You read that title correctly; we’re here to say minivans aren’t the mobile penalty boxes they’ve been made out to be and you don’t have to shop for an SUV or crossover to get that extra cargo space you’ve been craving. With all due respect to SUV and crossover owners, the cars you’re driving are sometimes total overkill. Fitted with brush bars, gas-guzzling engines, and loaded down with gobs of excess weight, many of the most coveted sport-utilities are totally out of sync with reality.
Do you really need 400 horsepower to drive the kids to school? Better yet, you’ll need a trampoline to help load them in because the truck you bought sits eye level with a giraffe. And while gasoline might be cheap now, there’s no guarantee it’ll stay that way. Good luck with the resale value of your all-wheel drive, studio apartment on wheels if gas prices spike.
Is the minivan overdue for an image makeover? Don’t underestimate the ultimate people mover. | Toyota
The answer, folks, is the minivan. They’re affordable, easy to drive, simple to load up with cargo or people, and dynamically better than many so-called sport utility vehicles. So put away your preconceptions, set aside those stigmas, and discover why modern minivans deserve a second chance.
Don’t look now, but minivans aren’t the boxes on wheels you might remember them to be. Sure, the combination of a taller roof and twin-sliding doors isn’t going to turn heads like a Lamborghini or the square-edged lines of the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen — possibly the ultimate go-anywhere, over-the-top luxury SUV. But they’re not ugly. In fact, the new Chrysler Pacifica is pretty darn sleek, while the latest Honda Odyssey and Kia Sedona have handsome lines that are certain to age well.
Your wallet will thank you
Gas is cheap right now, which is great. Now go read a history book — we’ll wait — and you’ll realize that isn’t going to be the case forever. Because minivans aren’t available with thirsty V8 engines, you won’t have to worry about getting walloped with huge gas bills down the road. The new Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid even offers 33 miles of electric-only driving range. Meanwhile, the brand new Honda Odyssey, shown for the first time at the 2017 Detroit Auto Show, promises the fuel economy of the outgoing model, despite having 32 additional horsepower.
They’re really smart
The 2018 Honda Odyssey comes with a couple of extremely clever features, such as a built-in vacuum cleaner, along with a camera system that allows the driver to view all seating positions inside the van. Other modern conveniences found in many of today’s minivans include built-in Wi-Fi, multiple power outlets and, of course, in-car video screens with wireless headphones. If you’re a parent, that last feature will be your new best friend during every road trip.
Punch the gas
Minivans don’t inspire much in the way of performance aspirations, but they’re definitely no slouches when it comes to acceleration. The 2018 Honda Odyssey packs a 280-horsepower V6 under its hood, while the Kia Sedona offers up 276 horsepower with its 3.3-liter V6. Over at Toyota, the Sienna delivers an even stouter 296 horsepower, thanks to its latest direct-injection V6 engine. Lull drivers alongside you at a traffic light into thinking your minivan doesn’t have some moves, then rock their world once the light goes green.
Moving people, lots of people
Without a doubt, getting lots of people from Point A to Point B is something minivans do best. Thanks to highly configurable seating arrangements, vans such as the Chrysler Pacifica and 2018 Honda Odyssey, offer countless ways to customize the cabin to suit your needs. In the Honda, slide the second-row captains’ chairs together for easier access to the third row. Or slide them apart, and have business class-like accommodations — and extra elbow room — for everyone. Chrysler’s famous stow-and-go allows you to fold the second and third row seats directly into the floor to create a cavernous cargo space.
Heavy hauling without heavy lifting
Whether it’s a Toyota or Kia, a Honda or Chrysler, every minivan has a wide-opening hatchback to gain access to the cargo hold. And because minivans don’t have the high-riding suspensions of many SUVs and crossovers, tossing gear back there doesn’t mean lots of heavy lifting up and into the luggage bay. The squared-off tails of minivans mean objects in the back can be bulky and tall. Many crossovers have sloping rear roofs that look cool, but they cut deep into cargo-toting capability.
Sliding doors make life easy
It might be the ultimate symbol of minivan life: the sliding side doors. They’re as practical as a Swiss Army knife, but about as cool as taking your sister to prom. Sliding side doors seem lame but, once you try them, clambering over and around the cabin of a typical crossover or SUV makes absolutely no sense. Those doors let you step easily on board and, combined with a tall roof, you don’t need to contort yourself to get inside.
They’re nearly indestructible
Granted, the latest Kia Sedona and Chrysler Pacifica are both relatively new kids on the minivan block — though Chrysler invented the minivan market back in 1984, so we can assume the company knows what it’s doing. Generally speaking, today’s minivans are built to last for countless miles and innumerable grape juice spills in the cabin. The Toyota Sienna is now the elderly statesman of the minivan field, but its reputation for reliability and resale value make it a standout choice.
Ride share in your spare time
That’s right, minivans make great ride-hail vehicles. Whether you drive one or need to hail one for you and five of your closest friends, minivans are fantastic Uber or Lyft machines. All those nice things we said previously about having loads of space for cargo or people become doubly important if your van is also a source of income — or you need to get to the airport right away and have far too many bags stuffed with souvenirs.
They’re the ultimate performance sleeper
A tuned minivan? Strange as it sounds, Toyota has enlisted a Sienna minivan at the annual tuner’s paradise that is the SEMA show in Las Vegas, Nevada. The normally conservative automaker used a pair of performance-tweaked Sienna vans in the nearly 3,000 mile One Lap of America road race in 2016. The R-Tuned Sienna somehow managed to look menacing. That’s not a word that comes to mind with minivans, but, like we’ve said countless times, the proof is in the packaging, and also those sliding side doors.