Volkswagen Bus Van
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The 16 Best, Worst, and Weirdest Minivans of All Time

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Volkswagen Bus Van
Blade_kostas/istockphoto

Mini Van, Maxi Memories

If you’re under the age of 40, it’s hard to remember a time when there were no minivans. Before the early 1980s, families that needed a big vehicle to haul cargo and kids had just two options: a station wagon or a full-sized van. Then, Chrysler unveiled its minivans, and the auto industry was never the same. The ’80s and ’90s were a golden age for these car-based vehicles, as nearly every automaker started cranking out minivans of their own. These days, SUVs and crossover vehicles are the vehicle of choice for many drivers, and only a couple of companies still make minivans. Love ‘em or loathe ‘em, let’s take a look back at some of the best, worst, and weirdest minivans ever made.


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1963 Ford Falcon Club Wagon
1963 Ford Falcon Club Wagon by sfoskett (CC BY-SA)

Ford Econoline E100 (1961-1967)

There were a couple of precursors to the minivan emerging in the 1980s, and this model was one. Ford’s Econoline van rode atop a Ford Falcon platform, and the wheelbase was a very compact 90 inches long. The engine was mounted behind the front axle and the driver’s cab pushed to the front, maximizing interior space. It was available in passenger or cargo van configurations, and there was even a funky two-door pickup version.


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Volkswagen Type 2
Wikimedia Commons

Volkswagen T2 Microbus (1968-1979)

The first iteration of Volkswagen’s iconic microbus appeared in 1950, making it in a sense the minivan’s forebear. But it is the second-generation model known as the T2 that became an icon of the Flower Power generation. VW sold the T2 model in the U.S. until 1979, when it was replaced by the third-generation model, but it lived on in slightly modified form in Brazil until 2013. The company is promising an all-electric version in 2022.

 

Related: The Coolest VW Vans Through the Decades

No. 1: Dodge Grand Caravan
FCA US LLC

Dodge Caravan (1984-2020)

Plans for a carlike van had been proposed at Chrysler since the early 1970s, but it wasn’t until former Ford executives Hal Sperlich and Lee Iacocca reunited at Chrysler in 1978 that the minivan concept came to fruition. Launched in late 1983 as ’84 models, the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager were immediate hits, even if those first models were a bit clunky. Chrysler stopped production last summer on the Caravan, but will continue to make Pacifica and Voyager minivans.


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My Chevy Astro
My Chevy Astro by Roadsidepictures (CC BY-NC)

Chevy Astro (1985-2005)

General Motors’ answer to Chrysler’s minivan was a smaller version of a full-sized, rear-wheel-drive van. And that was precisely the point, based on the space-age TV commercials GM produced when the Astro debuted as an ’85 model. Options on the first-generation model included a futuristic digital speedometer, a "sport" two-tone paint scheme, and all-wheel drive (for 1990), a first for an American-built minivan. The van and its mechanical twin, the GM Safari, were redesigned for the 1994 model year and soldiered on until 2005.


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Toyota Van
Toyota Van by Mytho88 (None)

Toyota Van (1984-1989)

Toyota had been producing "mini" vans called the LiteAce and TownAce since the early 1970s in Japan. But it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that it brought a modified TownAce to the United States. Toyota never gave this van a special name for the U.S. market; it was just called "the van." The boxy, cab-forward design never caught on with buyers here, and it was soon succeeded by the Toyota Previa.

 

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Volkswagen Vanagon
Wikimedia Commons

Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro (1986-1993)

If the Volkswagen van is an icon, the Syncro is a cult object. Only about 5,000 of these vehicles were sold in the U.S. during its seven-year run. With four-wheel drive, 16-inch ground clearance, and a Westfalia pop-top camper option, these vehicles were designed for serious off-the-grid camping. But they were heavy, slow, and expensive — about $18,000 in 1986 or more than $44,211 today.

 

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1989 Ford Aerostar Eddie Bauer
Wikimedia Commons

Ford Aerostar (1986-1997)

Like Chrysler, Ford had engineers tinkering with think minivan concept since the early 1970s. When the Aerostar rolled into showrooms as a 1987 model, Ford touted its aerodynamic wedge shape as an advantage over its boxier competitors. (The company even used the space shuttle in print ads.) Ford rolled out the Aerostar’s replacement, the Windstar, in 1995, and the two minivans existed uncomfortably side by side for two years in showrooms. Awkward!


