Chart Of The Day: Is Minivan Fuel Mileage A Big Part Of The Problem?

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
chart of the day is minivan fuel mileage a big part of the problem
“America’s minivan segment generated only 3.4% of the U.S. auto industry’s new vehicle volume in 2014, down from 5.2% in 2007.”

So said I earlier this week in my review of the updated 2015 Toyota Sienna, the only remaining all-wheel-drive minivan.

The Sienna was America’s top-selling minivan in each of the last three months. And although the accompanying chart displays its official EPA mileage ratings at 16/23 mpg on the city and highway, front-wheel-drive Siennas are rated at 18/25. Forget the 14.4 mpg we saw during our test. Temperatures were brutal, the vehicle spent much of its time idling as we attempted to clear it (along with every other car on the street) of multiple inches of ice, the city streets on which the Sienna spent most of its stay were mostly snow-covered, and the van was fresh off the assembly line.

But could we have reasonably expected more than 16 mpg in city driving? Not according to the EPA.

A 2005 all-wheel-drive Sienna was also rated at 16 miles per gallon in the city, and it was marked down on the highway by just one mpg compared with our 2015 version. But at that time, the most efficient 4WD Ford F-150 was rated at 13 mpg in the city.

Pickup trucks have made massive progress. Ford’s 2.7L EcoBoost V6 is rated at 18 mpg in 4WD trim today.

Minivans are impressive vehicles. But are we surprised that in a relatively em-pee-gee-conscious society, a dearth of progress will be rewarded when other vehicle categories are leaping forward?

Timothy Cain is the founder of, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures.

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  • Gearhead77 Gearhead77 on Feb 22, 2015

    Our 14 Odyssey gets around 14-17 city depending on weather, traffic,fuel blend,etc. That's about 2 mpg below the 19 city EPA and that 2 mpg difference is about what I've gotten with every car I've owned. The hills and roads of Pittsburgh are not kind to fuel economy. Our 08 Mazda 5 is around 16-18 mpg, well below the 22mpg city EPA. The 2.3 has to work fairly hard all the time. So in getting the Odyssey, we gained a ton of space, refinement and capability for not a lot less real world fuel economy. Sliding doors are awesome with kids, as is the power hatch. The kids love to push the button to close their own door. The folding rear seat and low liftover soundly trumps any SUV/CUV I've experienced. We don't tow or go off-road. I buy snow tires and they suffice for 90% of winter driving that happens. AWD to me is a waste, we had an 03 Legacy and the 4 times in four years the AWD really proved itself wasn't worth the MPG penalty. I for one would welcome a diesel minivan, but it probably will not happen in the US. Real world 22mpg city or better, with all the twist I need for the hills? Sign me up. Even a hybrid would work, but my experience with Toyota's system is you need to drive like a roadblock to get the economy they rate them at. I just drove a rental Prius C all highway as close to consistent 80 mph as I could ( no cruise on this one) and it returned 35 mpg, well below its 46 mpg rating. I'm sure my brothers Jetta Sportwagen TDi has trumped that, driven in the same manner, and been a much better driving car all the way around. Diesel electric hybrid minivan?

    • See 1 previous
    • Gearhead77 Gearhead77 on Feb 24, 2015

      @HotPotato I'm fully aware that EPA testing isn't done at 80mph. But my point is I've seen just as many Prius and other hybrids doing well over the speed limit as crawling along under it. My other point is that trying to keep pace with traffic isn't going to yield that EPA mileage either. For most of my driving experience, very few people obey the speed limit to the letter. Not only on highways, but local roads too. It seems that to most people:4 lanes=highway speeds. A main road near me, four lanes but a narrow four lanes, is marked for 35. Anything under 40, you're getting flattened and 50 is common. We all have anecdotal stories for this. (I realize speed limits can be set too low and you can't control how people drive, but that's a different thread) 80 mph is 10 over on the Ohio turnpike. A fairly straight, flat, mostly 6 lane road (3 lanes east and west at times). My Altima returned 30mpg driven the same way on the same route (with cruise), 3 mpg under its rating. My Mazda 5 returned 25 mpg fully loaded with the A/C on. 2 mpg under its rating on the same route. In my mind, 80 in a Prius C ( which should have cruise, which I think the '15 does) should have yielded 40 mpg, not 35. Cruise might have given me another 1-2 mpg. If it had been warmer, maybe another mile per gallon, maybe more. So 40mpg might have been possible, at the same speed, just not that night. But still a large drop compared to what most people would expect. The Prius C still drove like a Prius, which to me, is awful. But I wanted to try it out. I did drive the Prius briefly in full EV mode. It said it achieved 70mpg equivalent. But to get that, I had to slowly accelerate, much more slowly than I feel is safe. Also, when I had to slow down for weather and a lower speed limit, the mileage didn't improve, but I was in the hills of western PA by then too. My initial brief drive to the highway was 45mpg avg in 25 degree F. I'd be a fan of hybrid minivan. Around town, where our van spends 90% of its miles, I feel it would benefit. On the highway, not so much, but that would be an acceptable trade-off.

  • BrunoT BrunoT on Feb 23, 2015

    Not nearly as big a part as awkward looks, sloshy handling, and zero sex appeal. When people spend a lot of money on something it'd be nice to like how it looks and feel a little cool in it.

