Dodge Minivans vs. Subaru Wagons

The quest for my next vehicle is officially underway. With my credit finally in good shape and a sizeable down payment, I should be able to get into just about anything I want. I'm weighing out two choices; Dodge Minivans or Subaru Wagons. I have looked around and priced a few, taken a look at the basics, and have looked at my passed experience with the Caravans (my old 1990 Caravan). While my research hasn't stemmed far beyond that, I have come up with some pros and cons. I haven't looked at mechanical issues for models of both beyond 2000, so aside from the Subaru's issues with head gaskets in their 2.5 liter engines, I don't know much beyond that.

Substantially more inexpensive compared to Subarus of equivilent mileage
Fold-and-Go storage on later models
More storage space
Cheaper to maintain
Cheaper to insure

Drives and handles more like a car
Better gas mileage
Decent space
Smaller in overall size
Would likely last longer
All-wheel drive

Feel free to chime in on your thoughts... I'm hoping to shell out about $6000 down on whichever I elect to go with. I'm honestly leaning towards the Caravans for saving a few bucks as I am sure my insurance is going to SKYROCKET after my accident gets officialized.

But yeah, that's where I'm at right now. What are your thoughts?

Late addition to Aaron's question below; I want nothing to do with SUVs. Even the small ones; more on personal preference, but insuraning those things around here is hardly cheap. I've heard some good things about the smaller ones, but they're not for me.
Don't forget, I'm not sure on what years, but I believe most years if not all years of Caravans, Dodge offered AWD on some model combination (Generally Grand Caravans I think, but I have seen a non-extended Caravan with it, so I don't know for sure).
For vehicles with similar mpg (2mpg difference between the vehicles you mention) , you may wanna look at range...
Quick check of the website:
Caravan: 19/26 w 20g tank
Outback/Forrester 2.5: 22/28 16.9/15.9g

Highway Range:

Caravan: 510mi
Outback: 473mi

I personally like the Outbacks... sporty, good review from a former coworker I had, and pretty decent mileage. Would also be better for questionable roads with AWD.

There's also the Toyota Matrix which starts around $16k and 28/34mpg for the 2wd and 26/31mpg for the AWD. (450mi range for the 2wd)

Have you ruled out small SUVS? The Honda CRV and Toyota Rav4 get upper 20s-30mpg.

From what Ive researched, you dont get anything for your buck with the small excuse for SUVs (RAV4 or CRV) They just want too much for them.
I am impressed with the Subaru Impreza wagon.
I have a Subaru Outback, I love it. I couldn't see buying any other type of car. My only and therefore biggest complaint about my Outback is the brakes. Subaru's have notoriously bad brakes. This could be resolved by just upgrading the whole brake system with after market stuff.

Chasing aside, there is no better car in the snow than Subaru. They perfected the all-wheel drive system. I may have to drive a little slower, but snow has never stopped me.
Last year was the first time I bought a car with chasing first and foremost in mind. I needed 1.) good gas mileage and 2.) lots of room for people and gear. I first looked at the Forester and Outback. The Outback is a smaller car, yet it costs more than the Forester. The Forester has everything the Outback does (AWD, etc) and has more interior room. But, the Forester was a little too small for the price, and I soon crossed it off the list.

I briefly considered a minivan, but gas mileage and cost were not as good as I had hoped. Windshields are also very expensive to replace on those.

I turned then to the Ford Escape and the new Freestyle wagon. The Escape was less expensive than the Freestyle but the interior seemed too primitive, plasticy, and small for a car that looked so roomy from the outside. The ride and feel was truck-like. Plus, its high center of gravity affects its handling and has a greater rollover risk.

The Freestyle was comfortable to drive and ride in and has a huge amount of space, especially when you lay all of the seats flat which is a very cool feature. The ride and handling is car, not SUV, and MPG was pretty good for a vehicle that size (26 mpg highway).

I ended up going with the Freestyle SE front-wheel drive version and it has been an excellent chase car. I have been seeing more and more of these on the road lately so you might find a few good pre-owned models to test out.
I'm just now reading a Consumer Reports review of the new Mazda5 van. They rate it above the Ford Focus wagon, FWIW.

The 5 Line
Body styles Wagon
Drive wheels Front
Trim lines Sport, Touring
Engines & transmissions
2.3-liter 4 (157 hp); 5-speed manual,
4-speed automatic
Base price range

HIGHS | Agility, ride, access, visibility, seats six, controls, value.
LOWS | Reserve power, road noise.

The Mazda5 is a microvan that possesses almost all the advantages of a traditional minivan yet is more agile, maneuverable, economical, and affordable. It has flexible, three-row seating for six people. Even with a navigation system, it costs less than $23,000.

The powertrain is relatively refined and responsive but could be more powerful. The Mazda5 was recalled for a potential exhaust fire in fall 2005. We cannot yet predict reliability for this new model.

