It’s possible that none of this matters. Billions of years from now, after all of humanity’s great struggles and achievements, the universe will collapse back in on itself, and all that exists and all knowledge of all that was will be compressed into a singularity so inescapable that not even Katniss Everdeen will be able to shoot her way out. Meanwhile, perpetuating life on Earth is, for whatever reason, our most basic urge. And that’s not such a bad thing—right up until you succeed. Then it’s all sympathy weight; poop in unimaginable colors, textures, and places; and, later, insolence. But the biggest bummer of all is that your best option, if you think about it rationally, is to drive a minivan.
As America’s most accessible philosopher, Jack Handey, once wrote, “If life deals you lemons, why not go kill someone with the lemons (maybe by shoving them down his throat)?” At the very least, spike your citrus with all the garnishes of a mobile man cave: widescreen TV, Blu-ray player, and a name-brand audio system. Maybe even, uh, a vacuum cleaner? You might say its vacuum makes the Honda Odyssey more of a woman cave, but we wouldn’t say that because we don’t want our wives to slap us.
We have no Chrysler/Dodge or Nissan entrants here because neither one has been sufficiently updated since last losing a comparison test. Meanwhile, our reigning champ in the segment, the Honda Odyssey, which won every minivan comparo we’ve conducted in the last decade, was refreshed for 2014. The update includes said vacuum (only on the top-of-the-line Elite trim), new aluminum sheetmetal for the schnoz, and prettier interior fixings. A sturdier front structure helps the Odyssey on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s new small-overlap front crash test, securing the Institute’s “Top Safety Pick” rating. With a 16.2-inch video screen in the headliner and a 12-speaker stereo, our Odyssey Elite rings in at $45,480.
Toyota’s Sienna is also fresh off a fluffing, with a stiffened structure, updated dashboard, new grille and headlights, and the “Driver Easy Speak” built-in bullhorn. The latter uses the voice-control microphone already embedded above the driver’s head and broadcasts scoldings through the rear speakers. The Toyota is a “Top Safety Pick Plus” on account of its available Pre-Collision automatic-braking system. (The Honda was a TSPP last year, but isn’t for 2015 because the criteria changed this year to require an automatic-braking system.) The Sienna is still the only minivan to offer four-wheel drive, but we had a front-driver. Our Limited model included dual sunroofs and a Blu-ray player. That plus the $1800 Advanced Technology package (adaptive cruise control, Pre-Collision System, and hill-start assist) punted the price up to the test’s highest: $48,035.Otherwise occupied: Birthday-boy John Fazioli (in the way back) and friends Connor Love (left) and Aidan Naughton.
The Kia Sedona is all-new this year. Joining the Odyssey on Safety Pick Tier Two (because its collision-warning system only screams of impending doom, rather than braking to do something about it), it also boasts eight different electronic systems to mitigate the loss of traction or stability. All this for an eminently controllable transportation appliance. Our SXL also packs 19-inch wheels, matches the Toyota’s sunroof count, and includes a $2700 tech package that adds lane-departure and forward-collision warnings, adaptive cruise, and a surround-view system. Yet at $43,295, it’s the cheapest in this test.
Our Kia is, however, missing one $995 option that could make all the difference: a back-seat entertainment system. That feature matters more in this test than most. Seizing on the notion that, in a minivan, the left-front seat is for an adult and everything else is for kids, Alterman decreed that, rather than follow our usual comparison-test regimen, we’d swing by managing editor Mike Fazioli’s house on a Saturday morning and take his kids’ birthday parties on the road. We’d drive two vanloads of 11-year-old boys and one of 15-year-old girls to an indoor water park four hours away. Along the way, the kids would rate the vans for comfort and entertainment value. The drivers would wish for bulkheads behind their seats. Cannonball!