Minivans used to be big chunk of the U.S. vehicle fleet. Today, there are just four minivan models from four manufacturers: Toyota, Kia, Honda and Chrysler.
Let’s take a look back at few of these people movers you probably forgot about.
Dodge teased performance vans over the years resulting in two concepts a decade apart. The first Caravan R/T Concept was based on the third generation Caravan and was shown in 1999. It was powered by a V6 making 325 horsepower and looked the part with decals and spoilers. The second Caravan R/T concept was a mysterious one shown at the 2009 Detroit Auto Show. No info was given about it but it had a hood scoop, dual exhausts and SRT looking 20-inch wheels.
The production version of the Caravan R/T was much less exciting. Debuting for 2011, it was one of the first Chrysler models to be powered by the then new 3.6-liter “Pentastar” V6 with 283 hp. It also received a 12 mm lower ride height, rear spoiler, body color grille and 17-inch wheels.
More of a small MPV, the Eagle Summit was one of the models developed under the Chrysler/Mitsubishi partnership that was Diamond Star Motors. It was also badge engineered as the Mitsubishi Colt and Plymouth Colt Vista.
The Summit was introduced in 1992 and could be had with all wheel drive. It was presented to consumers as the best of both worlds: the maneuverability of a compact car with the high seating position, cargo flexibility and sliding side door of a minivan. It lasted until 1996, two years before the Eagle division itself was folded.
You’re probably wondering why the Windstar is on this list. It wasn’t rare and it was sold for years. It’s on this list though because of a unique feature many probably forgot it had.
Ford was in panic mode when Chrysler released all new versions of its top selling Caravan/Town & Country/Voyager in 1996. Chrysler blindsided the market by offering a feature not seen before: dual sliding doors. This threw Ford off as the company had just released the new Windstar a year prior with just a single sliding door. Not being able to go back and and add a second sliding door, Ford made the driver side door on the Windstar six inches longer for 1998. It was also designed to open wider while the drivers seat gained the ability to tilt forward and slide. They called this the Family Entry System. A year later an all new Windstar debuted with dual sliding doors.
The Entourage was Hyundai’s only attempt at a minivan in the U.S. Power came from a 3.8-liter V6. It was only sold for two model years before it was dropped in 2009.
In another one of the many instances of Isuzu going elsewhere for a vehicle to sell, from 1996-1998 Isuzu sold a rebadged version of the first generation Honda Odyssey. Isuzu called it the Oasis. Isuzu briefly continued to sell the Oasis after Honda introduced a second generation Odyssey in 1999.
The Rondo was introduced for the 2006 model year. While new for us, it was actually the second generation of a vehicle sold elsewhere in the world since 1999 called the Carens.
The Rondo was unique in that it had a van-like body, but four actual doors like a sedan. Power came from a base 2.4-liter I4 or an optional 2.7-liter V6 on upper trims. And it was cheap. Pricing started at just $16,995; loaded with features like the aforementioned V6, a third row (!) leather seats and a power sunroof, you would still only be looking at $23,495.
Mazda was all over the place with the MPV. Introduced for 1988, it was designed specifically to be a minvan for the U.S. market. However by the early to mid 1990s, Mazda was offering it with a high ride height and a selectable 4WD system with some body cladding thrown in. It was a weird sort of off-road van before it was redesigned in 1999.
By then it had morphed into a proper minivan to take on the likes of the Honda Odyssey, but with Mazda’s signature “zoom-zoom” tuning for a better driving experience. The MPV lasted until 2006, when it was replaced by the full size seven seat CX-9.
Another one of the small mpv/van offerings in the U.S. during the mid to late 2000's. The rest of the world got the Mazda5 in 1998, but it didn’t come to the U.S. until it’s second generation in 2005. Designed during the years Ford owned Mazda, engineers were able to squeeze three rows of two seats onto a platform that was shared with the Euro market Ford Focus, Ford C-Max and Volvo S40. Impressive.
Mazda managed to get another generation out of the Mazda5 before the brand realized that its crossovers were more popular and it was discontinued in the U.S. in 2015; it continued on in other markets until 2018.
A rebadge job of a Ford Freestar with chrome trim? It’s understandable if you don’t remember this thing. The only thing notable about the Monterey was that it was powered by a rather big 4.2-liter V6.
During the mid to late 1980s Japanese automakers all seemed to bring the same type of durable, rear wheel vans to the U.S.. Nissan was one of them selling its Van, also known as the C22 or the Vanette, in the U.S. from 1986-1989.
It was troubled from the start though. To meet American demands for highway driving and power, Nissan threw its 2.4-liter Z24 engine in its Van. With 106 hp and 137 lb-ft of torque, it wasn’t powerful, but it was normally used in truck applications. Seeing as the Van wasn’t designed to fit such a large engine, the Z24 filled the engine bay. This ended up causing serious issues like overheating and fires.
