New minivans aim to impress with style, features

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As a useful family vehicle, the minivan can't be beat. And today, minivans are trying to impress like never before. (KABC)

As a useful family vehicle, the minivan can't be beat. And today, minivans are trying to impress like never before.

Starting with styling, Chrysler raised the bar last year when it came out with the Pacifica, a design that Chrysler's head of design Ralph Gilles has said is the one he's most proud of today. Sure, it still has to function like a minivan, but making an otherwise boxy-shape handsome is an accomplishment.

Honda's cranking up the style a bit, too, with its 2018 Odyssey. A long-time favorite among minivan shoppers, the new Odyssey builds on its practicality and adds just a bit of design flair. Base price for the new Odyssey is $29,990.

Moving from styling to driving technology, the Pacifica offers a first in a minivan: plug-in hybrid power. On a fully-charged hybrid battery, you can drive up about 33 miles before the gas engine has to kick in. In neighborhood family duty, you could conceivably go weeks in a Pacifia Hybrid without using any gasoline.

As for pricing, while the regular Pacifica starts at $28,995, the Pacifica Hybrid has a base price of $41,995. Part of that price jump is due to the fact that the hybrid model is only available in the two highest trim levels: premium and platinum. However, there is currently a $7,500 tax credit for those who buy or lease one, as well as some state incentives. In the end, a buyer in California could end up paying less for a Pacifca Hybrid than for the non-hybrid version.

Minivans have traditionally been about offering family-friendly features, and these new models are no exception. For the kids, and their parents, optional and standard items can make family life and travel a little easier.

Honda was first to offer an optional built-in vacuum, with a flexible hose that can reach all over the vehicle. You can get one in the Pacifica as well but not the Pacifica Hybrid due to the packaging of the hybrid system. If you've lived with infants and toddlers in a vehicle, a build-in vacuum in a vehicle can be very useful.

For keeping those kids occupied during car trips, both vans offer apps to educate and entertain via the rear seat LCD screens. Not just videos, but educational games and brain-teasers. One of the more interesting apps available in the Pacifca is one called "Are We There Yet?" Yes, it lets kids use the vehicle's GPS to track progress of a trip.

And Honda has a cool new way to keep an eye on the kids: Cabin Watch, which uses a ceiling-mounted camera and comes on the upper trim levels of the Odyssey. Via the dashboard screen, the driver and front seat passenger get a wide-angle view of the second and third row seats. And Honda's new Cabin Talk lets you speak to them through the speakers or even their headphones.

And when those sons or daughters reach driving age, the Pacifica offers a special "keysense" key for a teenager to use when driving the van. A parent with the master key can program the sensitivity of the safety features and even limit the vehicle's top speed.

Minivans will never be called sexy, but they're trying to win their place in family garages by offering style that families can admire and features they can use.

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