As usual, Beth took the lead role in researching both the best minivans on the market, and once we'd settled on a Honda Odyessy, what vehicles were available in the area. A 2010 Odyssey showed up in a search as being at our local Kendall Honda dealer, we called to check they had it, and went round to take a look.
They had it, but not ready for viewing, so we said we'd come back a few days later. We did the next Saturday morning, and having checked it out and played with the seating arranegments we were happy, short of a test drive.
This we arranged for the following Saturday, while we organised our finances and got the Mercury cleaned up ready to trade in. Once we had washed it twice and vacuumed the inside we stored it in the garage and Beth switched to my red Mazda for her work commute. Then on the Friday morning Beth got a call to say another party were interested in the van and were likely to buy it that day. Great. Oh well, it's not the only Odyssey on the market, so if it didn't sell we asked the car man to call us to let us know by 6pm, but if he didn't we assumed it was gone and the test drive was off.
No call, so on Friday evening we consoled ourselves that we had lost nothing except that we had a cleaner Mercury. On Saturday Beth went for a bike ride to look at the weekend's garage sales, and while she was out I received the call to say the other couple had not bought it after all. I called Beth on her cellphone, she came back and we packed Ed into the Mercury and headed off to the dealer fairly promptly.
The next three hours we spent doing a test drive, and then negotiating the deal. Beth was lead negotiator, while I kept Edward entertained. By 3pm we were the owners, and headed back home, all in need of a break.
Minivans are all very similar really, and when you see one on the road it takes a trained eye to spot the make, but every major manufacturer has one in their lineup, because they are very practical for families.
You can always spot a minivan because the doors slide, so the handles are at the front of the doors. Ours are electric, so a tug on the handle, press of a button on the dashboard, or even a button on the remote control, will slide the doors open, one button for each door.
We liked the Honda because it has good safety records, and the seating is arrangeable in many different ways. The rearmost row of 3 seats folds down with ease to form a big flat cargo area, with a 60/40 split as is popular these days, and the middle row can be removed completely if required, to make a truly van-sized space.
The van fits in our garage as you can see above, with plenty of space still either side, especially with the sliding doors. Very useful when it's pouring with rain, or even brighting with sun, and you're trying to get a baby out without waking him.
To get into the trunk when in the garage we need to have the garage door open, not a big issue because we're still checking the back clearance every time we park. There's a handy joint in the concrete floor to line up on, and so far we've been perfect every time. The tailgate is lighter than on Beth's old Mercury, and we checked the roof clearance before letting it swing right up. It's also thinner, so I don't keep bashing my bonce every time I duck in for something. I hated that on the Mercury.
In our current arrangement we've taken out the central console in the second row of seats (it forms a middle seat when wanted) and moved the right side seat across towards the middle to take our 5 month old son Edwards' baby seat. Very soon we'll be putting a bigger baby seat in there for him, as he's getting almost too big for the current one, and that will last until he's 3-4 years old, converting from rear-facing to forward facing at a certain age/size. It's easy to nip between the two front seats and into the second row, so if Ed needs attention the passenger can attend to him without leaving the vehicle.
My parents always managed with an estate car (station wagon), once their family of three boys and two parents got too big to fit the tiny Singer Chamoir that I remember from my very early childhood. Of course minivans didn't exist in their modern form until the Renault Espace came out in 1984.
Our first staion wagon was a Renault 12 estate. The Renault I remember mostly for having black plastic seats, practical for wiping spills but prone to soaking up the sun's rays and burning the backs of your legs if you were foolish enough to be wearing shorts on a hot day.
After the Renault coughed its last we had a Peugeot 305 estate, bought brand new from a local dealer with about 16 miles on the clock. It was the first of its particular specification in the country, and someone had put the fuses in wrong with the result that the central door locking worked once to unlock all the doors, then failed until we figured out the problem and got the correct fuse in place. The Peugeot had cloth seats thank goodness, though by then my legs were long enough to avoid the searing pain of hot plastic against tender thigh.
Eventually the Peugeot got too old to continue maintaining and my parents invested in a Mercedes, not sure of the model, a reflection of the greater disposable income they had now they were not supporting three greedy and growing boys. Mercedes are built to last, and they are still driving this one.
So a MiniVan never entered my consciousness until I was in the USA, but here every fourth family seems to have one, unless they have an enormous SUV or pickup truck, and often as well as a second vehicle (which is often an SUV or huge pickup truck). The minivan usually becomes mom's workhorse, while dad has something to get him to work and back. In our nuclear family the roles have been reversed.
We feel we've done well to get a 2010, because searlier models lacked the auxiliary input vital to have an mp3 player connected to your stereo. It's one of those elephants in the room that car dealers don't like to talk about, but vehicles with cassette players (such as our 2002 Mercury Sable) can play mp3s using a casette adaptor, not pretty (you have a wire hanging out of the casette deck) but cheap (around $10 for the cassette adaptor).
By 2007 some manufacturers were putting auxiliary inputs on their car stereos (such as in my 2007 Mazda 3), but not all were so forward thinking. If your vehicle has a CD/radio but no auxiliary jack you're stuck, because there is no adaptor that will fit in a CD player to play mp3s. On long journeys you're stuck with CDs or a variety of poor radio stations always detuning as you move out of their range, so you better burn some CDs for entertainment. In fact our van has a CD stacker in the dash, so we can pre-load six cds as well as having our iPods, but to be honest unless we buy CDs while travelling I can't see myself using that.
One of our friends has a rented 2011 Odyessy, having previously had a 2006, and they report that the vision and a few other things are actually worse in the redesign. The 2006-2010 is thus more desiresable to us, in good condition, than a 2011.
We were pleased that our van did NOT have build in DVD players or a navigation system. It's easy enough to get after-market DVD players if your kids nag you enough, but we'd rather have our family chatting, playing Highway Bingo, or reading quietly, than have back seat passengers locked into their own little fantasy world. Build in navigation system are a pain if they go wrong, and as we already have our own Garmin GPS systems we don't need to pay for another one.