kids in and out is easy.

Versatility: With a minivan, you can easily change seating arrangements any way you want.

Cargo Space: No grocery or Costco haul is too large to get home with a minivan.

Low Insurance Costs: Minivans are one of the cheapest vehicles to insure; considerably less than an SUV. Use the savings to add a few options to the van.

Not A Forever Vehicle: And remember, you don’t have to keep it forever. Kids grow up, get their own cars and eventually move out. Once car seats, strollers, sports gear and little league car-pools are no longer part of the equation, you won’t need the minivan any more.

Until that time arrives, here are two minivan choices to park next to your electric vehicle: the all-new-for-2015 Kia Sedona and the refreshed-for-2015 Toyota Sienna. 

2015 Kia Sedona

If you haven’t taken a look at a Kia Sedona minvan in awhile, the all-new 2015 edition will probably surprise you, as it did me. This is no warmed-up version of its predecessor. It’s grown in length, has a new look, is more powerful and, with new upscale trim levels, is no longer just a pedestrian minivan. What hasn’t changed is it is still a value leader.

The 2015 Kia Sedona’s styling breaks from the minivan norm with an appearance that is, on purpose, more crossover SUV-like. Kia’s aggressive “Tiger” mesh grille is upright, accentuating the muscular hood that meets a deeply swept windshield. Adding to the SUV look is a cab forward design with the wheels pushed to the corners.

Where Kia missed the mark is the sliding door tracks are not camouflaged, they’re an open gap. That, unfortunately, says minivan.

Kia says the new Sedona has something for everyone with the addition of three new trim levels: L, SX and the premium SX Limited, which join the LX and EX trims previously offered. Prices range from $26,795 (including $895 destination charges) for the base L to, gulp, $40,595 for the SX Limited.

In addition to abundant storage and cupholders, the Sedona offers seven- or eight-passenger seating, and standard Slide-n-Stow second-row seats are easy to use and create additional cargo space by sliding into a vertical position. There’s also a second row “First Class” lounge seating.  Third-row seats, like those of most minvans, fold and tumble into the floor.  Maximum cargo capacity is 142.0 cubic-feet.

Continuing the SUV theme, Kia gave the Sedona a high seating position and positioned the shifter between the front seats, just like SUVs. Front seats serve up good comfort and Sedona is the only minivan outfitted with standard YES essentials stain-repelling fabrics. The leather on our SX Limited test driver felt really good — soft, smooth, almost plush.

The horizontal design of the dashboard with its tidy row of straight switches is simple and pleasing to look at. Models equipped with a navigation system get an eight-inch touchscreen with crisp graphics, and Kia’s UVO infotainment system is one of the best in the auto industry.

Standard features are what most buyers look for: rearview camera, Bluetooth connectivity, a four-speaker audio system, satellite radio and a USB port. Available as expected are power-sliding rear doors and power liftgate. Also available are features not offered by rivals such as a surround-view parking camera system and adaptive cruise control. All the expected safety features are standard.

Power is provided by a direct-injected 3.3-liter V-6 engine rated at 276 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque, and is directed to the front wheels via a six-speed shiftable automatic transmission.

The 3.3 gave the Sedona plenty of scoot, even carrying a full load of passengers and luggage. There’s an abundance of torque for takeoffs from a full stop, and plenty of heavy-breathing passing power. The transmission shifted unobtrusively and held a gear on steep accents and steep descents to increase engine braking.

In highway driving, the Sedona proved comfortable, stable and quiet. Even when cruising at 75 mph on grooved pavement, road and engine noise were virtually absent. The electric power steering had good on-center direction but didn’t offer much in the way of driver feedback. Throwing out the anchor at 60 mph halted the 4,700-pound minivan in quick fashion without shakes and shudders.

Fuel economy depends on trim level. Lower trims are EPA rated at 20 mpg combined and 18-city/24-highway. Electric power steering on the SX yields 21 combined, but on our SX Limited with 19-inch wheels and virtually all options, the EPA estimate is 19-mpg combined (17 city/22 highway). We averaged 20.7-mpg after driving 247 miles.

