After several months of friends and relatives nagging and asking me when I was going to Road Test this minivan or that, I resigned myself to the fact that people really want to know these things! My response to their requests was always the same – there wasn’t a chance I would ever test a minivan!
As the story goes, my wife came up with the brilliant idea to hold a Mini Van Showdown where we would test and compare two minivans head to head along with the help of a few nagging, minivan-driving friends and relatives. Hand on heart – I wasn’t drinking at the time, but I agreed right away before thinking about what I’d agreed to. Short story, long – here we are.
Oh the embarrassment! ME driving a minivan, and to think, I actually chose to take on the task! Even more shocked were friends and relatives when they actually saw me driving them.
The first question we faced when planning our little challenge: What two minivans should we compare?
Right away I said the Dodge Grand Caravan. Dodge created the minivan back in 1984 (if we all choose to forget the VW Microbus or whatever it was called). Since then it’s been at or near the top of the sales charts, and for a couple of years Chrysler was selling twice as many Caravans as all other minivan producing manufacturers combined! So, the first one was quickly chosen. Next!
The second choice was a bit harder, well actually it wasn’t. My wife suggested Toyota (Sienna) or Nissan (Quest) because friends had been requesting them, but I countered with Honda Odyssey and Hyundai Entourage.
The Ford Freestar was ruled out instantly because it looked just like a Windstar, so it is both boring and looks ten years past its sell-by date. The GM sextuplets were ruled out because they’re rubbish and GM would rather I “Road Test” their vehicles via the internet than actually DRIVE them!! The Mazda MPV had already been put out to pasture until sometime in 2007, so that was out.
So we were down to a choice between four mini vans, but only one of them would get to go head to head with the Caravan. I pulled rank and ruled out the Quest based on the fact I’d have to be drunk to drive it – it is U-G-L-Y!!!! Beaten with an ugly stick at birth, the third generation Quest makes Rene Zellweger look good! I considered the Toyota to be a slightly better option in that, I could bring myself to drive it while sober, however, I wouldn’t be able to eat for a week unless I took a sick bag with me everywhere. Soooo, it was down to two.
The Honda Odyssey versus the Hyundai Entourage. It was a tough choice, I like the looks of both vans, but we chose the Entourage because it was brand new, and that was the one van that my minivan-driving groupies had asked me to review.
The First-Ever PaddockTalk Mini-Van Showdown…
Our challengers in PaddockTalk’s first-ever head to head challenge – the 2007 Dodge Grand Caravan and the 2007 Hyundai Entourage. It’s a winner takes all the praise fight to the axles, and the rules are made up by yours truly. However, the results are determined by a panel of experts (minivan-driving family folk) with only general input by me.
I selected four families to take part in the Showdown. Two families have one child, and two couples have two children. Each family already owns or leases a minivan at present, and would be in the market for a new vehicle ranging anywhere from sometime within a few months to approximately two years, making them prime candidates for this challenge. The “replacement” vans in question are: Mazda MPV, Pontiac Montana, Ford Windstar and a Chevy Venture.
We would like to assure you that this was no haphazard event – the Mini Van Showdown was not just a lame reason for a bunch of families to get together for good food and festivities! This was a “scientific” journey, in which each person (men and women) was given a comprehensive scoring sheet and was told to score only the vehicle they were driving – they were not to compare the one van against the other (not during our first part of the challenge anyway).
Our participants were not given any indication of price, but were given details about the options on the vehicle and brief demonstration of the positive features of each van ie: power rear door, folding seats etc. Since both vans had DVD systems, I was sure to include a DVD in each of the players so these could be evaluated as well.
Each individual was given the opportunity to drive both vans around the predetermined local test route, as well as ride as a passenger in the front and rear seats while others took their turn behind the wheel. This allowed our participants to evaluate all seating positions in both vehicles, including the usefulness and comfort of third-row seats.
The rules were that they should not compare notes (though some did), and they were not to choose a winner until all test drives were competed. At that point, each participant was given a summary sheet to help them determine their favorite. This was also the first chance that our volunteers were given the opportunity to examine pricing and warranty information.
After the event, scores were tabulated and averaged to provide the most useful results possible. In the event that an individual scored the vehicle out of the median range, this was considered and will be noted in our results.
