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Minivan Buyer's Guide - 2004

by Martha Hindes

Despite being a longtime butt of jokes by late night comics and some testosterone-challenged lead-footers, minivans for the sensibly savvy still have a rock solid following. They do for a very good reason. They work. Sure, they won't clamber up a rock pile as nimbly as some hardier sport utilities -- if at all -- and they won't take a corner at breathtaking speed, but so what. The true minivan lover knows (with a secret smile, perhaps) that the assets of this treasured find make those claims to fame pale by comparison.

Consider how a minivan or its close derivatives can be used. What else can stow a dozen bags of groceries, or cases of wine for a major party, with little effort needed to hoist them inside. Same for climbing in or out of the sliding side doors. (Minivan makers have learned to put the deck at a truly practical height.) They're a natural for those with narrow garages or driveways that don't want to ding a door every time they unload the rear seats. And for folks such as moms juggling groceries and preschoolers and puppies all at once, or a family on a multi-state driving trip, few vehicles can match the minivan's comfort, versatility and just plain practicality -- especially with progeny in the rear occupied by some eye-popping DVD cartoons via wireless earphones. (Guess who's laughing now.)

As minivan jokes have grown stale and the segment has matured as a group, some automakers are looking for new ways to identify and to dress them. (GM's "crossover sports van" for its upcoming four-pack of models comes to mind.) And they're adding even more refinements and delightful little surprises that can make having one a pleasure -- disappearing rear seats; a flip-over perch for tailgating; a second row seat that slides sideways to separate two battling siblings who moments before were poring over cartoons with seats pushed together; tons of entertainment options for the long, long trip. With growing interest, ROAD & TRAVEL Magazine offers the following perspectives about a vehicle where, presumably, the best is yet to come.