Which Minivans Have All Wheel Drive?by Richard Rowe
Minivans aren't an endangered species in the sense that they're likely to disappear altogether anytime soon -- but crossovers have thinned the herd quite a bit. Back in the 1990s, manufactures started pushing light trucks and off-road vehicles in advertising for corporate smog and fuel economy credits; since then, minivans as a class have been getting steadily shoved out of the market for vehicles that are effectively minivans, but aren't. Indeed, for some time, only one manufacturer even offered an all-wheel-drive minivan.
Extinct GM Models
General Motors was at one time a major player in the four-wheel-drive people-carrier game. Its truck-based, full-sized four-wheel-drive vans were legends in their own time. Later S-10-based smaller vans like the Astro and GMC Safari came with all-wheel drive, but -- being truck-based -- they weren't technically "minivans." GM's first foray into minivans came with the 1990 U-platform, which went through two more generations before it died out in 2009. All minivans based on this platform were offered with AWD. They included the Chevrolet Lumina APV, Oldsmobile Silhouette, Pontiac Trans Sport in the first generation; the Pontiac Montana and Chevrolet Venture replaced their forebears in 1997, and ran through 2005. Last-generation U-Platform minivans included the Buick Terraza, Chevrolet Uplander, Pontiac Montana and Saturn Relay.
The Dodge Caravan was the world's first minivan, and it -- along with its corporate sibling, the Chrysler Town & Country -- were the standard-bearers for true AWD minivans for more than a decade. Counted together, these twins have outsold every other minivan in the world, combined. And they continue to outsell all of them, though the Honda Odyssey, as of 2014, outsells either of them individually. All-wheel drive first appeared with the Chrysler Town & Country in 1990, and the Caravan and its little sister the Plymouth Voyager got it that same year. The option remained on the Chrysler minivan books -- except for the 1996 model year -- until 2004, when Stow N' Go seating took up the space formerly reserved for the rear differential. As of 2014, Chrysler and Dodge minivans come in front-drive only. However, AWD is slated to return with the Chrysler's 2015 redesign, which will also include a whole host of interior and chassis refinements and likely enough power to compete with Honda and Toyota.
Ford and Honda
Ford was never big into the AWD minivan game; since the mid-1990s, trucks and SUVs have been the company's bread and butter. That remained true even in the minivan world, as Ford chose to go the same route as GM and base its Aerostar "minivan" on a Ranger pickup chassis. Again, not technically a minivan, since minivans are based on cars by definition. But, they did come with AWD all during the Aerostar's brief production run, from 1990 through the 1997 model year. The Honda Odyssey is another minivan that, as of 2014, doesn't and never did come with all-wheel drive. But Honda, Chrysler's fiercest competitor in the minivan market, isn't going to get left behind by Mopar. The 2015 model Odyssey is getting a mid-cycle refresh of its own, and a new AWD system to go with it.
If you were to look up classified ads for "AWD minivans" for sale, you might get about 10 pages worth of results. Eight of those pages would be nothing but Toyota Siennas. Since Dodge left the market, Toyota has had a field day as the only manufacturer still offering AWD minivans. If you own an AWD minivan newer than 2004, it's a Toyota. And that's no bad thing, because even in front-drive trim, the Sienna comes in a very close second place to the Honda Odyssey in auto reviewers' rankings -- well ahead of Dodge, Chrysler, Nissan or Kia. It handles like an aircraft carrier compared to Honda's comparatively sprightly offering, but the muscular Sienna can definitely get down in a straight line. It's hard to say how Toyota will fare after next year, when juggernauts Honda and Chrysler come to ruin its fun as the only AWD minivan provider out there. With all three 2015 models offering new refinement, and plenty of power going to all four wheels, the sales race will almost certainly end up a photo finish.
Richard Rowe has been writing professionally since 2007, specializing in automotive topics. He has worked as a tractor-trailer driver and mechanic, a rigger at a fire engine factory and as a race-car driver and builder. Rowe studied engineering, philosophy and American literature at Central Florida Community College.