2012 Minivan Comparison Test
Not all minivans are created equal, but in 2012 they are extremely competitive.
While a minivan may be the perfect vehicle for families, they can actually serve a functional transportation role for more than just moms-on-the-go. From a young crowd looking to make a road trip to business people transporting clients to the homeowner who wants to bring home a big screen TV, minivans offer the most effective people- and cargo-carrying capabilities of all vehicle types; assuming you’ve got the self-esteem to not be threatened by driving one.
Total Car Score tested three 2012 minivans, the Chrysler Town & Country, Nissan Quest and Toyota Sienna, to assess how each stacked up overall as well as in specific areas. Our three models were similarly equipped and priced competitively.
About Our Test Vehicles
2012 Chrysler Town & Country Limited ($42,595 MSRP with options and destination fee):
2012 Chrysler Town & Country Minivan Front Quarter - Courtesy of Chrysler LLC
The Chrysler Town & Country was redesigned for 2011, including subtle exterior changes, upgrades to the interior as well as a new 3.6-liter V6 and a refined suspension. These changes made the Town & Country more upscale and more in line with the top-selling Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey. For 2012, leather seats and a rear seat entertainment system are standard on all models.
2012 Nissan Quest 3.5 ($43,715 MSRP with options and destination fee)
2012 Nissan Quest Minivan Front Quarter - Courtesy of Nissan North America
The Nissan Quest received a thorough redesign for 2011, with the angular styling of the previous generation replaced with a tall, slab-sided design that is typical of minivans. The interior was redesigned as well and more luxury features were added to the top trim levels. The result is a minivan that is a stronger contender in this segment than ever before. The 2012 Nissan Quest is essentially unchanged from 2011, though satellite radio is now offered as standard on the SV and SL trim levels.
2012 Toyota Sienna Limited 3.5L ($45,570 MSRP with options and destination fee)
2012 Toyota Sienna Minivan Front Quarter - Courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales
Redesigned for 2011, the Toyota Sienna model line-up was expanded to include a new base model with a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine as well as the sporty SE, which offers a sport-tuned suspension and sportier exterior styling. For 2012, several new features were added as standard to the Sienna's XLE trim level, including automatic headlights and a power passenger seat.
Complete details about each test vehicle are listed below.
Driving Impressions Despite the fact that all three minivans were similar in size and power, each provided a very different experience from behind the wheel. In terms of performance, the Chrysler Town & Country felt the least refined even though it was tops in horsepower, producing 283 horsepower at 6,400 rpm versus the Sienna's 266 hp at 6,200 rpm and the Quest's 260 hp at 6,000 rpm. The Town & Country's 3.6-liter V6 was noisier than both of its competitors, while its transmission shifts came slightly later and were harsher than the Sienna. While the Quest was the least powerful of the group, it's continuously variable transmission still provided a quicker response than the Town & Country, especially off-the-line and when passing (though it too didn’t offer the throttle response of the Sienna). In terms of handling, the Quest was the most nimble of the trio. By comparison, the steering felt numb in the Sienna and heavy in the Town & Country and both vehicles felt less stable when cornering than the Quest.
The height of the dashboard in relation to the driver's seat and the rake of the windshield made the Sienna feel smaller than the others, despite the fact that the Quest is nearly identical in length. The Town & Country is two inches longer than its two competitors and the headrests in the third row combined with the thick C pillar made it feel much larger than the others.
Interior Design and Function Overall, the interiors of all three minivans reflected high quality materials and felt quite luxurious. All models were equipped with leather seating surfaces, captain's chair buckets in the first and second rows and a bench seat in the third row. The drivers’ seats in every van offered eight-way power, and all vans had heated front seats and a tilt and telescoping steering wheel with steering-wheel-mounted controls. The controls on the dashboard and center stack were also clearly arranged and intuitive in every competitor.
The Quest received some negative feedback from our testers, who all noticed that they needed to reach over or around the transmission shifter when in drive in order to access primary audio and climate controls. Our testers, however, felt the Quest's navigation system was the easiest to use and provided the best display quality in all lighting situations.
2012 Nissan Quest Minivan Transmission Shifter - Courtesy of Nissan North America
The second row seats of all models were rated highly by our testers for comfort and legroom, since all models had second-row seats that slid fore and aft to provide more legroom. The Sienna, however, felt more spacious in terms of elbow room and headroom than its competitors. While all of the minivans had grab handles at the rear entrances, some testers noted the Quest's exterior running boards made for easier ingress and egress for rear seat passengers.