Until now, Kia has been a somewhat minor player in the minvan segment. The 2015 Sedona has all of the essentials of the breed as defined by the original formula invented by Chrysler more than 30 years ago — a full fledged, full featured, conventional-size minivan.

Add the better-than-most-luxury-cars 10-years or 100,000-mile warranty, and the Sedona delivers a value-packed punch.

 2015 Toyota Sienna

For 2015 the Toyota Sienna receives a mild exterior refresh (updated grille and taillamps), a retuned suspension, a stronger body structure and a redecorated cabin with more soft-touch surfaces. It continues with a trump card to play against all other minivans — it’s the only one to offer all-wheel drive (AWD).

The exterior is pleasingly handsome, maybe not beautiful, but spare and void of plastic junk. Tracks for the sliding doors are camouflaged, an esthetic plus.

The lineup consists of L, LE, SE, XLE, and Limited trim levels. All are front-wheel drive, with AWD optional on the LE, XLE, and Limited. Sticker prices start at $29,985 for the base L, including destination charges, while at the top end of the spectrum, a fully loaded all-wheel drive Limited model can nudge $50,000.

The Toyota Sienna offers a choice between seven- and eight-passenger configurations. With seven-passenger setups, second-row captain’s chairs slide fore or aft to increase sprawl-out comfort or cargo space. Eight-passenger Siennas come with a 40/20/40-split second-row bench, and its center section slides close to the front seats for easier access to the little one seated there.

Cargo volume behind the upright third seat is 39.1 cubic feet, more than any other minivan. Drop the third row and cargo volume goes to 87.1 cubic feet. Maximum cargo space is 150 cubes and can handle 4' x 8' sheets of plywood, but it’s not easy. Second row seats have to be removed and they are heavy back breakers.

Up front, comfortable bucket seats provide a commanding view of the road and excellent side and rear vision. A new dash is more attractive than the funky asymmetrical trim-swoosh separating two glove boxes that it replaces and it’s more functional.

Materials quality is quite good and the dash layout features big, easy-to-use climate controls and a simple touch-screen infotainment system. The gear shifter, conveniently located in the center console, falls easily to hand.

An optional rear entertainment system has a 16.4-inch screen that can display two inputs — like a movie and a game — at the same time. Used as a single screen, it can be easily seen from the third row. New for 2015 are Blu-Ray capability, an HDMI input and an SDXC card reader that can play 10 different audio and video formats.

Keeping an eye on youngsters in the rear seats is easy with the standard convex mirror integrated into the overhead console. Need to calm things down in back without shouting? The new optional Driver Easy Speak uses a microphone to amplify the driver’s voice through the vehicle’s audio speakers.

The base model is reasonably well equipped with standard features such as a rearview camera, Bluetooth, a USB port, tri-zone automatic climate control and a touch-screen audio system with a 6.1-inch display. A host of available features includes leather upholstery, a power-folding third-row seat, power-sliding rear doors and power liftgate, a navigation system as well as safety gear like blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and adaptive cruise control.

A 3.5-liter V-6 engine with 266 horsepower and 245 pounds-feet of torque powers all 2015 Sienna versions. The engine is paired with a competent-shifting six-speed automatic transmission that deftly manages that output.

With our Limited test driver, pedal response was quick and quiet. There was no hesitation when accelerating from a stop, and no need to get a running start with a full load of passengers to climb some mountain hills.

The Limited tracked faithfully straight down the road without jiggering the steering wheel and it was relatively agile, gripping the pavement on curves with an acceptable amount of body roll. Today’s minivans aren’t all that mini but the Sienna was nimble and maneuverable in squeezing into parking spaces.

Fuel economy is on par with the minivan class with an EPA estimate of 18-mpg city/25 highway/21 combined for front-drive versions. The extra weight of all-wheel drive has a penalty of reducing the estimates to 16/23/19, but it is a winter-weather plus. After a week driving the Sienna the trip meter showed 257 miles, and we had squeezed a little more than the EPA combined rating — 22.3 mpg.

If it’s time to park a minivan next to your electric vehicle, the Sienna’s two-years/25,000 miles complimentary scheduled maintenance; stellar reliability record and excellent resale value will make you think twice about buying a big crossover SUV. Give it a long, hard look.