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Best in class: Minivans under $25,000

Although the minivan market has subsided from the days when you could see one in every suburban driveway, they still represent a significant slice of new vehicle sales. What hasn't changed is that minivans are still pretty much based on the same architecture -- a box on four wheels -- since Chrysler built the first one more than 20 years ago.

In the under-$25,000 category, the choices are somewhat limited, in part because consumers appear to prefer more expensive models loaded with features such as dual-zone air conditioning and backseat DVD entertainment systems. But if you're looking for solid family utility at an affordable price, here are three to consider:

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Dodge Caravan

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Dodge Caravan: This entry-level minivan in the Chrysler stable provides room for seven passengers and most convenience features, such as dual sliding doors. New for 2005 is a feature that has been on competitors for a few years -- rear seats that fold flat into the floor for greater cargo room. Base power comes from a 2.4-liter 150-horsepower four-cylinder engine, hooked to a four-speed automatic transmission. Most buyers will find that combination doesn't provide adequate power for such a large vehicle. We recommend the 180-horsepower 3.3-liter V6, which comes with the SXT model. Expect to see a sticker price of about $24,000. Issues of reliability plagued this model in the 1990s, but Chrysler seems to have things under control now.

Kia Sedona

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Kia Sedona: Slightly larger than a Dodge Caravan, the Sedona offers a lot of features, particularly storage bins, plus a standard 3.5-liter 195 horsepower V8, at base list prices that start at about $20,000. Not as refined as other minivans in terms of interior appointments, the Sedona has staked out the bottom end of the market without apology. A 10-year, 100,000-mile power train warranty should help take away some of the worry about reliability issues. If every dollar counts and you need something to carry seven people, this is the market choice.

Saturn Relay

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Saturn Relay: Saturn at last gets a minivan for 2005. Built on the all-new chassis found under all 2005 GM minivans, the Relay is a seven-passenger model with a base list price of just under $25,000. But it comes with a 200-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 and is well equipped before adding options. Although the Relay -- as well as the other new GM minivans -- can't compete with market leaders such as the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna, the no-haggle Saturn buying experience makes it a model worth considering.

-- Updated: Feb. 15, 2005

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