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New minivans aim for wider market

February 12, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Many say it's the perfect ride to haul your family around, but not everyone finds the minivan stylish enough to drive it. Now some carmakers are updating their version of the sensible family vehicle to make it more appealing across generations. The new features that may just lure you into buying a minivan.

Once written off as a vehicle that hardly anyone wanted, even if they needed them, minivans are on the march again.

The newest model to lead the charge is an all-new Nissan Quest, the third version of the vehicle. The first one was too small, and the next one was kind of goofy.

The latest one is on the boxy side, but there are some clever features like an air purifier in the ventilation system. Considering that vans are likely to be carrying diaper-wearers, this could be welcome.

This Nissan enters a field dominated by the minivans that lead the market: the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna, and of course the Dodge Grand Caravan.

The Caravan got some tweaks this year to keep it competitive between redesigns, little touches here and there, and a big touch under the hood in the form of an all-new V-6 engine.

The new engine makes the Dodge the horsepower champ, though not exactly the quietness champ. Still, this engine is worlds better than the ones used previously.

So are minivans really making a comeback? It's hard to say at this point. Some manufacturers have gotten out of the segment completely. But others are reinvesting in newer, revised models. Industry observers do know one thing that may be helping minivan sales: the demographics of America are changing.

In the coming years, more couples in their 20s and 30s will be having kids. More kids means a need for more seats to carry them.

And at the other end of the demographic are the so-called "empty nesters." They buy lots of vans too, great for carting grandchildren and hobby projects around. Plus, aging hips, knees and backs tend to appreciate the seat height of a minivan.

They might not be the coolest, hippest or most macho cars on the road. but for carrying lots of people and lots of things, minivans are hard to beat.

And new choices mean a greater selection for those who find that nothing but a van will do.