They come in all shapes and sizes.
The 2021 Toyota Sienna offers the most extensive upgrades we've seen on a minivan for quite a while. Toyota made the bold choice to offer its latest family hauler as a hybrid only, yielding an impressive EPA-estimated fuel economy average of 36 miles per gallon. The Sienna has other impressive features, including available all-wheel-drive, tons of standard safety technology, and even a built-in vacuum cleaner and refrigerator.
Unfortunately, all of these cool toys for your family don't come for free. The least expensive LE grade starts at $34,460, and if you want a fully-loaded Platinum grade with all the bells and whistles, you'll pay over $50,000. There are plenty of parents out there who aren't ready to drop so much money for a vehicle that their kids are just going to destroy. So we've come up with seven cheaper options that are all available on the used market.
Instead of including an older model year Sienna, we decided to pick a different Toyota, the last-generation Highlander Hybrid. Not only does the Highlander allow us to keep it in the Toyota family, but it also gives buyers a similar (albeit more power) hybrid drivetrain. While the new Sienna makes do with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, the outgoing Highlander uses a 3.5-liter V6 paired with electric motors to produce a total of 306 horsepower (compared to 243 hp in the new Sienna).
Fuel economy isn't as impressive with a 29 mpg average, but some people will happily take the trade-off for more cylinders and more power. It's also less spacious, but some buyers will sacrifice space in order to drive a cooler SUV instead of a minivan. You can easily find this used Highlander Hybrid starting at $20,000.
We tried our best to be creative with our picks here, but sometimes the best alternative is the most obvious choice. The fifth-generation Honda Odyssey has been on the market since the 2018 model year, and used examples have already come down significantly in price. You can buy a pre-facelift Odyssey starting at under $20,000 with a 280-hp V6 engine.
Perhaps your van needs are more professional than personal, which is why the Ford Transit Connect makes our list. Available as either a passenger or cargo van, the Transit Connect offers a bit more flexibility for someone needing a van for work purposes. The new Sienna, admittedly, offers more space with all of its seats taken out, but since Toyota no longer allows you to remove the second row chairs, the Transit Connect offers more practicality. You can pick up a used Transit Connect for under $10,000.
Like the Transit, the Mercedes-Benz Metris comes in passenger and cargo variants depending on your needs. Thanks to a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine, the Mercedes produces 208 hp compared to 150 hp in the Ford. It also has a more upscale interior, in case your family or clients desire a more plush environment. If you opt for the cargo variant, you'll get a whopping 183 cubic feet behind the first row, which dwarfs the Transit Connect. You can find a used Metris starting around $15,000.
We get it; the image of a minivan will never be "cool" in the eyes of many car buyers. Well, what if the minivan doesn't have the sliding rear doors? Mercedes-Benz had a short-lived model called the R-Class, which was essentially a cross between an SUV and a minivan. The R-Class sold from 2007 to 2012, receiving a facelift for 2011 before being discontinued after the following model year. You can buy a facelift Mercedes-Benz R-Class starting around $12,000 with a choice of a V6 gas or diesel engine.
Minivans lack the bulk of most full-size SUVs, but they can still be quite cumbersome to maneuver. For about a decade in the US, Mazda offered a more compact alternative called the Mazda5. Rather than compete with mainstays like the Odyssey and Sienna, the Mazda5 offered a much smaller package that could fit into tight parking spaces and was more frugal than its V6 contemporaries. The used Mazda5 is also one of the most enjoyable minivans to drive, and you can even get one with a manual transmission. Prices for the US second-generation model start at less than $5,000, and the nicer third-generation ones aren't much more expensive.
The Chevy HHR was a strangle little retro car that blurred the lines between a van and a hatchback. In 2008, Chevy went mad and decided to build an SS variant using the same 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder found in the Cobalt, producing a stout 260 hp; you could even get it with a manual transmission. The styling is polarising but the used HHR SS is one of the quickest little vans around. You can find an automatic SS for less than $5,000 while the manual ones command a bit more. Chevy even built an HHR Panel SS, though they are incredibly rare and priced accordingly.