Scoring for driver comfort and ergonomics was higher for the Entourage than the Caravan, as was the case for front passenger ergonomics. Regarding comfort in the front seats, both vans scored nearly identical numbers, and while available space for front passengers was considered similar, the Entourage was deemed to be roomier.
The second-row contest was neck-and-neck for space and comfort, with the Grand Caravan winning out where foot and hip room were concerned, and the Entourage just barely pulling ahead in the areas of head and legroom. Best marks for third-row seating (though not by a large margin) went to the Entourage – head, foot and leg room were the standouts.
Entry and exit for all three rows was closely contested, and in a couple of instances, scores came in identical. Versatility and seating adjustments brought about the first big differences between the vans, with the Entourage clearly winning, however the Grand Caravan struck a serious blow when it was unanimously scored the clear winner for cargo space with the seats up or down. As you might have guessed, Chrysler’s “Stow’n Go” second-row seating was the favorite party trick.
The Entourage was declared best looking when exterior styling was reviewed, however there were one or two who didn’t favor its appearance, and as is the case with most vehicles â€“ looks are subjective.
The transmission award went to the Entourage when it came to engine noise and shifting, though we did see one unusually low score where one tester thought it was very noisy. In the steering, brakes and handling department, the Entourage once again dominated, while the Grand Caravan also took a serious beating in the “fun to drive” and “ride comfort” categories. However, the Grand Caravan redeemed itself a little when “quality, fit and finish” came into play.
The Good, The Bad, And the Ugly – of Each Van
Each of our volunteers were encouraged to make additional comments wherever they felt necessary, or wherever they felt something had been overlooked in our scoring outline. Some were more vocal than others, and if the verbal and written abuse by this bunch had been a boxing match – it would have been a doozy!
The Grand Caravan’s “Stow ‘n Go” seating for the second row was an outstanding two thumbs up from everyone. On the downside, a couple of people mentioned that it felt like a typical North American vehicle, and that it felt cheap. For some, the shifter and its location became a bone of contention, while others remarked that it didn’t feel solid enough, and that it didn’t ride as smoothly as the Entourage. One person noted that they had taken a 1999 model Caravan for a test drive back in 1999 and this one was much improved over the previous model, yet others were disappointed with the comfort level it offered. One tester noted that the power side door motors were a bit noisy on the Caravan, however, there were no other concerns mentioned by other testers in this respect. The Caravan enjoyed a bit of a come-back and received commendation on its glass moonroof feature, something that is rarely available on minivans.
The Caravan wasn’t singled out for a beating, and the Entourage took a hard right-hook from all 8 participants for the placement of the DVD screen – again and again throughout the testing our scrutinizers complained that the screen was much too close to the second-row seats. Some felt the Entourage could use a little help in the looks department, with particular attention to the front end; while another thought it was boring. However, the Entourage rallied and received plenty of compliments for its power delivery, solid ride and smoothness, while the Caravan was a serious let down in that sector. The Entourage also drew praise from a couple of testers for the driver’s seat adjustments located on the door, along with the sliding door windows that open just like a car.
As was to be expected from a pile of adults, both vans took a few kicks with respect to third-row seating, with comments about it being less comfortable and participants finding it difficult to extract themselves from the rearmost compartments. Both vans tied in the storage and cargo space categories, although there was a preference for Chrysler’s “Stow ‘n Go” second-row seats when compared to the Hyundai’s tumble forward version.
Pricing and Value
When our volunteers received their testing summary sheets that bore the pricing and warranty information there were audible gasps of surprise, and everyone had an opinion. After hours of analysis and debating, a distinct pattern of likes and dislikes quickly emerged once prices were revealed.
When asked which van was their favorite, the voting was unanimous – Hyundai Entourage scored 8 out of 8.
Reasons for which the Entourage was picked the favorite were only a little different than the list mentioned above. The price of this impressive vehicle was a big shock to everyone. Virtually everyone gasped when they learned that the Entourage was approximately $5,000 cheaper than the Grand Caravan. Some even asked if it was a typing error! Had the prices been equal, the Entourage would have won by the same margin, but with a huge dollar savings involved, and its many outstanding features, it was a no-contest win for this outstanding minivan.
When asked if they would purchase either vehicle, the Dodge Grand Caravan got a resounding “no”, however, when asked if they would consider it a lease option, two replied that they would, while five still would not consider it. As for the Hyundai Entourage, all seven responses were affirmative (for some reason, our other participant did not respond to this query – perhaps it was just too hard to decide!).
