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Making a comparison of minivans

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IT'S a car, it's a truck, it's whatever you want it to be. But beyond everything else, it's versatile. In short, it's the minivan -- and everyone, it seems, is getting into the act. Pontiac and Chevrolet will unveil a sporty minivan in 1989, while Japan's No. 2 automaker, Nissan, is polishing up a mini people-mover for the United States and Canada, following the example of a rash of competitors from Toyota and Detroit.

A cross between the standard van and a station wagon, the minivan is cruising to higher and higher sales as consumers look for a vehicle that can do a whole lot of things well. Base prices start under $10,000, but run up to $13,000 or $14,000 with some of the popular options.

Bear in mind that while it is likened to a car, the minivan is not a car and therefore does not have to meet the same safety standards as an automobile. Among other things, no front-seat headrests, for example.

Super salesman Lee A. Iacocca, Chrysler's chairman, began the stampede two years ago with the strikingly successful Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager. An instant success, the Chrysler-built minivan not only shocked GM and Ford, but is still in the lead.

It has everything -- well, not quite -- that motorists are looking for in this type of vehicle. The company now is working on a small new minivan for the late 1980's.

The front-drive Caravan/Voyager is a lightweight as vans go, highly maneuverable in a pinch, and large enough to carry five, six, or maybe more, plus luggage. It also has a distinctive shape that is really quite good looking, once you've seen a few of them around.

The sliding side door on the minivans unzips the side of the vehicle to make loading and unloading easy. It's like removing the wall of a room.

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