I recently got behind a Toyota Sienna in traffic. This is a fairly common occurrence that usually involves a) changing lanes, and b) speeding up to see whether the children inside are watching SpongeBob SquarePants.
Of course, the children inside are always watching SpongeBob SquarePants, except in this case, where the Sienna didn’t have its rear DVD player on. This is probably because it was an Enterprise rental, likely the result of a cheerful woman behind the counter announcing: “Good news, Mr. Smith! We don’t have any compacts, but I’m going to upgrade you for free!”
This happens to me constantly: I book a subcompact and somehow end up leaving the rental facility in a Dodge Charger with a 2.7-liter V6. The Enterprise employee behind the counter is always stunned when I tell him I don’t consider this an upgrade over a subcompact, or a compact, or riding around on my desk chair.
Anyway: as I passed the Sienna, dismayed that Squidward Tentacles was nowhere to be found, I noticed something entirely different: the Toyota Sienna is enormous.
When I say “enormous,” I don’t mean it’s “a bit big,” like one of those college lecture halls that could, in a pinch, seat everyone in suburban Dallas. I mean it’s so large that I couldn’t see over it in my Range Rover. This is tremendously distressing because I, like all Range Rover drivers, bought mine so that I could sit above everyone else on the road, at least until the air suspension collapses at the very same moment the electronic tailgate fails, causing a small fire as the Range Rover slowly sinks to the ground. (I, like all Range Rover drivers, would respond to this by collecting the insurance payout and immediately buying another Range Rover.)
When I got home, I did some research and discovered the following height information:
– Toyota Sienna height: 69 inches (1752mm)
– My Range Rover height: 73.3 inches (1861mm)
In other words, my Range Rover – the finest off-roader on the planet, according to my Land Rover dealer – is just an iPhone taller than a Toyota Sienna, whose primary purpose is to safely transport children as they watch a cartoon about a talking sponge who inhabits a piece of fruit on the ocean floor. (For those of you that think the Range Rover’s purpose is similar, that isn’t true: I occasionally use its capabilities to drive over parking curbs when I don’t want to back up.)
But the Sienna’s height isn’t its most concerning measurement. Today’s Sienna stands at 200.2 inches long, or – for you metric folks – a whopping 0.005085 kilometers. That makes it more than a foot longer than the egg-shaped 1990s Previa we all love so dearly, unless we’re a mechanic and we have to work on it.
The expanding minivan trick isn’t limited to the Sienna. Compared to the first-gen Odyssey, which was only purchased by New York City taxi drivers, today’s model is longer by 16 inches, or roughly 454 grams. And since Dodge ditched the regular-length Caravan, the modern Grand Caravan has 26.6 inches (2.47 square meters) on the original model. Many of us suspect the Nissan Quest is also longer than its predecessors, but sadly the new model is too ugly to be captured by modern measuring sticks.
There’s also a width issue. Namely: the current Honda Odyssey is almost exactly as wide as the Chevy Silverado. Think about that for a second. The full-size Silverado, which – according to Chevy’s ads – was designed solely to help big, burly men round up cattle, takes up the very same amount of lane as a Honda minivan.
The very term “minivan” is, therefore, a bit of a stretch. That’s further proven when you look under the Sienna’s hood and discover… a giant plastic engine cover. But if you check the web’s finest source for information, Wikipedia, you’ll learn that under that plastic engine cover lurks a 266-horsepower V6 that displaces 3.5 liters, or approximately 12 degrees Celsius.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have an epidemic: the minivan is no longer “mini.” The sole exception is the Mazda5, which is actually shorter than several minivans of yore. It also offers about the same power as the supercharged Previa, though none of the charm, primarily because you don’t have to lift up the Mazda5’s passenger seat to change its oil. And where’s the fun in that?
Interestingly, families haven’t grown at the same rate as the minivan. Modern families are about the same size as their mid-1990s counterparts, even though their minivans have nearly a foot more room in each direction.
So I have to ask: why did minivans get so big? Is it all the SpongeBob DVDs they have to haul around? Or maybe it’s the Official Automotive Redesign Law, which states, in no uncertain terms, that every single new vehicle must be larger and more powerful than the one it replaces, until we’re all driving 800-horsepower mobile homes. (Or, if you’re Ford, an 830-horsepower mobile home powered by a 1.7-liter turbocharged four-cylinder.)
Either way: as modern minivans continue to grow, I think we should probably stay away from the term “minivan” altogether. That is, until I get my 800-horsepower mobile home. Then I’ll be able to see over the Sienna in traffic.
@DougDeMuro operates PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.