You don’t drive a minivan? You should. Here’s why

2018 Dodge Grand Caravan

Combined ShapeCaption
2018 Dodge Grand Caravan

We often shun the ones that can help our lives the most. Maybe out of pride. Perhaps ignorance. Many of us are looking for good solid family material, yet reject prospects that are committed and generous.

I am, of course, talking about minivans. If you want to know more about dating, I suggest the Modern Love column.

But whether you’ve outgrown your youthful dalliances with high-maintenance coupes or you’ve always been a practical-minded hatchback owner who is now ready for true commitment, a minivan might be the ultimate symbol of adulthood. And let me tell you, as a guy who drives nearly 100 different vehicles a year, I’ll testify that minivans are magical for simplifying life.

But minivans are becoming harder to find. Ford, General Motors, Hyundai, Nissan and Mazda have all abandoned the segment because of sagging sales. Blame sport-utility vehicles and crossovers. Chevrolet alone will have six of them in its stable once the 2019 Blazer hits showrooms. BMW will soon have one more than that, with the X1 through the X7.

Just five minivans are on the market today: the Chrysler Pacifica, the Dodge Grand Caravan, the Honda Odyssey, the Kia Sedona and the Toyota Sienna. And all of them are hip, even if they’re square.

Minivans aren’t always hitting you up for gas money

Four-wheel mass transit doesn’t get much more efficient than the Chrysler Pacifica E-Hybrid. This plug-in hybrid’s lithium-ion battery provides about 33 miles of grocery-getting solely on electric power for an impressive 84 miles per gallon equivalent.

Once the Pacifica’s battery is depleted, the gas engine seamlessly and automatically engages to cover more than 500 miles, and the drivetrain’s operation is as smooth as the baby bottoms it carries.

The Pacifica is the only hybrid van and the only one with foot-activated side doors, a godsend when hands are full of groceries, fussy toddlers or both. Charging every evening significantly reduces gas station visits.

There are disadvantages, though. The Pacifica’s batteries live where the second-row Stow ‘n Go seats normally drop in the gas-powered model. And it’s so quiet you’ll hear the kids arguing more clearly.

They’re more than their mom-friendly rep

Despite their mom-mobile reputation, minivans actually draw more dads.

“Men buy 60 percent of them,” said Steve Beahm, head of passenger car brands at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Toyota’s research indicates that it’s women who tend to be more sensitive to the minivan’s mom-friendly stereotype, said Rick LoFaso, the general manager of Toyota Vehicle Marketing.

“It doesn’t resonate as much with males,” he said. “We owned a Sienna that I loved. My wife was very happy once a Highlander crossover took its place.”

Vans are underrated haulers, capable of swallowing full sheets of building material or giant 70-inch television impulse buys. And unlike uncovered pickup beds, minivans keep those items secure and dry.

The Sienna’s outstanding feature is all-wheel drive – it is the only minivan to offer it – and the standard model comes with a suite of active electric safety features, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection.

Need more machismo? The Sienna SE is dressed with 19-inch wheels, smoked headlamp lenses and sporty spoilers. To fully embrace a bad-boy image, choose the Pacifica’s S package. Trim, wheels and the interior get the black treatment to make it the most menacing van at the playground.

“The S is attracting a lot of women,” said Mary Ann Capo, part of Chrysler’s marketing department. “In all black it’s a real mean-looking machine.”

Vans are the original sport-utility vehicle

The Chrysler Town and Country, Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager triplets were revolutionary transportation when they arrived in 1983, becoming an instant hit with active families. SUVs – a term that didn’t exist yet – were thirsty, ungainly trucks. The front-wheel-drive minivan drove like a car, carried sheets of plywood and toted half the kid’s soccer team in comfort, all while getting decent fuel economy. Sliding doors eliminated the horror of kids clumsily dinging the car next to yours, which invariably ended up being a Mercedes.

Those vans even saved Chrysler from bankruptcy. But by 1990, suburban America had begun to shun the image of domestic drudgery that vans had developed. Ford had a perfect solution: the Explorer. This gentrified truck, aimed squarely at women, was easier for kids to enter and exit, had a commanding view of the road and told the world, “After we drop Ashley off at day care, we’re going mountain climbing!”

Our love affair with SUVs and crossovers has pushed the minivan to the fringes. Minivan sales are down by about 5 percent from last year, according to Beahm of Fiat Chrysler. But sales of sedans have fallen even further, so in a way, vans are holding their own against the SUV onslaught.

And with good reason. Consider the Kia Sedona, which is as sleek and stylish as a van can get. It has 78.4 cubic feet of cargo space behind its second row, compared with 57.5 in Ford’s full-size Expedition – and the Kia is 9 inches shorter. The van makes hauling family and gear to Yosemite a walk in the park: Sliding paddle boards or kayaks into one is easier than using roof racks on high-riding SUVs. In short, vans can offer more utility than your sport utility vehicle.

They’re a dog’s (and a back’s) best friend

Not only does a minivan work for your 2.5 kids, but the low floor is within easy hopping distance of little pooches, or bigger pooches that aren’t as nimble as they once were. Crates slip effortlessly through the wide rear doors, with less lifting than at the back of an SUV.

Cheryl Vincent has a 2018 Honda Odyssey and a Porsche – her 11-year-old bull terrier. She works for Guide Dogs for the Blind in Boring, Oregon, and is a member of the National Association of Canine Scent Work.

“I do dog sports, like agility and obedience, plus scent detection,” she said. “I’m always lugging around lots of boxes of materials for teaching. My husband, John, and I travel, so there’s plenty of room for us, Porsche, our luggage and education materials. It’s perfect for us.”

Vincent’s Odyssey has a built-in vacuum that keeps its interior fur-free. And she even likes how it handles.

“It drives like a regular car,” she said. “I know minivans have a bad rap, but it drives very well – kind of sporty, actually.”

It’s no Porsche, but then again neither is Honda’s Pilot crossover. Unless you’re buying an actual Porsche, it’s probably not worth worrying about – and Porsche’s midsize Cayenne crossover starts at double the Odyssey’s base price of $30,090.

A relationship with compromises, but not that many

My parents, Eugene and Mary Lou – the proud president of the Slovenian Union of America – retired to coastal Alabama after raising a family in Minnesota. They often load up their 2015 Town and Country – a dearly departed model that lives on in the form of the Dodge Grand Caravan – to head north to visit friends. They got 26 mpg on the last trip, my dad said.

“We like it because it’s comfortable and roomy and we can haul your mom’s Slovenian stuff,” he said.

But minivans aren’t just for lugging around hobby supplies and carrying kids. They can get an active family to the bike trail as easily as a Jeep (more easily, in some ways) or carry eight people across town without having to be a $50,000 Chevy Suburban at 16 mpg in the city.

Still not sold on any of these five minivans? Volkswagen has confirmed a fully electric van – the I.D. Buzz, a modern take on the classic Microbus – for the U.S. market in 2022.

Minivans might not be the hottest thing on the road, but maturity is sexy, too. Don’t think so? There’s nothing like a van full of kids to demonstrate a healthy love life – and true commitment.

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