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First Drive: 2016 Honda Pilot

A minivan by any other name…

by on May.20, 2015

The 2016 Honda Pilot can push up above $40,000 in high-trim models.

What’s in a name, Shakespeare famously asked. He was, of course, referring to a rose. But we might ask the same about the word, minivan. Once one of the most popular body styles on U.S. roads, sales have slumped sharply in recent years as style-conscious buyers have migrated to SUVs and crossovers.

Honda, however, has come up with an interesting solution. Give buyers a minivan and just call it something else. Officially, the 2016 Honda Pilot is a utility vehicle. But for all intents and purposes, it’s a minivan minus the sliding doors.

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First introduced in 2003 and redesigned six years later, the third-generation Honda Pilot is more than just an update. It adopts a much more stylish exterior, an even more lavish interior, and plenty of new safety and creature comfort technologies. What stays the same is Pilot’s focus on providing the sort of comfort, functionality and flexibility that, in years past, would have drawn buyers to conventional minivans, including Honda’s own Odyssey model.


First Look: 2013 Ford Flex

Redesign maintains focus on functionality.

by on Nov.08, 2011

Ford will show the updated 2013 Flex at the upcoming L.A. Auto Show.

“I just couldn’t warm up to the Flex until I actually drove it,” said Jan Queen, a suburban Detroit media executive, echoing the opinion of many motorists when it comes to Ford’s big people mover.  The exterior styling, as designers like to say, is “polarizing,” though it has generated plenty of kudos for its interior functionality and flexibility.

Now, Ford is hoping to win more bravos for design, as well, with an updated version of the Flex ready to take its bows at the Los Angeles Auto Show later this month.

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The 2013 update will feature some modest styling changes but put the emphasis on performance, fuel economy, comfort and functionality.

As with the first-generation, the 2013 Ford Flex eschews the bulbous curves of the classic minivan in favor of a more retro-modern two-box design.  The exterior updates are relatively modest, the most notable being the more machine-like grille, with a billet-sized bar stretching across the grille and anchoring newly-updated projector-style headlamps.


Chrysler Developing Prototype Engine That Burns Gasoline and Diesel

New, high-mileage powertrain concept breaks all the rules.

by on Jun.06, 2011

An unusual engine design using both diesel and gas could yield over 30 mpg in the big Chrysler Town & Country minivan.

Oil and water don’t mix, and neither do gasoline and diesel fuels.  Not until now, anyway. But that old rule could soon go out the door.

Chrysler and the U.S. Department of Energy are developing a radical engine design that burns a combination of gasoline and diesel fuels.  If the prototype works, it could help Chrysler and other automakers meet tough new fuel economy targets that will be phased in over the next 15 years, according to a presentation given by Chrysler during the DOE’s 2011 Merit Review in Washington D.C.

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The small-displacement, 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder multi-fuel engine promises up to a 25% improvement in city and highway fuel economy for a Chrysler minivan, compared to a 2009 4.0-liter V-6, while maintaining similar performance. That would mean that the new engine could yield as much as 31 mpg on the highway in a Town & Country.


First Drive: 2012 Mazda5

Mini to the max.

by on Feb.28, 2011

For 2012, the Mazda5 gets its most complete makeover since its '05 introduction.

American waistlines aren’t the only things getting bigger and bigger by the year.  Perhaps fittingly, our automobiles have steadily grown in size, so many models that once fit comfortably into the compact category are now classified midsize – or even larger.

That’s especially true when it comes to minivans, today’s models having grown to such massive proportions that the modifier, mini, no longer accurately applies.

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Parked side-by-side, Mazda’s newly redesigned Mazda5 seems downright puny compared to industry mainstays like the Honda Odyssey or Dodge Grand Caravan.  But, in reality, the 2012 Mazda5 remake is a full four inches longer than the original 1984 Caravan and just one inch narrower.  And like those early minivans, Mazda’s offering makes surprisingly good use of its seemingly limited space.

Packing in three rows of seats, and plenty of cargo – including some trick storage beneath the sliding center row seats – the Mazda5 puts a premium on flexibility.  But it also emphasizes styling in a segment where form usually takes a back seat to functionality.


First Look: Kia KV7

Kia tests the waters with a new minivan show car.

by on Jan.11, 2011

Kia hopes a production version of the KV7 concept will help it move into the still substantial minivan market.

Are minivans back in vogue? Maybe, maybe not. But Kia is testing the waters with the KV7 Concept that it unveiled in Detroit at the 2011 North American International Auto Show.

The boxy KV7 has the same squared-off profile as the Ford Flex “people mover,” albeit with a bit more rounded front end. The styling will be polarizing to some, and Kia seems to be aware of this: They say they are “embracing the box,” as they try to bring some elements of the SUV experience to the minivan segment.

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The KV7 offers a lot of glass space in order to give passengers a panoramic view of the outside world, and its dimensions put it in line with most other minivans. But as with most concepts, it primarily exists as a design study – at least for now.


First Drive: 2012 Ford C-Max

Getting the max out of the minivan.

by on Dec.20, 2010

Ford introduces a hands-free liftgate system on its new 2012 C-Max.

When it’s time to set up a joke on late-night television, there are several things that will always get you a laugh.  Mention New Jersey, for one.  Or minivans.  The much-maligned people mover is seemingly a stand-in for everything worth jibing about with suburban American life.

Which is funny because, when it comes down to practicality, perhaps no vehicle more serious about doing its job than the classic American minivan.  They’re roomy, safe, practical, efficient and, well, try to squeeze nearly as much stuff into the back of an SUV, or simply get the kids in and buckled up without that signature sliding door.