When questioned about their purchase/leasing decisions, and why they had selected the Entourage as the favorite, the reasons listed were: “Based on quality difference and price difference.” “The Hyundai was a great drive and all the features were enjoyable as well as you get a lot more features for a better price.” The Entourage was considered an “outstanding price for the quality of this van!”, while the Grand Caravan was considered “over-priced for what you get.”
When asked what is most important to our participants when purchasing a van, most responded in kind; price & value, power & quality, fuel economy, safety, passenger capacity, reliability, resale value, cargo room, seat comfort, stereo, good entry & exit, warranty and storage.
Our participants took this minivan showdown seriously and were brutal in their scoring and comments. They showed no mercy when they felt something was outstanding or lacking in thought behind the design of certain areas in both vans. As a result, I can assure you that scoring was nowhere near the maximum for either minivan, suggesting that both manufacturers were still a little off the mark when it comes to consumer demand.
The Grand Total: Out of a maximum of 320 points, the Grand Caravan earned 235.9 points and the Entourage accumulated 275.1 points, making it the winner by less than 40 points.
The Dodge Grand Caravan has a lot going for it – especially those Stow ‘n Go middle row chairs in addition to the third-row seats – everyone was unanimous in this regard. The Grand Caravan has probably become too familiar for most people now and a complete re-design wouldn’t go amiss. Word on the street is that Chrysler has a new one in the works, and it’s being designed by the same guy that brought us the Chrysler 300. Chrysler always seems to raise the bar just as the competition catches up, but they better hurry! PaddockTalk’s team of minivan testers weren’t too impressed, and they pulled no punches in our discussions afterward.
The Hyundai Entourage completely blind-sided everyone the day of our challenge – including yours truly. I didn’t think it stood a chance against the “old kid on the block”. With a price approximately $5,000 LESS than the Grand Caravan, this van is a no-brainer in the purchasing department. With a far superior level of quality, comfort and unique features, it looks like an even bigger bargain. For me the horsepower and torque was far better than I ever could have expected from a minivan. I’d seriously consider this as a vehicle to put in my garage – car, SUV or van – this is the new benchmark everything has to be compared to in this price category. That’s right – I’ve even been driving sportier cars and said, “The Entourage was better off the line than this!”
So – I drove two new minivans, tested them to their target audience and didn’t lose the will to live! All in all, PaddockTalk’s first head-to-head comparison was a smashing success!
Update on this Road Test
“… like your testers, Hyundai Auto Canada was not satisfied with the placement of the DVD entertainment centre for the rear compartment. The vehicle you tested was an early production model having been placed on the road last summer. Current models have a revised, improved DVD system with the placement altered so that it is not so close to rear-seat viewers. I believe that you would find this significantly improved and more satisfactory.”
Manager – Public Relations, Hyundai Auto Canada
By The Numbers:
2007 Dodge Grand Caravan STX
Pricing – As tested: $35,535 [$42,465 Cdn]
Base price of the Grand Caravan STX starts at: $28,155 [$33,490 Cdn]
Horsepower: 180 @ 5,000 rpm
Torque: 210 @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 113.3” / Overall Length: 189.1” / Overall Width: 78.6” / Ground Clearance: 5.6” / Curb Weight: 3,921 lbs
Fuel Consumption: [Regular Fuel]
The Grand Caravan with the 3.8 Litre V-6 is listed at 18 mpg City [13.4 L/100 km] and 28 mpg Highway [8.7 L/100 km]
I averaged 17.7 mpg [13.8 L/100km] in combined driving
2007 Hyundai Entourage GLS Premium
Pricing: As tested: $30,995 [$37,195 Cdn]
Base price of the Entourage GL starts at: $23,795 [$29,995 Cdn]
Horsepower: 242 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 251 @ 3,500 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 118.9”/ Overall Length: 202” / Overall Width: 78.3” / Ground Clearance: 6.6” / Curb Weight: 4,385 lbs
Fuel Consumption: [Regular Fuel]
The V-6 Entourage is listed at 18.4 mpg City [13.2 L/100 km] and 27 mpg Highway [8.8 L/100 km]
I averaged 20.2 mpg [12 L/100km] in highway driving, 19 mpg [12.8 L/100km] combined
Copyright © 2006 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text / Images: Iain Shankland
Also Published at: PaddockTalk