2012 Toyota Sienna Minivan Rear Interior - Courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales
Our minivan testers (all adults) had varying levels of comfort in the third row, though all felt the third row seats were acceptable for a short drive, particularly since all of these seats reclined. Some testers disliked the severe angle of the third-row seat bottom in the Town & Country, which tipped further backward than the Sienna and Quest. Our tallest tester felt cramped in the third row of the Quest -- more so than in its competitors -- however a shorter adult tester felt very comfortable in the Quest’s back row for longer drives. Both the Sienna and the Town & Country had full power third row seats. The Quest had a partial power mechanism, but also required manual interaction to fully fold the third row down. The Town & Country had a unique tailgate option where the third row flipped rearward, transforming the seat bottom into a seat back and the back into a seat bottom. Clearly the van to get if parking-lot parties are in your future.
In terms of cargo carrying capability, the third rows of the Sienna and Town & Country folded flat into the floor, whereas only the seat back on the third row of the Quest folds forward. This results in reduced and shorter cargo space compared to the Sienna and Town & Country. However, the Quest does have permanent under floor storage the others don’t offer. Only the Town & country had a second row that disappeared into the floor. The Quest's second row folded forward only, while the Sienna's second row was removable. Due to these designs, the Sienna had the greatest maximum storage capacity at 150 cubic feet (if you’re willing to pull those seats), followed by the Town & Country at 143.8 cubic feet and the Quest at 108.4 cubic feet.
Primary Features and Options Minivans are known for their wide array of comfort and convenience features to satisfy all occupants and our three test vehicles were no exception. All models came equipped with three-zone climate control and rear seat controls, as well as satellite radio with a USB interface and the all-important rear seat DVD entertainment system (with separate screens for the second and third rows in the Town & Country). Cup holders were plentiful on all models, as were storage bins.
All our test vehicles had power sliding exterior doors that could be operated from inside the vehicle or outside, as well as via the key fob. Our testers noted that children could most easily operate the interior door controls in the Sienna, while some children had trouble in the Quest due to the size of the button. The rocker-style button in the Town & Country proved the most difficult to operate for children and even some adults.
2012 Chrysler Town & Country Minivan Steering Wheel - Courtesy of Chrysler LLC
2012 Nissan Quest Minivan Dashboard - Courtesy of Nissan North America
2012 Toyota Sienna Minivan Dashboard - Courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales
Total Car Score Analysis After extensive testing our personal preferences line-up with the Total Car Scores earned by each of these minivans. The roomy and refined 2012 Toyota Sienna is not only our first choice but an industry favorite, with a Total Car Score of 80.37. The less polished, but still highly functional and feature-rich 2012 Chrysler Town & Country, with a Total Car Score of 77.79, comes next. Finally, the 2012 Nissan Quest offers unique styling and composed handling, but its compromises in function net it a below-average Total Car Score of 73.90.
While all three minivans are very similar in terms of price and features, both the Town & Country and the Quest received lower ratings from J.D. Power due to their lower reliability scores, bringing their TCS score down overall. In addition the Town & Country loses points for its reduced fuel economy, which is slightly lower than the segment average, and due to its 4 star rating from NHTSA in crash tests. The Quest loses points in safety because it received only an "acceptable" rating in roof strength tests from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.
Vehicles Tested 2012 Chrysler Town & Country Limited Base MSRP of Test Vehicle: $38,995 Options on Test Vehicle: Customer Preferred Package 29X with power sunroof, power folding third-row seat, load leveling and height control suspension, mini overhead console, dual rear overhead consoles ($1,795); Second row fixed buckets (removable) with third-row stow ($320); Uconnect Web by Mopar ($650). MSRP of Test Vehicle (including destination charge): $42,595
2012 Nissan Quest 3.5 LE Base MSRP of Test Vehicle: $41,350 Options on Test Vehicle: Dual opening glass moonroof ($1,350); Carpeted first, second and third row floor mats ($205) MSRP of Test Vehicle (including destination charge): $43,715
2012 Toyota Sienna Limited 3.5L Base MSRP of Test Vehicle: $39,300 Options on Test Vehicle: Limited Premium Package with Convenience Package with high intensity discharge (HID) headlamps, rain-sensing washer-linked variable intermittent windshield wipers, dual-view entertainment center with two wireless headphones, voice-activated touch-screen DVD navigation system with Panorama Camera including integrated backup camera display with two views (regular and wide-angle) and on-screen backup guides, JBL® AM/FM 4-disc CD changer, ten speakers, SiriusXM Satellite Radio with NavTraffic (includes 90-day trial subscription), auxiliary audio jack, USB port with iPod® connectivity, hands-free phone capability and music streaming via Bluetooth wireless technology ($4,915); Blizzard Pearl exterior paint ($220), Carpet floor mats with door sill protectors ($325). MSRP of Test Vehicle (including destination charge): $45,570
The manufacturer and Total Car Score provided these vehicles for the purposes of evaluation.