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Is 2011 the Year of the Minivan?

Looking to buy a minivan? You don't have to say it so quietly. Somewhere along the line minivans were burdened by an unwarranted reputation for being "uncool," but in reality, there are plenty of reasons to buy a minivan especially if you have a family to move around. In general, they are more fuel efficient and safer than large SUVs, and have been designed with the family in mind so they come with plenty of convenient features.

2011 brings even more good news to minivan shoppers - Toyota, Honda, and Nissan have all completely redesigned their minivans from the ground up, and Chrysler has drastically reworked its two minivans to keep pace. Almost overnight, the minivan wars have escalated, with carmakers trying to outdo each other and pack in as many family friendly features as they can. All of these revisions and refreshes have made the minivan segment very competitive and consumers are the all-around winners, no matter which minivan they choose.

It's hard for us to make a solid recommendation out of this group, because they each offer convenience and comfort in slightly different forms. With that in mind, we've broken things down into five categories important to minivan shoppers and matched them up with the minivan that leads in that area. They are: fuel efficiency, storage space, technology, price, and interior quality.

Fuel Efficiency: 2011 Honda Odyssey

The 2011 Odyssey's V-6 comes with cylinder deactivation technology, which shuts down cylinders during cruising when they are not needed to increase fuel economy. This results in EPA-estimated mileage ratings that lead the pack at 18 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway, with each of those numbers rising by one if you opt for the six-speed automatic transmission. Honda's latest take on the Odyssey also has the most controversial styling of the bunch, with a "lightning bolt" inspired look that makes the third-row window larger and helps the back of the Odyssey feel roomier. It's had a mixed reaction among car buyers, but we give Honda kudos for trying something outside the box.

Storage Space: 2011 Toyota Sienna

The Sienna, or "swagger wagon" as Toyota calls it, leads the pack when it comes to rear cargo space behind the third row (39.1 cubic feet) and is stuffed with useful features, like an optional middle second row seat that stows in an alcove behind the third row, or captain's chairs with deployable footrests for added comfort. The Sienna also features a rear entertainment system that comes with two pairs of wireless headphones as well as a flip-down widescreen monitor that can accommodate two separate inputs and keep all the kids happy.

Technology: 2011 Nissan Quest

The remade Quest is a different take on the minivan, with impressive technology like a tire inflation system that flashes the hazard lights as you fill the tires to the proper pressure and then beeps the horn when they reach the correct level. Instead of removable second- and third-row seating, the Quest opts for more comfortable seats that can still fold to form a flat cargo area, and a permanent storage well also rests behind the third row. The sliding doors also feature a low step-in area which makes it easy to enter, even for smaller children.

Price: 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan

For 2011, the Dodge Grand Caravan not only gets a thorough makeover, but also has $1,000 slashed off of its MSRP, making it the least expensive minivan offered in the U.S. Under the hood, the Grand Caravan gets a brand new version of Chrysler's Pentastar V-6 which offers better power and efficiency than last year's engine. The Grand Caravan also gets a revised interior with better materials and useful features like a Stow 'n Go seating system which allows the second-row captain's chairs to fold into the floor so you get extra cargo space without having to remove and store the chairs.

Interior Quality: 2011 Chrysler Town & Country

The Town & Country recently reclaimed the top selling minivan crown from Honda, and for it 2011 gets a refresh similar to the Grand Caravan, which makes sense considering the two minivans share a platform and an engine. The difference comes when you step inside; the Town & Country caters to more premium buyers and its interior reflects that mission with softtouch points and luxurious materials everywhere. The Town & Country also features the same Stow 'n Go seats, as well as exclusive safety technology like a rear cross-path detection system that alerts the driver to cars approaching from either side of the vehicle when reversing.

So, there you have it! The race between those five minivans is really too close to call, so our best suggestion is to do research, figure out which options are must-haves for you, and to go see the minivans in person to see which fits your family's needs the best and which has the most appealing style. And be sure to check out the model pages here at NewCars.com for more information on each minivan or to get a low internet price quote from a local dealer.

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