BACK-DOOR SLIDER Each rear sliding door (above, bottom) has a roll-down window. Controls (above, top) are simple to use, except for the zigzag gated shifter. The navigation screen folds away when not in use.

FANNY PACKS Each second-row seat has a small storage bin under the cushion. A clever center tray flips out of one bin.


The Mazda5 rides comfortably with good isolation. The cabin is quiet except for some road noise and engine hum at highway speeds.

The Mazda5 proved the most agile and athletic in this group. Handling is responsive, with quick steering and well-restrained body lean. It also did well in our emergency avoidance maneuver.

Acceleration is adequate, but the 157-hp four-cylinder lacks reserve power for passing, climbing steep grades, and carrying a full load. Expect 23 mpg overall. The four-speed automatic transmission is smooth and responsive. A five-speed manual is also available.

Braking performance was very good overall. Low- and high-beam headlight distance is good, but a distinct cutoff reduces visibility over dips.


The interior is spacious and airy. Most materials are high quality and fit together well. The center console does not feel solid, though, and the headliner and visors feel insubstantial.

The driver sits high behind a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel. The expansive glass area provides good visibility to the front and sides, but a small rear window and thick roof pillars limit rear visibility.

The front seats are comfortable for short trips, but the cushions feel thin after awhile. Manual adjustments include driver height and lumbar. The second-row bucket seats offer plenty of head and leg room for all. But the third-row seat is useful only for small children, and then only if the second-row passengers move their seats forward.

Front and second-row access is easy thanks to large doors. Access to the third row is tight, although the second-row seats are fairly easy to fold and slide forward.

Most controls and displays are well-designed and intuitive. The optional navigation system uses an awkward joystick control for entries.

Cabin storage includes a large locking glove box and shallow trays. There are 10 cup or bottle holders.

Cargo room is very limited behind the third-row seats when they’re raised. With the seats folded, the Mazda5 holds 39 cubic feet of cargo, the most in this group.


Only the front-seat head restraints provide whiplash protection when lowered.

Driving with kids. Rear-facing infant seats may tilt in the second-row and are hard to secure in the third row

I loved my Dodge minivan. It was an AWD..and worked perfectly. Had lots of room to put stuff, etc..

ONLY issue I have with the transmission. Count on PULLING out your wallet every 120,000 miles for a rebuild. My old white one...yup...right after Manchester of 2003, it was time. Was stuck in first gear only. Wow..was I lucky it didn't happen a month earlier.


My wife still has a '98 AWD that has 123,000 miles, we just rebuilt the transmission in that one.

She wants to sell it now. Not worth a whole lot, but the transmission is perfect with the warranty. I might keep it around for a second chase vehicle...

Two good choices....tough decision.

Was doing some searching and found a guy in Monument (near Colorado Springs) who was selling a 1996 Chrysler Town and Country LX van for $6750 with ONLY 57,000 miles on it. Here's a post from his ad...

1996 Chrysler Town & Country LX with Leather
Excellent Condition, CRAZY low miles!

Miles: 57,XXX
Price: $6750 (or best offer)
Engine Type: 3.8 L V6 (this is the upgraded engine)
Horsepower: 166
Torque: 245 foot-pounds
Transmission: 4 speed overdrive automatic transmission
EPA Fuel Economy: 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway (We average around 22 combined)
Exterior Color: White
Interior Color: Tan Leather

Exterior Features: Alloy Wheels, privacy glass, driver & passenger sliding rear doors, rear wiper.

Interior Features: Leather seats, 7 Passenger, Power driver's seat, Premium Infinity speakers and amplifier, Pioneer CD in-dash, Outdoor Temperature gauge, trip-computer, Carpet floor mats, cargo mud-mat, Cruise Control, Separate passenger and driver temperature control, Air-conditioning, Sun Visor extensions, passenger side under-seat storage, sliding and removable 3rd row with wheels for easy in/out, wood-grain dash, sunglass holder.

Safety Features: Antilock Breaks, Driver and passenger air-bag.

Owner Notes: This car has VERY LOW MILES. You read it right, only 57,XXX miles!!! That's an average of less than 6,000 miles per year! This was my grandparent's car and they only used it at their winter house in Tucson. It has always been garaged. When they sold their house a year ago, they gave us their extra car. This is the 1996 - 2000 body style that was used on the Chrysler Town & Country, the Plymouth Voyager, and the Dodge Caravan. The style on the new ones hasn't changed too much and this van doesn't look dated at all! You cannot even buy a used sub-compact with this few miles for this price! The engine torque is equally as high as most cars with 250 horsepower, which gives the car plenty of get-up-and-go! The benefit to the lower power engine is that it gets better fuel economy than many new mini-vans. The car has been given regular maintenance and we appear to have most of the records (that my grandfather kept). Right before they gave us the car, they put about $1700 into replacing all the fluids and hoses. It has new front and rear brakes and new front wiper blades.

