The minivan: the true SUV

There’s no way to be cool about this so I’m just going to say it: I love my minivan.

I can hear your ridicule already. Its mere name, the diminutive ‘mini’, subjects it to mockery. Aside from its full-size namesake, the minivan is a misnomer. The mini is bigger than a wagon or a cross over, and is bigger inside than an SUV. In other parts of the world the minivan is known more accurately as an MPV, or multi-person vehicle.

The Honda Odyssey caravan

Our MPV seats seven legally. It can fit six adults without anyone’s knees touching. Try that, you SUV flesh-touchers. Unlike the SUV, the extended cab of a minivan can become a familial lodge on the road. If you take out one of the mid-seats, as we did on our first major road trip—a five-hours, 350-mile thrill ride—and put the two toddlers on the bench seat in the way back, there can be serenity on the open road. They could spread out with their stuff in arms’ reach. My wife and I switched off playing flight attendant by walking between our seats. She was able to read. I was able to nap. We only stopped once. If getting there wasn’t half the fun at least it was pleasant. We can go camping without worrying too much about the elements because if it gets too scary or too wet we can fold down the bench into a bed, pull up the middle seats, and sleep in the sweet canopy of our minivan.

Like so many people before us, we bought our 2002 Honda Odyssey with 110k miles on it when we moved from the city to the suburbs two years ago. It’s part of the adventure in the city to take the kids by bike, by bus, or by train, to avoid the hassle of driving whenever possible. Work was accessible and preferable by public. In the suburbs, you drive. To the cleaners, to the play dates, to the strip malls. We tried going it with one car—I’d bike to the train station, my wife would bike eight miles to work—but the kids were outgrowing our bike carrier. When we both needed the one car coordinating our day became as big a pain as driving in the city. We were not intrepid enough to bike in the weather, to go grocery shopping by bike, to ride the kids to picture day at preschool by bike. We tried and it sucked: it was not worth the self-righteous pride of going it with one car. Enter the minivan.

The minivan is the true SUV: the suburban utility vehicle. Do you SUV-touters (usually minivan haters), know that driving on your lawn does not count as off-roading, therefore you’ve never really used your sport-utility vehicle for its intended purpose? Such a waste. Or the absurd crossover, which is an SUV body on the same car frame as a minivan. This is not a truck; it’s a station wagon. The minivan is more versatile than either the truck-van hybrid of the SUV or the car-wagon crossover. When I take out the mid seats and fold down the back, that’s 88 cubic feet of space. The back has been filled with plywood, snowblowers, a rented aerator, a foosball table, my daughter’s bedroom furniture. Virtually any home repair can be satisfied in only one trip to the Home Depot with my minivan.

The minivan—despite the now standard V6, which means, with its lighter body, it can take most SUVs off the line—is built for comfort. The minivan can be a party on wheels, great for road trips, tailgating, and necking with your wife on date night. I mentioned how the back seat folds down? Yes, the minivan is for lovers.

According to an Edmunds analysis, “Minivans generally have the best safety ratings, have flexible interiors and great fuel economy.”

With gas prices expected to exceed $4, you SUV dweebs can have all the unused sport you want. With the money we save on fuel economy we’ll be able to use our car. Minivans also have better resale value; I recently got a solicitation from the local Honda dealer to buy our Odyssey back at $1500 over fair market value. That’s just about what we paid for it used two years ago.

My minivan is the best car I’ve owned.

I’m not trying to persuade anyone of anything, except that people who choose an SUV over a minivan are illogical and irrational. I’m just saying that the minivan stigma in American is steeped in stupidity. Ultimately, a person’s vehicle preference is a matter of style. And we all know there is no accounting for that.

  1. #1 by Keith Kappel on 03/13/2011 - 11:35 AM

    Ah, the mini-van. As a youth, I happily rode my bike or walked the (admittedly manageable) 1.5 miles though Chicago winter to school in effort to avoid being spotted in my mom’s Ford Aerostar. We called it the pig-car, thanks to the wide, boxy body and porcine snout. Beauty, as is often said, is in the eye of the beholder, but collectively, as beholders, we have decided that beauty passed on visiting the mini-van. In fact, I consider the mini-van to be the exception to prove the rule about form following function, and how something exceptionally functional is inherently beautiful. The mini-van is ugly, which isn’t to say it doesn’t serve its intended purpose more than admirably, but no amount of good PR is going to turn it around for the mini-van. Still, it’s nice to see the American love affair with the automobile isn’t over. Like all aging lovers, it’s just less sexy, and no longer approved for PDA.

    • #2 by Duffer on 03/14/2011 - 9:46 AM

      “Porcine snout”. Reminds me of bacon. That may be the only way to improve on the minivan, adding bacon.

  2. #3 by Viki on 03/13/2011 - 1:00 PM

    I couldn’t stomach driving a minivan when my kids were little, so I went with a Saturn station wagon instead. And then I graduated to a Honda CR-V, which is just a tall Civic wagon. I hate giant SUVs. The people in my town who drive them are either very tiny women or big assholes.

    Also, I considered the fact that if I had a minivan, I’d have to participate in car pools, and I don’t like other people’s children.

    But, I’ll admit, that every time I’ve had the opportunity to drive someone else’s minivan, or ride in someone else’s minvan, I’ve been jealous, because they’re so easy to drive and there’s so much room.

    But I’ll still never get one, and I’m glad I never did. When my daughter turns 16 in a few months and gets her driver’s license, I’m going to win the lottery, pass my CR-V on to her, and buy myself a two-seater sports car. A convertible.

    • #4 by Duffer on 03/14/2011 - 9:48 AM

      You’ve earned the two-seater convertible. I’m imagining you in a Miata.

  3. #5 by Justin on 03/13/2011 - 1:58 PM

    I used to drive an HHR before a soccer mom totaled me out on the mean streets of Grand Rapids, Michigan. I loved that car, a shiny blue station wagon with the retro look of a PT Cruiser and the trunk space of a larger, less emasculating vehicle. It wasn’t tough or cool, I’ll admit, but the gas mileage and low insurance kept me on the road while my friends scraped their change dishes for a drive to Taco Bell.

    In the city, I just don’t need four wheels, but if I ever resign myself to real life I’m sure I’ll jump into a mini-van faster than you can say “That young art school student has given up on trying to be attractive to the opposite sex”. I guess I’m just offering some support, because a two-seater with sexy headlights and a cherry-red exterior is great until you have to move a few boxes or haul around a group.

    • #6 by Duffer on 03/14/2011 - 9:52 AM

      I had to google HHR. It’s like a mini-Suburban, no? I don’t know, Justin, the minivan might just be countercultural enough to the young art school student demographic to make you ironically hip. You could be known reverentially around campus as the minivan man.

  4. #7 by Todd on 03/14/2011 - 12:52 PM

    So I would like to start off by saying that anyone that ever uses the the term “necking” when referring to gettin’ your freak on with your spouse should for sure own a minivan.

    You do, however make some excellent points about the minivan vs an SUV. The minivan for sure has better fuel efficiency (excluding some SUV hybrid models), has a couple of cool features like sliding doors on either side, (which you failed to mention) and MAY be more roomy for larger families. This all being said, I do think you summed it up in your last sentence. “Ultimately, a person’s vehicle preference is a matter of style. And we all know there is no accounting for that.”

    Because this is a public forum I will refrain from my usual response for fear of insulting anyone on the. People DO buy based on all the specs you have mentioned and a lot of which you did not mention. Style plays a HUGE role in the purchase of a vehicle and the minivan lacks in that department. There are a couple of SUV’s on the road today that have style, decent fuel efficiency and more than enough room for 6 kids or a furniture set while staying relatively inexpensive. Look at the Highlander or the Pilot.

    You wanting to justify your suburban minivan is fine, but don’t push it on others.

    On a completely different note, I truly enjoyed reading your blog and loved that you threw in the Swaggerwagon at the end. Nice work! For your viewing pleasure:

  5. #8 by Carly on 03/18/2011 - 2:28 PM

    I’m diggin your blog. Keep it coming,
    I’ve been writing the female perspective of parenthood on my newly released blog. Haven’t gone widespread with it cause mommy blogs are a dime a dozen and I’m just getting my feet wet. I understand my uber-disgusting Columbia loans may not reflect a “getting my feet wet” status, but….well you know…I’ll spare you the “I just can’t find the time to write” song.
    You rock Duff, looking forward to the next dispatch.

    • #9 by Duffer on 03/19/2011 - 9:40 AM

      Carly! Give us the link. How the hell’s it going, how’s the biz?

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