The best minivans for you in 2011

Find the best minivan for you based on:

PRICE

PERFORMANCE

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Minivans

Minivans

Minivans are the standard transportation of soccer moms and coaching dads everywhere.

But what do you look for when buying one? What kind of performance can you expect? How far can you go on a tank of gas? And, most importantly, can you afford the sticker price on a minivan?

Bankrate breaks down the options in this class of auto, based on these critical questions, and chooses the best three models in each criterion. It’s up to you to pick the minivan that’s best for you.

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Mazda Mazda5

Mazda Mazda5

Starting MSRP: about $18,500

The Mazda5 is a small minivan that looks more like a crossover vehicle sitting low to the ground. The six-seater features a low floor and giant rear-sliding doors that make entry and exit easy. A 153-horsepower, 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine is paired with either a manual or automatic transmission with five speeds.

Its low-ride height and front-multilink rear suspension mean it handles well while avoiding the top-heavy feeling of some minivans. Standard features include automatic air conditioning, cruise control, a slide-recline-fold flat second row, CD player, antilock brakes, side-impact and side-curtain air bags. A side-curtain air bag inflates the full area of the window to protect your head from hitting the window or frame pillar in a side-impact collision.

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Ford Transit Connect

Ford Transit Connect

Starting MSRP: about $21,000

While it’s been available in Europe since 2003, the Ford Transit Connect arrived in the U.S. just last year. This small van comes in both passenger and cargo versions, so it can be used by families as well as small businesses that need the cargo space for storage, but don’t need a full-size cargo van.

The Transit Connect is powered by a 136-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine paired with a four-speed, automatic transmission. While it’s shorter than other full-size minivans such as the Honda Odyssey, it’s almost one foot taller. That advantage gives it some unique storage capability, such as a large storage shelf above the windshield as well as substantial headroom for up to five occupants.

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Kia Sedona

Kia Sedona

Starting MSRP: about $22,100

One of the few remaining minivans offered in short- and long-wheelbase versions, the Kia Sedona seats seven in either model. Owners will probably want to spring for the larger version if they transport seven on a regular basis.

In the short-wheelbase version, second-row passengers have noticeably less headroom and third-row passengers have noticeably less legroom than in the long-wheelbase version. The base model is powered by a 250-horsepower, 3.8-liter V-6 engine mated to a five-speed auto-manual transmission — an unusual feature in the minivan segment. It’s an automatic transmission with manual shifting capability.

Standard features on all models include three-zone air conditioning, cruise control, power windows, keyless entry, mirrors and locks, and a one-touch, flip-and-fold second row. Long-wheelbase models also have a 60/40, split-folding third row that folds flat into the floor.

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Toyota Sienna

Toyota Sienna

Specs: 266 horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine

Redesigned for 2011, the Toyota Sienna (about $24,300) comes in Toyota’s sporty SE trim level for the first time. It is powered by a 266-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine, while the six-speed transmission keeps fuel economy at 18 city/24 highway mpg.

With the SE model, Sienna owners will experience a sports suspension, larger 19-inch wheels as well as standard all-wheel-drive and fog lights. Body styling is slightly different on the SE model with a mesh grille, clear-lens taillights and side skirts that give it a sportier look.

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Volkswagen Routan

Volkswagen Routan

Specs: 251 horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 engine

The Volkswagen Routan (about $25,900) comes with a choice of two V-6 engines — a 197-horsepower, 3.8-liter V-6 or the class-leading 251-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6. Both are powered by a six-speed, automatic transmission. New as a 2009 model, the Volkswagen Routan is a cousin to the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan, so it has the similar boxy shape while it utilizes the Volkswagen front-end styling. The Routan shares many of the features of the Chrysler Town & Country, but it does not share the unique Stow ‘n Go seating. The Routan’s second-row captain’s chair folds over but not into the floor, and there’s no swivel option as there is on the Chrysler.

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Honda Odyssey

Honda Odyssey

Specs: 244-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine

While Honda’s reputation as a brand is not built on performance, its Odyssey (about $26,800) has been widely lauded by automotive reviewers for it superb performance and handling capabilities that make it easy to forget you are driving a minivan.

Redesigned for 2011, the Odyssey’s new, sleeker styling results in increased visibility and space for third-row passengers. The 244-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine features Variable Cylinder Management, a feature with which some engine cylinders shut down when not needed such as during steady cruising.

Combined with improved aerodynamics, the Odyssey offers top-notch fuel economy. All Odyssey models feature bucket seats in the first and second rows with a 60/40 split-folding third row and seating for seven or eight. Also new this year is a rear-seat entertainment system with split-screen viewing.

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Mazda Mazda5

Mazda Mazda5

Fuel economy: 22 city/28 highway mpg

While the Mazda5 (about $18,500) offers a sportier driving experience than most minivans, it’s also tops on fuel economy. The 153-horsepower, 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine gets an EPA-estimated 22 city/28 highway mpg when equipped with the five-speed manual transmission and 21 city/27 highway mpg when paired with the five-speed automatic transmission.

It seats six in three rows and includes a slide-recline-fold flat second row and a fold-flat third row. The Mazda5 comes well-equipped with such standard features as automatic air conditioning, cruise control and CD player. Safety features include antilock brakes, side-impact and side-curtain air bags.

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Toyota Sienna

Toyota Sienna

Fuel economy: 19 city/26 highway mpg

For the first time, Toyota is offering a four-cylinder engine in its 2011 Sienna. Redesigned for 2011 to feature sedan-like handling, the Sienna has seats for seven or eight, depending on the configuration, as well as unique options like a two-screen, rear-seat entertainment center and a 180-degree, rearview camera.

Its base model is powered by a 187-horsepower, 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine that achieves an EPA-estimated 19 city/24 highway mpg. A six-speed automatic transmission helps achieve this fuel economy without compromising performance.

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Chrysler Town & Country

Chrysler Town & Country

Fuel economy: 17 city/25 highway mpg

Despite the fact that the Chrysler Town & Country (about $25,200) was built for seven occupants from the get-go, it still gets very respectable gas mileage. In fact, its most powerful engine, the 251 horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 engine that’s paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, achieves an EPA-estimated 17 city/25 highway mpg. That’s terrific fuel economy for a minivan of this size and the best gas mileage of any of the engines available in the Town & Country.

Chrysler’s Stow ‘n Go second-row seats, which fold flat into the floor, are standard, while its Swivel ‘n Go captain’s chairs allow second-row passengers to ride backward, facing third-row passengers for a more social atmosphere.

Standard features include rear air conditioning, power windows, including in the sliding doors. It also is equipped with numerous storage bins, side curtain air bags, antilock brakes, electronic stability and traction control.

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