This is a LOT of car for the price I am asking, especially considering how few miles this car has. You will find a 1996 Town and Country for less, however, they will all have well over 100,000 miles. When I talked to someone at a used car lot, he said that with less than 60,000 miles, the car was just breaking in! Let this one take you and your family in style and comfort!

The reason we are selling this car is because we already have another mini-van, and we want to get a 4WD/AWD car as they don't seem to plow the roads where we live when it snows!

I'm meeting with him this weekend to check it out, but for the price and mileage, its hard to pass this up! I can't even find a minivan with this kind of mileage for near that price, even as old as it is. Hell, I checked out an '02 Caravan yesterday for $12000 with almost the exact same mileage. Helluva deal if this works out!

So I'll keep you all posted on this; will have to give him a $4000 deposit to hold it til the rest of my insurance and/or financial aid comes through. He'll keep the van til then, but I'll be damned if I'm going to let this get away.
Good catch, Tony! The miles on that are real nice. When I was looking for my car I had considered getting an AWD Dodge Grand Caravan/Chrysler Town and Country for my school/chase vehicle along with Subaru Outback; decided the vans were a little too soccer-momish for my tastes and would have liked to have gotten an Outback except then I found my Mercedes 300TE 4MATIC wagon and got it instead. Only thing I see that is a mark against this one you are looking at is it is only FWD. Not to be rude or anything, but I found one that might change your mind about the Town and Country:

1998 Dodge Grand Caravan

It's a dark green 1998 Dodge Grand Caravan SE with AWD and the 3.3 liter V6 (less powerful than the 3.8 but still plenty powerful and better on gas as well). It has only 75,882 miles and they're asking $7,995 for it. The price is very reasonable given the miles and the AWD. It's up at Valley Dodge in Boulder. One of my friends mom's has an AWD Grand Caravan and she loves it. The Grand Caravan is two model years newer, has only 18,000 more miles on it, and has the AWD, for about $1500 more than the Town and Country down in Monument, which has the lower miles and price but lacks the AWD. If I were in your shoes (and this is just my opinion, take it for what it's worth) I think that the Grand Caravan is comparable in miles and would be worth spending a little more to get the security of all wheel drive. I think it's worth considering how much money you might have to spend if you get the FWD Town and Country and during chase season you slide off a greasy dirt road in the middle of nowhere and have to have it towed. Do that two or three times and you're looking at around or over $1500 dollars for the towing bill, depending on how far from civilization you get stuck. :shock:
Also, the Town and Country is a white van; it'll show dirt/mud/grime like no other; the Grand Caravan is dark green and it won't look as dirty as the Town and Country would after a rollicking good chase.
This is just my advice, Tony, and I know you were like totally excited about that Town and Country in Monument, but honestly, dude: Splurge and go for the AWD, buddy. You'll probably save yourself alot of trouble during both the off season (snow time) and chase season (mud'n'flood time).

Your input is well taken, and I've had the discussion with many chasers on the same topic. My main reason for going with what I did was price; granted, it's only $1500 more, but the issue with that is spending more would likely cut into my chasing funds all-together. Also, the mileage/price was too much to pass up; I get an extra year on this ride compared to the one you linked. And just to make what you have look even worse, I had found a '02 Grand Caravan with 53,000 for $8000; all-wheel drive as well. So believe me, its not something I was intentially passing up, but you have to remember us college students don't make as much as we'd like living on our own here in Denver, so that extra $1500 I saved insures I get out this year. My insurance company may've totally came through for me and them some, but I still paid out of pocket for over $1500 in stuff, including the replacement of some of my gear, so out of the $5200 from the insurance company, I still had about $700 going to gear replacement, so I paid a bit out of pocket for the ride.

My style of chasing has worked around FWD; while AWD would be exceptionally great, its never something I've had, so I guess in that aspect, its not something I am missing. I am conservative when it comes to what roads I will chase, and if I do chase questionable roads, its always in a group of people to where if I find myself in trouble, I can get help. But aside from that, I work my hardest to avoid situations like that. And yes, while I know the ONE time I use it will make it all worth while... believe me, I do. And if it weren't a money issue, I would be all over that.

So trust me, Mark, I know. But when you look at it from a reality standpoint, how could I turn down paying $6750 cash (i.e. NO car payment) for a car with less than 60,000K miles, in great shape, and still manage to keep some money to actually use it chasing this year. You sacrifice, and the AWD was there. Will I regret it; likely. But I've chased with FWD for 6 seasons now (1990 Dodge Grand Caravan and 1999 Mercury Tracer) and I've had no complaints. Now, I've got a terrific vehicle in terrific shape with terrific miles that'll hopefully last me another 5 or 6 seasons. In essence, that's the important thing. And, I have an extra $1500 that I'll be able to chase with this season.

With all that in mind, there was no debate. Maybe in the future, I'll be able to afford both, but til then, I'll take my good deal and drive her into the ground. Shit happens, I know, but if I am staring at the same tornado as the guy in AWD, then it did its job. I just won't be able to drive down that muddy road to get right up next to her, that's all! :wink: