From the 1980s to the mid-2000s, minivans were popular family haulers. Since then the undeniable onslaught of SUVs and crossovers has sidelined the van. But when it comes to transporting families, teams, bands or any group of people with lots of stuff, it’s hard to find a vehicle more suited to the task than the venerable minivan. For those who need a proper people mover, here are some reasons to stop worrying about what the neighbors will think and consider the most versatile vehicle of all — the minivan.
Sure, there are crossovers and sport utilities that can handle seven passengers, but none as comfortably as a minivan. Although the second row in the typical 7-passenger SUV offers plenty of space, the third row can feel like an afterthought. Often the seats are cramped for adults — with little head-, leg- or thigh room — and in some cases, backs of heads are bumping against the rear window. That said, the typical minivan offers as much room in the third row as in the second, with a considerably less claustrophobic experience.
Living Room Interior
Interior space is the place where minivans really shine. Sport-utility vehicles typically have a normal vehicle interior without loads of room to move around. A minivan feels more like a living room — granted, an adult can’t stand up in one, but with a minivan’s spacious interior it’s much easier to maneuver throughout the vehicle. You even have the option of relaxing with your feet up in the Kia Sedona.
The standard rear doors of an SUV are fine for getting into the second row, but in most cases, there’s very little space for climbing into the third row. Minivans have large sliding doors that create wide openings, not only making it easier to access the rear-most seats, but also providing better maneuverability when trying to seat and buckle up small children.
Stow ‘n Go
Although a feature exclusive to the Chrysler Pacifica (and outgoing Dodge Grand Caravan), Stow ‘n Go seats are an innovation worth mentioning. Most minivans have third-row seats that fold up and stow beneath the cargo floor, but the Pacifica goes one better: the second row also folds into a floor cavity behind the front seats. This creates a flat, large loading area at floor level. Sure, SUVs can fold all seats down, but the end result is considerably less space available.
The new Honda Odyssey offers another useful seat innovation that the Japanese automaker calls Magic Slide seats. The second-row seats slide horizontally left and right independently of each other, giving van owners second-row flexibility. Not only does this make third-row access much easier, it also means that children who cannot control their hands can be separated more creatively. Gone are the days of “Mom, he hit me.” Perhaps.
A minivan is a large vehicle with plenty of nooks and crannies for kids to drop crayons, cookies, french fries or a countless variety of other small items. Some might consider this a knock against the minivan, but both Chrysler and Honda have the solution — a built-in vacuum. With hoses that reach throughout the interior, integrated interior vacuums now mean there’s no excuse for discovering months-old Cheerios underneath the seats.
Room for Luggage
Unless shoppers are looking at full-size SUVs such as the Chevrolet Suburban or Nissan Armada, travelers typically must choose between carrying seven passengers or carrying their luggage — more often than not the third-row seats gobble up most of the available cargo space. But for minivan drivers this isn’t an issue — vans offer considerable cargo space behind that third row.
With a lower load floor than most SUVs, minivans are much easier to load with gear. A bonus: the side sliding doors provide easy access to the front of the cargo area when all seats are folded out of the way, making it easier to pull larger items into the vehicle and then position them properly.
Big Cargo Space
Most SUVs allow the folding of all seats to create one large cargo area. However, due to the higher floor the space can be limited for tall cargo or stacks of boxes. With minivans the space is generally larger and more useful, especially with the Chrysler models that allow seats to be folded into the floor. Most minivans have the ability to carry 4X8 sheets of plywood — a tougher challenge for the typical SUV.
Many car companies have introduced innovative features designed around families traveling together. For example, Toyota offers the Driver Easy Speak feature in the popular Sienna minivan that lets the driver address rear-seat passengers through the car’s audio system – a nice addition to the standard conversation mirror in the overhead console. Honda offers a similar system in the new Odyssey which utilizes a camera that keeps tabs on rear-seat passengers day or night.
Entertainment value is another area in which minivans really shine, and the offerings are quite impressive. Large video screens with Blu-ray and DVD players are quite common, and most will allow connections for media streaming directly from a tablet or phone. The Chrysler Pacifica has an additional level of interactivity — Chrysler includes games built into the Uconnect Theater system, allowing passengers to compete against each other.
After careful consideration, if a busy driver’s needs require hauling many passengers and/or lots of cargo, the obvious choice is the multipurpose minivan. The following models are currently available in the U.S.
Dodge Grand Caravan