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Which is why, despite the most dire predictions, the minivan market hasn’t dried up and blown away. If anything, it’s regaining strength after hitting last year’s segment low – and giving hope to Ford Motor Co. that its newest offering will finally help the maker capture a solid share of what it prefers to call the “people-mover segment” with the all-new 2012 Ford C-Max.

Call it what you will, but this compact 7-seater could finally give Ford a shot at buyers who have long ignored offerings like the Windstar and Freestar (Click Here for more.) And if we see the serious run up in fuel prices many predict, the C-Max could become a serious alternative to the bigger minivans that currently comprise the vast majority of what’s available in the U.S.

The 2012 Ford C-Max is surprisingly roomy, despite its compact footprint, attractive, affordable and fuel efficient.  It also offers a number of interesting innovations – including a new hands-free liftgate that we expect competitors like Chrysler, Honda and Toyota racing to reverse-engineer.


First Drive: 2011 Nissan Quest

A serious new entry – and that’s no joke.

by on Dec.13, 2010

Nissan completely redesigns the Quest for 2011.

Minivans just don’t get no respect, as Rodney Dangerfield might have expressed it.  Not only do the people movers take their regular hits from the likes of Letterman and Leno, but they’ve seem demand steadily shrink, in recent years.  Yet, in an auto industry where diminished expectations have become the rule the minivan still musters enough volume – nearly 600,000 units annually – to convince a fair number of manufacturers to keep pumping them out.

Nissan, for one, which will be launching an all-new version of the Quest for 2011, the well-equipped, comfortable, and functional remake set to reach U.S. showrooms right at the beginning of the New Year.

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Coming up with a way to add a little sex appeal to the exterior design of any minivan has been a chore for industry stylists for the better part of three decades.  The problem is that the van’s classic boxy shape is dictated by the vehicle’s functionality.  Complicating matters is the sliding door, which has vexed more than one talented design team.

But with the 2011 Nissan Quest, designers  have given it the old college try.  Head on, they have succeeded in giving the front of the new Quest a distinctive face and an overall appealing shape in front of the A-pillar.

The gash along the side for the sliding door, seemingly a defining minivan characteristic, has been offset with character lines, and the rear hatch — another black hole for traditional minivan design — has been given some distinctive sculpting thanks to a rounded spoiler that serves as an eye-catching detail when when the rear liftgate is raised.  Another notable detail is the wraparound rear window panel.


First Look: Nissan’s Fourth-Generation Quest

Japanese makers aim for dominance.

by on Nov.18, 2010

With the launch of the 2011 Nissan Quest, the maker says reports of the minivan's death have been greatly exaggerated.

Who says the minivan market is dying?  Not the small band of makers that are rolling out all-new or significantly updated offerings for the 2011 model-year, a list that includes not just segment leader – and creator – Chrysler, but Honda, with the ’11 Odyssey, and Toyota, with the new Sienna.

Now Nissan weighs in, bringing to the L.A. Auto Show its fourth-generation Quest.  As it has with earlier generations, the Japanese maker is pushing the proverbial envelope on styling.  But where past versions often put form above function, there’s no denying the utilitarian bona fides of the new Quest minivan.

“The minivan remains a symbol of family commitment,” says Carlos Tavares, Nissan’s CEO for its Americas operation.

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That means several features will rise above all else when it comes to purchase considerations.  Start with easy access, like push-button sliding doors and easy fold-down 2nd and 3rd-row seats.  And with an intriguing new folding mechanism, Nissan was able to deliver a flat load floor, a slightly lower vehicle ride height – and some additional storage space in the tub below the folded-away seats.


Nissan Reveals First Pics of 2011 Quest Minivan

It faces tough competition from Honda, Toyota – and Chrysler.

by on Jul.07, 2010

A first look at the 2011 Nissan Quest.

Nissan has taken the wraps off it’s next-generation Quest minivan, showing the automaker plans to take another shot at a segment it has long struggled to find a place in – and which a number of key competitors have already abandoned.

The 2011 Nissan Quest significantly ups the level of style in a segment where functionality is normally the touchstone for designers and engineers.  The maker went on a similar, er, quest, when it launched the last version in 2004.

That was arguably the most stylish offering of its time, but the last-generation Quest was faulted for some fundamental flaws, notably including  a third-row seat that didn’t feature a 60/40 split and thinly padded second-row seats which many found uncomfortable.

Whether the 2011 Nissan Quest will resolve those and other issues related to features, function and comfort remains to be seen.

Quest sales have lagged behind industry leaders notably Chrysler, whose Town & Country and Dodge Caravan models have regained ground since the maker’s 2009 bankruptcy – and which now control nearly half the U.S. minivan market.

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(Click Here for more on Chrysler’s resurgence in the minivan market.)

But the 2011 Nissan Quest will go up against some tough Asian competition, as well.  And both the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna vans will go through complete makeovers for the coming model-year.  Toyota will retain the focus on functionality, while Honda, like Nissan, is hoping that a little more sporty touches to the Odyssey will draw in those who disdain classic soccer-mom shapes.


Toyota Launches 2011 Sienna Production

Taking aim at Chrysler, Honda with all-new minivan.

by on Jan.20, 2010

With the launch of U.S. production, the 2011 Toyota Sienna is taking aim at the minivan's segment leaders, Chrysler and Hona.

Production of the all-new 2011 Toyota Sienna minivan has begun at the automaker’s assembly plant, in Princeton, Indiana.  Unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show, last November, and garnering strongly favorable reviews since then, the new minivan is taking aim at the people mover segment’s two top performers, Honda and Chrysler.

Hoping to gain a better grip on the American market, Sienna was styled at Toyota’s Calty Design Research Center in Newport Beach, Calif., with engineering duties handed over to the Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.

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Production of the new Sienna — as well as that of the Highlander SUV, which began last October – comes as welcome news for the Indiana plant, which has been underutilized during the current economic downturn.