Minivans are some of the hardest working vehicles on the market today. Sure, you may point to full-size pickup trucks as doing the dirty job of hauling and towing burly loads, but minivans are designed from their inception to carry the most important cargo of all: your family. They happen to be the safest, most practical vehicles around. As an automotive journalist, when someone asks me what the best car for their family would be, I automatically point them to a minivan.
See, no other vehicle can do what a minivan can do. Full-size, truck-based SUVs like the Chevy Tahoe and Ford Expedition are pretty big, but their cargo capacity is no match compared to a minivan. They also guzzle gas and are clumsier at handling. About the only time you really need one is if you have heavy toys to tow, or if you go off-roading on a regular basis.
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Crossovers handle better, and get decent fuel economy, but they definitely aren’t as flexible when it comes to utility, and the third-row seats tend to be torture chambers. And while no one aspires to ride in the third-row seat (except sullen teens who want as much physical space between them and their aggrieved parents as possible), the final row of a minivan is more of a minor hassle than a full-on physical assault.
But people stay away from minivans in droves, and it’s for the silliest of reasons: they worry about the image projected upon them by driving a minivan. They think minivan ownership means you’re a typical, boring soccer parent, shorn of any last vestiges of glamour or sexiness.
Simply put, basic geometry dictates the shape of minivans. Because a box is the most efficient way to pack in the greatest amount of cargo, minivans will always be inherently boxy and squared off. And evolution dictates that straight lines are not as alluring and interesting to behold as curves and rounded figures are, and minivan design simply does not lend itself to the same sort of styling panache of which less useful vehicles boast.
When car companies start designing a new minivan, they probably have me pinned up on their whiteboard as their target consumer. I’m a middle-aged mom. I live in the suburbs. The drop-off line at my daughter’s school is littered with minivans. My sisters either have had or currently have minivans. My husband loves them, too, as do my children.
But I don’t have a minivan. When we’re not driving a test vehicle, which is pretty much all the time, I drive a 12-year-old crossover SUV from the era of my life before I was married. We’re getting a new car next year, but there will be no minivan in the Wardlaw/Kim driveway.
I hold no grudge toward minivans. I have zero qualms about the image issue. The only reason I don’t want one is that minivans simply feel too big. I feel like I’m in a cavern when I’m driving one, and that there’s practically an echo when I speak to my children. I don’t like that feeling.
Furthermore, I simply don’t need all that space. As a tidy family of four, we could arguably squeeze into a Mini Cooper. Reluctantly, but we could. And we don’t have a lot of gear or extra passengers to carry around. My girls have yet to get into sports, and we live close enough to schools that carpools aren’t a thing.
The only time I’ve ever really needed the space of a minivan was when transporting a full-size mattress home from the big-box retail store, which necessitated a call to my brother-in-law, who owns a Honda Odyssey. Otherwise, all shopping runs are handily dispatched with my midsize crossover SUV.
Until another life change should call for it, I’ll probably stick with crossovers. If you’ve got more than two kids, or you carpool on a regular basis, or your family is more actively involved in sports than my own, then yes, by all means, get a minivan.
While you’re facing that reality, take inspiration from this astute video that parodies the decision making process of embracing the minivan lifestyle. The struggle is real, folks.