Power reclining seats with footrests, Netflix streaming, and plenty of high-definition displays; today's minivans seem to have more in common with the average living room than their car, truck, and SUV kin. Then there are the sliding rear doors that have long defined these people- and cargo-carrying machines. The sound of bearings rolling on tracks is a song of versatility. These utilitarian vehicles are designed to handle the likes of carting kids to soccer practice to hauling sheets of plywood to a job site. Take the Chrysler Pacifica, a three-row minivan with second- and third-row seats that quickly and easily fold away to create a flat load floor. Or the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, which can tow as much as some mid-size pickups. Meanwhile, smaller vans, such as the Ford Transit Connect or Mercedes-Benz Metris, serve admirably as efficient but spacious delivery vehicles. Alternatively, these vans are blank canvases for nomads in need of a comfortable, compact, and affordable mobile home.
Using our extensive testing regimen, our team of editors vetted every one of the vans selected for our 2023 Editor’s Choice list. These are the best boxes around, where the most valuable performance is measured in cubic feet, not miles per hour.
Minivan: Chrysler Pacifica
The Chrysler Pacifica, as well as its minivan brothers from other mothers, may never get the credit it deserves for being the preeminent family-friendly utility vehicle in the age of the SUV. Chrysler even goes so far as to claim its minivan can hold up to 60 gallons of milk, redefining what it means to go from zero to 60. The Pacifica is a function of convenience, and it's the only van clever enough to tuck its second-row seats into its floor to create more space for carrying cargo. The Pacifica is available with either front- or all-wheel drive, and it is the only minivan in the segment to offer a plug-in-hybrid powertrain. The standard powertrain is 287-hp V-6 which pairs with a nine-speed automatic transmission. This combination makes the Pacifica reasonably efficient on the highway, even if it doesn't push Chrysler's people mover about with the urgency of rivals such as the Kia Carnival or Honda Odyssey.
Minivan: Honda Odyssey
The 2023 Honda Odyssey will make you forget any negative thoughts about minivans once you experience its refined ride, solid handling, and quick-accelerating V-6 engine. Don’t worry—if a minivan is on your shopping list because you need practicality, the Odyssey won’t disappoint there either. Its novel Magic Seat system allows you to position the second-row seats in a variety of ways—including a configuration that’ll keep feuding kiddies appropriately separated. The third row disappears into a recess in the floor to allow for more cargo space. The cabin isn’t as well connected and tech-focused as those in rivals such as the Chrysler Pacifica or Kia Carnival, but the Honda’s infotainment suite offers more than just the necessities, including an optional rear-seat entertainment system to keep the youngsters occupied.
Minivan: Kia Carnival
When you see the 2023 Kia Carnival out of the corner of your eye, your brain probably registers it at as a mid-size SUV. That means its design—and Kia's marketing—is working. Nonetheless, the Carnival is 100 percent minivan. Don't believe me? Peep those rear doors, my friend. They slide. Inside, the Carnival's boxy body and low floor provide more cargo stowage space than your average crossover, too. All Carnivals come with a smooth-running 290-hp 3.5-liter V-6 engine and an eight-speed automatic transmission. Kia puts a bunch of driver-assistance features on as standard; upscale models have even more tech goodies. But don't let the Carnival's distinct minivan-ness turn you off. Embrace its refined road manners, added practicality, and spacious cabin. Let's face it, you probably don't need high ground clearance and all-wheel drive anyway.
Minivan: Toyota Sienna
The 2023 Toyota Sienna’s brawny-for-a-minivan exterior design is an attempt at SUV cosplay, but even a casual glance in its direction reveals it for the minivan that it is. Fine by us. We like the way this minivan behaves on the road, with a quiet cabin and a refined ride. Besides the obvious practicality benefits that come with any minivan, the Sienna’s interior is spacious and nicely equipped—although its second-row seats aren’t removable or stowable as they are in other vans. This fourth generation of the Sienna is offered solely as a hybrid, with front- and all-wheel drive variants sharing the same 245-hp rating, which has proven to be on the poky side in our testing. The Sienna’s fuel efficiency, at 36 mpg combined, is far better than that of the other minivans on the market but we’d much rather be piloting the Chrysler Pacifica, Honda Odyssey, or the Kia Carnival.
