The Anti-Minivan Guide to the Best Family Cars


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6 min read

When we hear “minivan” we think function, family, and safety, but not usually style and performance. Minivans have their purpose, and that purpose is usually kid carting more than main drag flexing. At Quoted, we have a lot of respect for people who drive minivans—we interviewed a psychologist who told us that people who drive minivans often place the, “Importance of their role as a parent and their sense of responsibility,” above other car-related concerns (like speed, style, hipness—though some people can definitely rock a minivan).

We wondered: if minivans are so chronically un-cool, what’s the appeal? New York-area minivan driver (and mother of four young children), Tanya D’Agostino, gave Quoted the inside scoop: “You need a minivan just to fit in, otherwise you get asked a million times, ‘How do you cart your children around without it?’ I kid you not, the nursery school parking lot has my van in every color. But the truth is that is comes down to convenience.”

While we don’t mean to knock minivans (or their drivers) we wanted to know: are there vehicles with the great minivan features that also have some style and perks, like better handling, too? We asked the experts (who gave a resounding “Yes!”). Our guide to the top three minivan alternatives, below.

FORD FLEX, 2015

ford flex 2015
Starting MSRP: $29,100
Gas Mileage, City/Highway: 18/25
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) 2015 Safety Rating: Top Safety Pick
Five-year True Cost of Ownership Total (from Edmunds, 2015 model with 3.5L V6 6-speed Automatic engine): $57,957
Seats: 6-7

Mike Rabkin, of From Car to Finish, told Quoted that since the Ford Flex came out in model year 2009, it has been, “The first choice as a minivan alternative.” And with good reason.

Minivan Features:
Three rows of seats (with a storage-maximizing, tailgate-enhancing Powerfold® third row)
Second row refrigerated console (which can even freeze drinks)

Beyond the Minivan:
Curve control, “Which allows the vehicle to stay more under control during turns,” says Rabkin.
Two engine choices, detailed by Rabkin, “The 287 Horsepower, 3.5L V6 (FWD or AWD), or 365 Horsepower twin turbo 3.5LV6 (AWD only), which is a screamer.”
Modern style and a customizable Appearance Package

Quoted even featured the Ford Flex in our summer list of “The 10 Best Road Trip Cars,” declaring the Ford Flex is decidedly different from our idea of a “Mom (or Dad) Mobile.”

“The downside, of course,” Rabkin tells us, “it’s missing the very useful minivan sliding doors.”

HONDA PILOT, 2016

2016 honda pilot suv outdoor
Starting MSRP: $29.995
Gas Mileage City/Highway: 19/27
IIHS 2015 Safety Rating: Top Safety Pick
Five-year True Cost of Ownership Total (from Edmunds
2016 model, LX 3.5L V6 AWD 6-speed Automatic): $52,359
Seats: 7-8

Rabkin told Quoted he thinks the 2016 Honda Pilot, “Drives more like a somewhat sporty family sedan,” than an SUV. Rabkin explained that he isn’t crazy about the Pilot before model year 2016, but since the redesign, he sees the Pilot as a great minivan alternative. For drivers who aren’t familiar with the Pilot’s latest, Rabkin detailed how Honda improved the vehicle, and what makes it great for families. His take:

Minivan Features:
Honda’s third row “magic folding” seat, which folds flat into the floor. (Honda was the first manufacturer to offer this feature, which basically all minivan manufacturers now offer).
Ample interior seating and storage space
Easy access to the third row seat, which is usable for adults
Good cargo space behind the third row

Beyond the Minivan:
Very comfortable front row seats
Intuitive and simple to operate interior gauges and controls
Upscale interior feel
Responsive 280 Horsepower 3.5L V6 engine
Low interior noise levels
A refined ride, with great handling

TOYOTA HIGHLANDER, 2015

toyota highlander 2015
Starting MSRP: $29,765
Gas Mileage City/Highway: 20/25
IIHS 2015 Safety Rating: Top Safety Pick
Five-year True Cost of Ownership Total (from Edmunds LE 2.7L 4-cylinder 6-speed Automatic): $49,536
Seats: 8

Rabkin told Quoted, “Since its 2014 redesign, the Highlander has become a good all around vehicle, doing everything well. Couple that with Toyota reliability and resale value, and you’ve got a safe choice.”

Minivan Features:
Extra room between the seat and the roof, for easy in and out access
The third row has a 60/40 split that can fold flat and recline
Advanced airbag system

Beyond the Minivan:
Adjustable power lift gate
Three zone automatic climate control
Blind Spot Monitor, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, and Lane Departure Alert
5,000 lb towing capacity

Rabkin said of the post-2014 redesign, “I’d also say it looks better, but looks are subjective.”

And for those who just can’t give up the convenience of a minivan, Rabkin told Quoted “The Honda Odyssey is known to be the minivan that drives the least like a minivan.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but not everyone loves minivans, of course.

Tanya D’Agostino—our New York-area mom—who drives a Honda Odyssey herself, told Quoted why she’s sticking with her minivan (at least until her youngest is big enough to climb into an SUV by himself). D’Agostino said, “The van is most helpful while walking through a busy parking lot with a squirmy toddler in one hand and bag of groceries in the other. I can push my remote button from afar and the door opens—the overall best part for me!” And those automatic doors come in handy for child-wrangling, too. D’Agostino told us, “Some of the other moms and I like to push our remote door openers when we are trying to end a play date at the park. For some reason it catches the children’s attention better than us trying to round them up. All the little heads run to their designated van, and voilà!”

So there you have it—some great minivan alternatives (for drivers willing to give up that automatic-door convenience). If you’re in the market for a more stylish, more fun-to-drive vehicle with great safety ratings and reasonable prices, remember, you aren’t confined to the minivan!

If you’re in the habit of carting lots of passengers, we’d love to know what type of vehicle you drive and why it works for you—tell us in the comments. Minivan love also accepted!