Vinod Kurup

Hospitalist/programmer in search of the meaning of life

Buying a Minivan

The time comes in every man’s life where he eventually has to break down and buy a minivan. That time has come. The Altima is on it’s last legs and we really need a vehicle which can seat our whole family plus a couple visitors plus luggage. Only a minivan fits those requirements.

I’ll probably wait until the spring to buy. That’s when the annual Consumer Reports auto issue comes out. In the meantime, I’m doing some preliminary research. The Honda Odyssey seems to get the best reviews, but it’s also the most expensive. The Toyota Sienna isn’t far behind on reviews (or on price) and is the only one that comes with AWD. If the controls on the Sienna are similar to our current RAV4, then that would simplify life. On the other hand, I’m not happy that our RAV4 alternator died just a month out of it’s warranty. The Kia Sedona gets decent reviews and is much cheaper, but at the expense of questionable reliability and poor resale value (which might make it worthwhile to buy gently used). Finally, the dark horse is the Mazda5. It was the top rated minivan by Consumer Reports last year though I hardly ever see one on the roads. It is significantly smaller than the others, but it’s cheaper and gets much better mileage. Reviews claim it can seat 7 adults without too much squeezing. We’ll have to test drive each of them, but I would love it if the Mazda5 fit our requirements.

Philip Greenspun recently posted an entertaining review of the 2011 Honda Odyssey. It’s a favorable review, but includes quite a few bits of Greenspun’s biting humor. My favorite was this comment about the lack of progress in automotive technology:

Suppose that you’re a sleep-deprived mother. Your infant is sleeping in the middle row of seats and you’ve forgotten all about him. You go into a store and leave him to bake in the Odyssey’s greenhouse of glass. The child starts to cry. The Odyssey has a sensitive microphone as part of its telephone Bluetooth interface. The Odyssey’s computer system is always on, waiting for a radio signal from the remote control. The Odyssey has multiple interior temperature sensors for the automatic climate control system. Does the Odyssey’s always-on computer have enough logic to say

    IF child crying in interior 
       AND car is parked and off 
       AND interior temperature is above 100 degrees
    THEN
       roll windows down
       send text message to owners

? No. In fact, the Odyssey’s computer will happily sit there, with all of its sensors telling it “a child is being roasted to death”, and do nothing.

Maybe someday our cars will be as smart as our phones. Anyone else have advice on a great minivan?