Another quirky MPV van, Nissan originally marketed this thing as the Stanza Wagon when it was first offered in the U.S. for 1982 (it was called the Prairie in the rest of the world). When the second generation debuted for 1988, Nissan changed it’s name to Axxess. It was unique in that it had dual sliding doors. U.S. versions got a 2.4-liter engine, the same engine used in the 240SX at the time.
Third Generation Nissan Quest
While the Quest isn’t as forgotten as some of the models here, the third generation made the list because of how unique it was. Nissan and Ford jointly developed the first and second generation Quest, which was also sold as the Mercury Villager. It was nothing special and blended in with the crowd. The third generation debuted for the 2004 model year and was almost avant garde in its design. It made for a unique and cool looking offering for the segment.
The most interesting aspects of it’s design were in the interior. It had a table-like front center console, available orange leather seating, dual screen dvd setup for both second and third rows, and the most unique offering at the time, its Sky View roof. This equipped the Quest with four skylights, one above each seat in both the second and third rows, in addition to a front sunroof.
Fourth Generation Nissan Quest
Yes the Quest gets two mentions here. After a year hiatus, a fourth generation Quest debuted in 2011. It’s unique design continued with an exterior based on the Nissan Forum concept shown a couple of years prior. Its design was distinctly Japanese, almost looking like a large version of a Japanese Kei van. The Sky View roof carried over but it gave way to a fixed rear glass panel over the second row instead of the mutli panel setup the previous generation had.
While the Quest was dropped in 2016 due to slow sales, it has the distinction of having one of the worst IIHS crash test performances ever. After a 2014 test, Dave Zuby, vice president for the IIHS, remarked that the Quest’s performance was one of the worst he had ever seen.
A person experiencing this would be lucky to ever walk normally again. The corner of the driver’s door was pushed in two feet during the crash. As a result, the floor and instrument panel pinned the dummy into its seat. We had to remove the seat to cut the dummy out of the vehicle.
GM’s U-Body vans were designed to combine crossover looks with van versatility. Every GM division received a badge engineered version, except GMC, Cadillac and Hummer of course. GM waited until 2006 to give the “different kind of car company” its first van in the Relay.
It really wasn’t anything special. Aside from the the Saturn badges and some trim, it was identical in every way to every other U-Body van sold at Chevy, Buick, and Pontiac. The Relay was discontinued in 2007 when it was replaced by the Outlook, a variant riding on GM’s Lambda platform.
Similar to the Nissan Van, the Toyota Van was another rear wheel drive offering from Japan. It came to U.S. in 1984. While this was the first time the Van had been brought to North America, it was actually the second in a series of vans called the LiteAce that had been on sale since 1970. The series the U.S. received was called the R-Series.
The Van was unusual for many reasons, like its short wheelbase that caused passengers to sit over the front axle, it’s mid-engine, 2.0-liter 90 hp I4 that powered the rear wheels or one of the most unique features in the segment, a cooler box. Lines carried a/c refrigerant into the box to keep it cold. The box even came with two spill proof ice trays!
How could we not mention the Previa? Debuting for 1990 in the U.S. it replaced the Van. Toyota thought it could compete with Chrysler’s offerings with unique styling and packaging. The Previa proved to be more popular than the Van, but it didn’t quite get the marketshare that Toyota was after. Its unique styling and equally unique mid-engine layout proved to be problems.
While enthusiasts look back on it’s mid engine layout as something cool, it came to be a bit of a problem for Toyota and buyers. The unique packaging requirements of the mid engine layout only allowed Toyota to offer a 2.4-liter 133 hp engine, nothing bigger. U.S. buyers wanted more power and Chrysler’s V6 powered vans were selling well. To remedy this, Toyota fit the 2.4-liter engine with a supercharger in 1994 resulting in 158 hp. Sales didn’t get better, and the Sienna replaced the Previa in 1997.
This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the Routan. VW wanted a minivan so it formed a partnership with the minivan experts at with Daimler Chrysler to rebadge theirs.
While the Routan got unique front and rear facias and a unique gauge cluster, it was otherwise nearly identical to the Town&Country/Caravan of the time. Chrysler didn’t let VW use it’s Stow n’ Go system, but engines were identical, with the Routan using Chrysler 3.8-liter and 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engines.
VW was over ambitious in its sales projections for the Routan; the brand predicted it would take five percent of the U.S. van market when it debuted in September 2008. By January 2009, VW told Chrysler to hold production of the Routan the following month because dealers had received 29,000 they couldn’t sell. By the summer, just under 12,000 had been sold. By 2014, it’s final year on the market, only 1,103 sold the whole year.
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