    • Willyam Willyam on Feb 23, 2015

      While that's true, the third kiddo pretty much non-surgically removes all sex appeal anyway (unless you're Brad and Angelina, of course). I have had to vacuum the cheerios out of the back of a rental Mustang, so yes, the itch is still there every now and then.


    I now own my third minivan and my "children" have four legs each. They like entry and exiting because of the ease offered by the minivan design. The first van was a 2000 Oldsmobile Silhouette GL, then a 2004 Silhouette GLS and now a 2005 Buick Terazza CXL. While driving the 2004 Oldsmobile we had a head-on collision with an HDLL (High Desert Low Life) who was speeding 90 mph and met us at the crest of one hill out of 24 on the southern leg of Highway 395 in southern California. My Silhouette was totaled but the ABS and my reactive swerving saved our lives (and the dog and cat!). The LowLife was out looking for a place to buy more beer as the meth, cocaine and marijuana was not enough for him. That driver escaped, running across the midnight desert and was caught at 3 AM waiting for a liquor store to open at 6 AM. The 2000 and up GM minivans were extensively restructured to pass the offset collision tests. The long hood design of the 2005 versions made them even safer in a collision. Plus the Buick minivan is the best style to apply Amtrak Phase III paint and stripes to emulate the SDP40F locomotive #622 from 1983!

  • Fellswoop Fellswoop on Feb 28, 2015

    Rare, rare species here: Late model Odyssey owner by choice, V1 on dashboard, no kids, two-human 1 vehicle family, where the van is the do-everything mobile. Kid of the 70's-early 80's, loved the A-Team van and the Mystery Machine, my first car was a 3-on-the-tree 81 Econoline E-150 that served as a comfy mobile hangout for privacy seeking teens, AND went insanely quickly down tiny back country roads once you learned its quirks. All hail Sabine Schmitz. I have a steep driveway and a sh!__y commute, and it has not been a problem. Any FWD deficit to AWD for confident driving in *record-breaking* NE snow is more than made up for with de-activatible traction control, ESC, ABS and a set of very good winter tires (braking/handling FTW), replaced with stickier summer shoes on different rims for summer. FWD allows for consistent, no BS 20mpg in 50/50 rapid highway/very dense urban commute, driven in a manner that does not involve frequently being passed or beaten from a light by other motorists. For road trips, for which this vehicle has few peers, MPGs are in the very high 20's with cruise control at realistic traffic velocities, mid-low-20's when someone in a much more noticeable vehicle is running rabbit at higher speeds over long distances. When I bought it, the general reaction of co-workers, etc (outside of close friends who'd been hearing about the virtues of vans for years) was shock and confusion (what? you're not starting a family?) mixed with "who farted" faces, and some pity. If I had bought a fancy SUV rather than a minivan, it would have fit better into the new-car-advancing-career narrative everybody's comfortable with. I was prepared for this reaction, and actually kind of enjoyed it; contrarian pleasure aside, I was generally too busy being psyched about my rapid lockable funroom, screening "Style Wars" or (even better for late night ass-hauling) "Fantastic Planet" to my passengers on the foldaway TV as we rushed into the city for fun, to care. In several years of happy ownership, I'd sum up the effect as similar to when you're the guy with the pickup truck in your circle of friends (except lets face it, vans are way more practical (weather proof lockable box) for moving anything besides dung or rocks) AND the guy with the best road trip vehicle, with dignified and comfortable seating for adults in all 3 rows. It's regularly used for carpooling with 2-4, occasionally up to 6 friends to events on weekends (works great for me as I prefer driving myself). It has effortlessly carried mulch, slate paving stones, wood, large furniture, 29er MTB and recumbent bicycles, snowblowers, rental equipment, skis, small kayaks, and building supplies, frequently with passengers at the same time. Camping/sleeping in it with room for 2 full size adults and their stuff is practical and easy. Sneaky power nap during lunch break? No prob. Things like large dogs and christmas trees are a piece of cake. Nice space between f&r roof racks means 2 big kayaks or a sunfish can be transported securely. Sliding doors are fantastically handy for loading cargo and people and not dinging doors in tight parking situations. Plus it has 3 huge doors you can open with a button = handier than you'd think + cool. This vehicle is consistently rated in the top 5-10 in the US market *overall* for crash safety from every direction, so my chances in the event of an incident with a texting/somnambulant fellow motorist in a corolla are as about good I can make them. The V6 has plenty of torque, makes cool sounds when asked, has plenty of at-speed passing power as well as a mid 7 second 0-60 time. One major benefit of the nearly universal scorn and shaming of this type of vehicle is what that common attitude does for it's "q-ship quotient". The effect of herds of 6-second capable family sedans in traffic over the past decade has been overwhelmed by a tide of nobody paying attention like never before--due to in car gadgetry, being on the phone, and texting. It's no Lotus, but I question the skills of anyone that can't drive rapidly and efficiently with something that handles as well as this van does. Please search TTAC for Jack B's reviews of spending time with the Chrysler T&C and Dodge Caravan to see what I'm talking about: in a nutshell, a comfy modern v6 sedan with tons of extra space when you need it. If your adventures realistically don't require going far off road (which is likely true for many) and you don't need your vehicle to burnish your image, look no further. Minivans are a great choice for many people seeking a genuine "sport utility" vehicle, as long as you don't give a s__t what everybody else thinks of you, on the internet or in real life.