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Minivan blues: She needs to replace poor performer

2008 Chrysler Town & Country


Dear Jeremy and Michael:

A girlfriend of mine drives the Town & Country by Chrysler, but it's been in the shop four times in the last year and it's only three years old (she thinks her dealership is creating more issues to keep the car coming back). But conspiracy theory aside, she wants a new car - one that doesn't keep breaking down. I suggested the Toyota Sienna as I think it is the best minivan with four-wheel drive. (If only it came in diesel. But she doesn't think it's big enough. She has four boys (what she really needs is a vacation, not a car!) and they all play hockey. The oldest is 10, then eight and then five-year-old twins. Yes, she's Irish and Catholic. So between hockey and play dates, she needs a car that fits up to six kids and four large hockey bags.

Help. Thanks, G., Toronto

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Cato: Oh, this is a good one - lots to dig into. We've got conspiracy theories, quality control issues, diesel versus gas, minivan versus sport-utility vehicle, cultural and religious issues.

Vaughan: And there is that little matter of what G's friend should buy to replace the Town & Country.

Sorry to hear about her repair problems. I owned a couple of Dodge Caravans several years ago and they were very reliable. But now Chrysler's quality in the J.D. Power three-year dependability study is way below average. Heck, they're down near the bottom just one notch below BMW.

Cato: Here's why G's friend is in the shop all the time: In its research, Consumer Reports singled out Chrysler as the worst auto maker - "noisy, inefficient, unrefined powertrains, subpar interiors and poor visibility," says CR.

Now Toyota's Sienna, it tops the J.D. Power long- and short-term quality studies and has for years. So if G's friend needs four-wheel drive, then Sienna it is. It's the only one in the segment that has it.

Vaughan: The Sienna's about the size of the Popemobile, so G's friend can get all those hockey bags in, guilt-free.

Cato: The pricing works, too. The front-drive base model starts at $27,900 and, for all-wheel-drive, the base number is $35,350.

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Here's a twist on the Sienna story, though. Toyota reinvented this rig for 2011 and while it's better in some ways - certainly looks more modern - I'm a little disappointed overall with what Toyota did. The cabin is not as nicely done in some ways and I think this new version is noisier than the old one.

Vaughan: Consumer Reports doesn't like the new Sienna as much as the old one either, which had been CR's top-rated minivan for three years. CR says the new Sienna's interior fit and finish and quietness have all slipped and now the Sienna ranks below its top-rated Honda Odyssey.

Cato: Yeah, the old Odyssey, the 2010 one. Honda's launching a redone version later this year as a 2011 model, so there are some incredible deals on the 2010s left on dealer lots.

Vaughan: Yes, deals! That's what I like. Honda's throwing money at these things.

Cato: Take a 2010 Odyssey SE for $37,790. Honda Canada has slapped on a $6,000 cash rebate and if you're pushy, you should be able to squeeze out at least another $1,500 in a dealer discount.

Vaughan: The old Odyssey is quiet, refined, gets decent fuel economy and you can get one with three rows of seating, just like the Sienna. But let's throw in something completely different - some sort of big SUV. Say the GMC Yukon. Pretty good quality and Titanic-like.

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Cato: On the outside. But both the minivans have more total room inside than the Yukon XL - the biggest Yukon of the bunch - or its sibling, the Chevy Tahoe. While I'm at it, let me just point out that the GMC Acadia crossover might look bigger on the outside, too, but it's not as big as the minivans on the inside.

Vaughan: Looks can be deceiving. So we're suggesting a deeply discounted Odyssey for G's pal, correct?

Cato: I think so, but she still needs to get a cargo box for the roof of the van to hold all that stinky, sweaty hockey gear. Mount it on the roof rails and leave room inside the vehicle for the team.

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

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2010 Honda Odyssey EX-L

2011 Toyota Sienna LE AWD

2010 GMC Yukon XL

Wheelbase (mm)




Length (mm)




Width (mm)




Height (mm)





3.5-litre V-6

3.5-litre V-6

5.3-litre V-6

Output (hp/torque)

244 hp/245 lb-ft

266 hp/245 lb-ft

320 hp/335 lb-ft

Drive system





Five-speed automatic

Six-speed automatic

Six-speed automatic

Curb weight (kg)




Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

12.3 city/7.8 highway

12.8 city/9.0 highway

14.4 city/9.6 highway

Base price (MSRP)




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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