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The Big Idea: Practicality in its prime

30 Jun

As a vehicle type, the minivan is nearly 30 years old. Therefore, most of the major innovations have come and, if they were good ideas, stuck around. Think along the lines of dual sliding doors, seats that fold away into the floor and, gimmicky as it might be, the swivelling second row seats and hideaway table offered in the Dodge Grand Caravan.

So, what’s left? Not much, but a handful of manufacturers have included a couple of small, but useful, features in their recently-redesigned minivans.

In the Honda Odyssey, the second-row seats can move a few inches side-to-side, providing space to set three child seats across. And here’s a why-didn’t-I-think-of-that feature: a garbage bag ring that folds out of the back of the front-seat centre console – no more searching for an out-of-the-way place to hang a trash bag during those rolling road-trip fast-food lunches.

2011 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite

2011 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite; photo courtesy Honda. Click to enlarge

Every minivan available at the moment has a third-row seat that folds away into the floor; the cavity it fits into can be used for cargo when the seat is upright. But Nissan did something unique in its 2011 Quest by designing the seat to fold forward, instead of toward the back, leaving that storage well free even when the seat is stowed. Hard panels that fit over the opening provide out-of-sight storage for valuables.

2011 Nissan Quest SL

2011 Nissan Quest SL; photo by Chris. Click to enlarge

Less practical, but still cool, is the second-row lounge seat that can be optioned into the Toyota Sienna, creating the kind of luxurious seating normally reserved for ultra-luxury sedans.

2011 Toyota Sienna Limited V6

2011 Toyota Sienna Limited V6; photo courtesy Toyota. Click to enlarge.

What will they think of next for this most versatile of vehicle type? We’ll have to wait a few years, until the next round of redesigns, to find out.

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