In Praise of the Lowly Minivan

9 Jul

I never thought I’d buy one. I mocked them constantly as lumbering, unnecessarily large, silly vehicles that become little more than repositories of vomit and floor Cheerios.

I hated minivans, insulted them and their owners, and pledged never, ever to get one.

The appeal of a third row was well known to me. I had owned a Honda Pilot some 7 years ago and appreciated its size and convenience. I didn’t appreciate its fuel “economy”. When we had people visit from out of town, we’d oftentimes rent a minivan to avoid driving in tandem, and six or seven of us could all fit in one vehicle.

But still I resisted, buying instead a VW Passat Wagon (which had electrical gremlins), a Saab sedan (which had been vomited in, and thereafter reeked of it), an underpowered gas-guzzling 5-cylinder Volvo, and a couple of GTIs (which were fun but occasionally impractical).

But last year, while out-of-town family was visiting for an extended period of time, we decided that driving everywhere in two cars simply didn’t make sense. It was time to bite the bullet and look at vehicles with three rows.

I was initially attracted to the Ford Flex, which has a third row and has the added benefit of not looking like a minivan, but instead like an overgrown Mini Cooper. Unfortunately, when I drove it, I had a lousy dealer experience which turned me off to the car completely.

And, as I predicted when I wrote this post on June 2, 2009, three weeks later I purchased a 2009 Honda Odyssey from Lia Honda on Transit Road. I bit the bullet and got a minivan. And not a pseudo-minivan, but a genuine soccer-mom-mobile. I had to get rid of a GTI, to boot. That was hard. (Aside from the Flex, we also looked at the VW Routan, which is a re-tuned, re-badged Chrysler Town & Country). At that pre-swagger-wagon time, the Toyota Sienna was long in the tooth and out of the question.

So, for the past year or so we’ve been rolling in a suburban icon. The thing about it, though, is that I love that car. Seriously, it could very well be the best vehicle I’ve ever owned.

It’s not particularly fast, and it doesn’t have go-kart handling. It doesn’t look hot at the curb. But the thing is peppy enough, has a smooth 6-cylinder engine that cuts 3 cylinders off when cruising to conserve fuel, and fits everything we can throw at it. It’s been to Toronto, Detroit, New York City, Pittsburgh, Washington DC, Nashville, Knoxville, Destin, FL and Mobile, AL. It is a comfortable, practical, economical joy to drive. The kids have their own space, and arguments are kept to a minimum. We have the EX-L model – on hot days, the tinted windows can be supplemented with roll-up shades. The third row folds flat to expand cargo space to almost Dodge Sprinter proportions. The second row can be configured for anything from zero to three people, maxing out passenger capacity at 8 in relative comfort, with a deep trunk space for luggage. There’s even a huge bin in the second row between the seats for the kids to store books, toys, etc.

Usually, I get bored with cars after about a year. I’m a sucker for new models and new technologies. I adore the new Golf and Jetta Wagons with their 50+ MPG diesel engines. The new Mini Clubman turns my head every time I see it. I’m unbelievably excited to see a Fiat Cinquecento in a Chrysler showroom within the next few months. But none of those could replace that minivan. That thing has proven itself to be a competent, capable, Honda-reliable transporter of children and things, all over the country. When Honda releases the next-generation Odyssey, I will regard it longingly.

While I may now be open to minivan mockery, and perhaps a vanity plate reading “sprawl” might be apropos, but I don’t care what you think. That Honda Odyssey enables my family to get from point A to point B in comfort, and it enables us to explore the country. I love that car.

10 Responses to “In Praise of the Lowly Minivan”

  1. STEEL July 9, 2010 at 10:56 am #

    Hope my wife does not see this story.

  2. Jaquandor July 9, 2010 at 11:03 am #

    With a car like that, you might as well live in Clarence. Oh wait….!

  3. Kate July 9, 2010 at 11:20 am #

    You didn’t go for the Ford Freestyle? I think by then names the Taurus x. I have the freestyle and love it. Everyone else has a sienna or odyssey. I have heard only great things about the odyessy. I like the look of the flex as well. Rob’s saturn will be dead soon so we might do a hand me down of mine to him, and then pick a new one. I would do the freestyle/taurus x again, only the stopped making them. I would love an elongated Element.

  4. Michael July 9, 2010 at 11:22 am #

    Bet we never see that model tested on Top Gear. was part owner of a Voyager for some time. You don’t get checked out ever in them, but rarely are you marooned either.

  5. Ward July 9, 2010 at 11:23 am #

    Geez Alan–get a room.
    Seriously–we had one for 9 years and, (former) transmission problems and balky power door aside, everything you say about it is why we loved it. (After we drilled a deer, the door worked fine.)
    Wish they’d developed the cylinder shut-down feature sooner.
    I officially forgive you for mocking it when we owned it. How’s it on repelling vomit?

  6. Max July 9, 2010 at 11:46 am #

    Congratulations on a good decision, Alan. Fuel efficent [you’ll appreciate that more as time passes] safe, utilitarian and well engineered in the inimitable Honda tradition. Expect 250K relatively trouble-free miles.

  7. Adam K. July 9, 2010 at 3:07 pm #

    Glad you bought a practical car, but forgive me when I call you the worst “car guy” ever. Although I will admit that 2010 minivans are incredibly more fun and drivable than even 2003 minivans. Someone in Detroit and Tokyo realized that making the interior more like an Explorer than an Econoline was a good idea.

  8. Joe Genco July 10, 2010 at 7:25 am #

    Logic usually evolves. Minivans will gain popularity again as people realize how many of today’s crossovers are either smaller minivans with doors that swing rather than slide or station wagons with a new name. The same evolution eventually leads rational people to re-embrace capitalism.

  9. al l July 10, 2010 at 8:40 pm #

    new stylings or no, minivans are still the mom jeans of the automotive world: very practical, comfortable and dependable. sure they make your back end look like hell, but hey, with kids who cares?

  10. pcnorth22 July 13, 2010 at 7:59 am #

    my family always had a minivan; the utility they offer is great… and any honda drives pretty much like a car… picking up our 2010 Fit Sport today…

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