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Third generation Mitsubishi Delica
Third generation Mitsubishi Delica by Tennen-Gas (CC BY-SA)

Mitsubishi Delica 4WD (1986-2007)

Technically, Mitsubishi never sold the Delica in the U.S. But there are a rabidly dedicated bunch of Delica devotees here and in Canada that buy, sell, and trade used imported Delicas from Japan, according to Hagerty. Although Mitsubish has been building this van for domestic consumption since the late 1960s, it’s the third generation from the mid-’80s that you’re most likely to encounter on American roads — though fourth-generation models, built between 1994 and 2007, are starting to appear as well


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1989-1995 Mazda MPV
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Mazda MPV (1989-2006)

Mazda’s first dip in the minivan pool produced the oddly named Multi-Purpose Vehicle, aka the MPV. Unlike other minivans, the MPV had one distinctly carlike feature: The rear passenger door didn’t slide open like a van’s; it swung open like a sedan’s. Mazda also offered buyers the option of true four-wheel drive, a feature more commonly found on trucks and SUVs. A sleeker second-generation model arrived in 1999.


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1991-1996 Toyota Previa
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Toyota Previa (1990-1997)

Toyota’s next attempt at building a minivan resulted in the Previa, a jellybean on wheels with a pregnant-looking center dashboard that Autotrader once jokingly called "the supercar of minivans." It was better than the model it replaced, but the four-cylinder, mid-engine Previa was still a weakling when compared with American minivans' V-6 engines, and it never sold particularly well. These days, however, it has achieved something of cultlike status, as Motor Trend points out


Related: The Surprising History of the Toyota Land Cruiser

Pontiac Trans Sport (1990-1996)
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Pontiac Trans Sport (1990-1999)

Weird designs were a thing in the 1990s. Case in point: General Motors’ second-generation minivan line, which included the Trans Sport, all steep angles and rounded edges. For the 1996 model year, GM toned down the wedgelike exterior; in its final two years, the Trans Sport name was dropped altogether in favor of Montana (the "sporty" trim level and bestselling version of the van).

 

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1995-1996 Ford Windstar GL
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Ford Windstar (1994-2003)

Car and Driver called Ford’s second minivan model the weirdest minivan ever made, but that seemed a bit unfair, considering that the Pontiac Trans Sport and Toyota Previa were for sale at the time. It’s true that the extended driver’s door — designed to allow easier access to the passenger compartment — seems a bit odd in hindsight, as Car and Driver notes. Regardless, it sold in excess of 200,000 units for the first three years it was available. Even in 2003 (the last before being rebadged as the Freestar), Ford sold more than 110,000 vans.


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2020 Honda Odyssey
Honda

Honda Odyssey (1995-present)

Honda misjudged the U.S. market when it planned the first-generation Odyssey, and the "mini minivan" (as Motor Trend dubbed it) made a less than impressive debut. But if there’s one thing Honda knows, it’s how to learn from its mistakes — including building subsequent versions. The current model is the second-most popular minivan in the United States, according to 2021 sales figures, sandwiched between the league-leading Chrysler Pacifica and the No. 3-ranked Toyota Sienna.


Related: 2021 Honda Odyssey Offers Family-Friendly Comfort, Space, and Features

2018 Toyota Sienna SE
Toyota

Toyota Sienna (1998-present)

Toyota ditched the bulbous Previa for the 1998 model year with the more traditional-looking Sienna. Built at the company’s Georgetown, Kentucky, plant, the first generation of the Sienna quickly became a critical and buyer favorite, even if it never could quite match Chrysler's sales figures. The current model, the fourth iteration, appeared for 2020; an all-new 2021 model will include a hybrid engine as standard equipment.

 

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2015 Kia Sedona
2015 Kia Sedona by Dave Pinter (CC BY-NC-ND)

Kia Sedona (2002-present)

Kia was the first Korean carmaker to bring a minivan to the U.S. The models that began arriving in 2002 were cheap and reliable, and drivers bought enough of them that by 2006, Kia was producing a version of the Sedona for Hyundai, which branded it the Entourage. Hyundai got out of the minivan business a few years later, but Kia continues to build the Sedona.


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2017 Chrysler Pacifica Limited
2017 Chrysler Pacifica Limited by (CC BY)

Chrysler Pacifica (2017-present)

Demand for minivans is a fraction of what it was, but Chrysler still pumps them out. The current-generation Pacifica, once sold as the Town and Country model, is decidedly more upscale than those first vans — there’s even a plug-in hybrid model available. If that wasn’t fancy enough for you, there was an S sport edition that carried a base price of nearly $50,000. The company is also still making its Dodge Caravan minivan largely unchanged since a 2008 update, and it remains the bestselling minivan in the U.S.


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