City Van: Ford Transit Connect
While the Ford Transit Connect van isn't exactly a vehicle that evokes passion and excitement from enthusiasts, it serves as a sound solution for consumers searching for a practical and versatile compact transit tool. Its cargo-van configuration works wonderfully for crafts- and tradesmen as well as adventuresome individuals electing to live the van life. In passenger-van form, it can haul as many as seven passengers, and either configuration can haul up to 2000 pounds with the proper equipment. That said, it isn't the most fuel-efficient offering in its class, its base engine is gutless, and while it's easy to maneuver, the suspension delivers a bouncy ride. The Transit Connect isn't the perfect automotive specimen, but it is nonetheless a highly useful workhorse.
City Van: Mercedes-Benz Metris
The Mercedes-Benz Metris has served as a staple for shoppers who need a city van but want above-average capability and craftsmanship. Its mainstream alternatives, namely the discontinued Ram ProMaster City and soon-to-be discontinued Ford Transit Connect, are less capable and less refined—albeit less expensive. The German van offers more than twice the towing capacity of its rivals, plus more horsepower, more torque, and decidedly more refinement in the form of an available air suspension and a nicer interior. Even so, Mercedes-Benz has confirmed that the Metris will meet the same demise as its rivals, as production is set to conclude after the 2023 model year—proof that being the class leader does not ensure market longevity. Those looking to purchase a brand-new cargo or passenger city van should do so now before they're gone for good, and we think they ought to pick the Mercedes over the Ford or Ram.
Full-Size Van: Ford Transit
For most drivers, a commercial van such as the 2023 Ford Transit isn't on their radar. But for millions of small business owners and fleet managers, it's extremely relevant and particularly desirable. It can be ordered in a variety of body styles, including a cavernous high-roof extended version that has room to haul a plethora of tools, packages, or cargo. Starting this year, Ford will also sell a specially-equipped model that's a perfect base for a camper-van conversion—how's that for versatility, overlanders? Two gasoline-powered engines are on offer—a naturally aspirated V-6 and a turbocharged Ecoboost V-6—and buyers can choose from rear- or all-wheel drive. The Transit's main rivals include the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and the Ram ProMaster, but the Ford feels more maneuverable than either of them. Technology plays a role here too: all Transit models come standard with basic driver-assistance features, and Ford's Sync 4 infotainment system is available with a large 12.0-inch display screen. Ford's fleet management-and- telematics system is the tech that's likely more interesting to fleet buyers, as it allows for better tracking and data analysis of their armada of vans.
Full-Size Van: Mercedes-Benz Sprinter
The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is a comfortable workhorse that offers a splash of G-wagen capability. Thanks to its wide span of configurability, it can satisfy the needs of both those who deliver and those who crave outdoor adventure. That said, its starting price is noticeably steeper than full-size van competitors such as the Ford Transit and Ram ProMaster. The Sprinter is sold with three four-cylinder engine options—two turbodiesels and one turbocharged gasoline engine—each working through a nine-speed automatic transmission. That transmission and the van’s optional 4Matic all-wheel-drive system are similar to those found in Mercedes-Benz passenger cars like the E-class and S550. The Merc hauler can be had with a dual-rear-wheel axle, varying roof heights, and three distinct body styles: cargo, crew, and passenger. The tech offerings include a 10.3-inch touchscreen and various driver assists. The vast interior space means there’s plenty of room to build the 2023 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter into your next work van, an off-road AirBnB, or almost anything in between.
Yes, he's still working on the 1986 Nissan 300ZX Turbo project car he started in high school, and no, it’s not for sale yet. Austin Irwin was born and raised in Michigan, and, despite getting shelled by hockey pucks during a not-so-successful goaltending career through high school and college, still has all of his teeth. He loves cars from the 1980s and Bleu, his Great Pyrenees, and is an active member of the Buffalo Wild Wings community. When Austin isn’t working on his own cars, he’s likely on the side of the highway helping someone else fix theirs.
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