Re: Minivan choice/preference?
I had an 2003 Grand Caravan and currently own a 2011 Honda. My experience and thoughts:
1) I had the Caravan for 8 years. It never left me stranded and the parts easy to come by and cheap. The biggest expenses I can remember was the water pump and alternator ... which is minor IMHO.
2) However, I work on my cars myself mostly. And I got really, really tired of putting new parts in the front end. Tie rods, sway bar links, and sway bar bushings were almost annual. Throw in a few shocks too.
3) My Caravan was an AWD and a pig on gas. Good news was the AWD was unstoppable - I found it more "planted" in the show than my Outback (despite all of Subaru's much talked about AWD). Obviously this is not an issue for those in places like LA.... ;-)
When I went looking for a new van, the Caravan had a couple of things against it for me - black interior only (in Canada anyway) and a difficult local dealer that I had issues with. We were choosing between the Honda and Toyota. We went Honda as my wife thought it was easier to drive (I must say, driving the Sienna felt like driving our living room IMHO). Funny thing, I found out later the Honda and Toyota are almost exactly the same size.
One thing that makes me nervous about the Honda is the "Eco" mode where it turns off cylinders when cruising. This is great on highways (mileage will be in the 28 MPG range), but the technology scares me from a long term perspective if/when repairs are needed. I've only had it 1.5 years and 30k kms, but have nothing bad to say about it so far. The thing is BIG and can hold a lot of people and gear.
At the time I bought mine, the Odysseys were $4000 off. The entry level Honda (mine) was only $2-3k more than a Caravan with captain seats. BTW, the seats on the Honda are easy to remove .... and the magic bench in the back is indeed magic. ;-)
I hope some of these ramblings help ....