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There's no shame in buying a minivan. Honest

I have a family of five and am undecided between a Dodge Grand Caravan and a Toyota Sienna. I also commute to work – it's a 36-kilometre round-trip – and I am also considering a Toyota Camry because a four-cylinder would be better than a V-6. – Yasir in Toronto

Vaughan: Yasir, you answered your own question right off the top: Dodge Grand Caravan.

There is a stage in your life when a minivan is not a shameful thing – and you're there now. I've done a zillion kilometres in various Caravans, hauling kids, dogs, building materials, furniture. Across the continent twice, trouble-free.

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The Caravans get better and better while being priced lower and lower. Get the Canadian Value Package and you'll get everything you need for a little more than $19,000. End of story.

Cato: I cannot understand why so many people have such a big problem with minivans. You cannot buy a more sensible, more affordable family vehicle. Impossible. The minivan stigma is silly.

Now think about this. Here at the 30th anniversary of Chrysler's minivans, Yasir could roll right down to a Dodge dealer and drive away in a 2014 Grand Caravan, Canada Value Package. For $19,998, including freight. That's a stunning price. Or what about a $114, bi-weekly payment on a lease, with nothing down. We're talking $228 a month for a wagon with three rows and all the Stow 'n Go storage a hockey dad or a soccer mom could ask for.

Of course, a Chrysler minivan isn't sexy. It's not a sports car, either. But that 3.6-litre V-6, standard, is plenty gutsy – 283 horsepower. The six-speed autobox is a nice shifter. Visibility in all directions is better than it should be in a big, long family bus. The seating if fine and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named it a Top Safety Pick. Wanna tow a trailer? This rig is rated for 1,633 kg.

2012 Toyota Sienna LE V6Paul GiamouPaul GiamouPaul Giamou 

Vaughan: Not so fast, Cato. Yasir, we need to talk about the Toyota Sienna. It is an excellent vehicle and just as nerdy as a minivan must be.

And I would argue it's more refined than the common-as-dirt Caravans, though the Toyota costs thousands more. Buying a minivan is not something you do for passion but for practicality. And practical includes saving dough.

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Cato: So why spend six seconds shopping a Sienna? I'll tell you why: the Sienna is the only minivan available with all-wheel drive (AWD). Chrysler used to offer traction at all corners, but no more.

Yasir, if you're traipsing up to Collingwood on the weekends for skiing, the Sienna is worth a look. Take it all in – the quality is good, safety first-rate, visibility as good as a Caravan. But the Dodge has more versatile storage spaces and that Canada Value Package is $16,000 less.

You read that correctly. The Sienna AWD LE, with seating for seven, lists for a hefty $36,190. That's a stiff premium to pay for a Toyota that is less useful all-around than the Dodge. What could you do with $16,000?

The AWD piece is important for anyone rolling around snowy Georgian Bay in January. But you can buy a lot of good winter tires for $16,000. Bottom line: only committed Toyota lovers are willing to spend nearly twice the money on a Sienna.

Vaughan: Which Yasir appears to be. He mentioned the Camry, correct, Cato? That's a fine little car, but not big enough, not once you've packed in two adults, three kids and all the usual family gear. Where do you put a friend or two? Yasir, that's going to be a problem. You kids have friends and your kids will want to invite them along for rides.

Face facts, Yasir. You are now in your minivan life stage. Embrace the suburban mindset.

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2014 Nissan RogueWieckNissanWieck 

Cato: We should at least point Yasir in a third direction, towards the crossover option. You will find a handful of modest-sized crossovers with three rows of seating and they might be worth a look.

Dodge, for instance, has mega-deals on offer for the Journey. It's not the most refined rig, but perfectly solid, and available with temporary seating in a third row. Nissan has just launched a new Rogue, too, and you can get it with a third row.

This reinvented Rogue looks smooth and clean. Let's say you go for the SV with AWD ($28,748) with the options package that includes a third row ($2,050). Voila: you're north of $30,000. Remember that Dodge minivan for less than $20,000?

Vaughan: Take note of the date, Yasir. Cato is right and it's a little shocking. The Rogue's a nice vehicle, but take the flat out bargain Yasir – the Grand Caravan. And say no to absolutely every costly extra they want you to add.

Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on CTV.

HOW THEY COMPARE

 

2014 Dodge Grand Caravan Canada Value Package

2014 Toyota Sienna LE 7-passenger AWD

2014 Nissan Rogue SV AWD wi/Family and Tech package

Wheelbase (mm):

3,078

3,030

2,706

Length (mm):

5,151

5,085

4,630

Width (mm):

1,998

1,985

1,840

Height (mm)

1,725

1,810

1,696

Engine:

3.6-litre six-cylinder

3.5-litre V-6

2.5-litre four-cylinder

Output (horsepower/torque)

283/260 lb-ft

266/245 lb-ft

170/175266 lb-ft

Drive system:

Front-wheel drive

Front-wheel drive

All-wheel drive

Transmission

Six-speed automatic

Six-speed automatic

CVT

Curb weight (kg)

2,050

2,045

1,628

Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

12.2 city/7.9 highway

12.6 city/8.7 highway

8.2 city/6.2 highway

Base price

$19,998 includes freight

$36,190

$30,798

Source: car manufacturers

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About the Author
Senior writer, Globe Drive

In 25 years of covering the auto industry, Jeremy Cato has won more than two-dozen awards, including three times being named automotive journalist of the year. Jeremy was born in Montreal and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. More

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