By on June 10, 2013

sienna1

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.

1991-Toyota-Previa-1-1024x640

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?

2011mazda5---1opt

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.

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133 Comments on “The Myth of the “Mini”van...”


  • avatar
    bball40dtw

    The Transit Connect Wagon will be out within a year. Ford won’t call it a minivan, but it is a “mini”van. I tried to order one, but they pushed back retail orders.

    And yes, it would have a 4-cylinder turbocharged engine that may or may not set the car on fire.

    • 0 avatar
      DaveDFW

      I love the specious metric conversions!

      It’s not just minivans–everything is unnecessarily enormous now.

      • 0 avatar

        Possibly true. But I haven’t noticed them yet.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          I don’t know how they will sell. I’m guessing not well. However, the wagon will be made in Spain with the Transit Connect and Tourneo. It won’t be a costly endeavor for Ford.

          I don’t see too many around Dearborn or Allen Park. Those driving future vehicles home must not want to be seen in a minivan. The Fiesta ST probably is more fun.

        • 0 avatar
          SunnyvaleCA

          Really? Have you noticed the size of pickup trucks lately? Pretty soon I’ll be able to see _under_ them. I sure can’t see around or over or through them.

          • 0 avatar

            Specifically, I’ve noticed two things getting bigger on trucks: the grilles, and the emblems. I have a neighbor with a new F-150 and I believe the Ford badge in back is the same size as a license plate.

          • 0 avatar
            fredtal

            At 5’10″ I can no longer reach over the side and grab items from the bed like I can in my 1999 Silverado. I suppose that’s because of increased ride height and taller beds.

  • avatar
    Feds

    I currently own 2 minivans. A 1993 Mazda MPV, and a 1996 Mitsubishi Delica Royal Exceed Long Wheelbase.

    The MPV is perfectly comfortable for 6.5 adults (the rear seat would get a little tight with 3 back there, but not alarmingly so). There’s not a lot of luggage space with all 3 rows filled, but probably a duffle bag for everyone. All that space fits in a footprint no bigger (and in fact slightly smaller) than a first generation Escape.

    The Delica is HUGE in all aspects. It’s 7′ tall, it wears 31″ tires, there is enough space for 7 people, their stuff, and all the stuff that people who drive cars can’t fit and want you to pick up on your way and take somewhere for them.

    The hugeness lasts until you pull up beside a 2010 outback, which is wider, just about the same length, and carries 5 people as long as one of them is an above-the-knee double leg amputee.

    Cars and trucks and vans have gotten much bigger on the outside and much smaller inside.

    • 0 avatar

      I just looked up the Delica. This is possibly the strangest looking thing I have ever seen. I want one immediately.

      • 0 avatar
        NoGoYo

        Who’d have thought that a van on a 4×4 chassis would be so brilliant?

        Now I want to see if an old Master Ace body would fit on a Hilux chassis. Damn thing already had abnormally high ground clearance for a van.

      • 0 avatar
        Feds

        You should get one. It really is a do anything vehicle. Good on the track too:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=CVmpoT6RbHk

        In the year that I’ve owned it, I’ve driven mine 23 hours straight from St. Petersburg Fla to St Catharines, On. (carrying 3 children aged 5 and under), gone through 14″ of snow to get the the family cottage in the winter, towed a 3,500 lb camping trailer, a 16′ boat, hopped countless curbs (also to avoid backing up), slept in it, driven through axle deep muck, rescued a cavalier from a ditch, you name it.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Those are aaaaallll over South Korea, labeled as Hyundais.

      • 0 avatar
        onyxtape

        The Delica is what Asian filmmakers and TV show producers use as shorthand for when a bad guy / kidnapper is entering the scene back in the 80s. The sliding door opens quickly, and the bearded baddie grabs the unsuspecting damsel and the Delica peels off.

    • 0 avatar
      Domestic Hearse

      Google. Mitsubishi Delica. Images. Click.

      Want. Dowant!

      4×4, lift kit, brush guard with winch, light kit, safari roof rack sporting a 33″ BFG spare, an axe, a shovel, and a jack. So much coolness.

    • 0 avatar
      davefromcalgary

      “Cars and trucks and vans have gotten much bigger on the outside and much smaller inside.”

      THIS! This really is the problem. Huge cars with tiny interiors (Ford Taurus anyone?) Space efficiency is the term, I believe, and seems to be an artform being lost in alot of design houses.

    • 0 avatar
      Michael500

      Don’t worry, Obama’s ridiculous CAFE standards and war on cars will eliminate the minivan as we know it, along with the Mustang/Camaro pony cars and the Charger/300/Taurus. Everything will be a Prius pretty soon- seriously.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Nearly every class of vehicle has grown. Midsize sedans are huge. Compacts are the midsizers of yesteryear, and subcompacts can now actually carry adults in the backseat. Despite the weight and power gain, most cars have similar or better fuel economy as their forebears, so there is little incentive for keeping them small.

    There are reasons the Mazda 5 doesn’t sell: the third row is nearly useless and the cargo area behind it is completely useless, and it uses only 14% less fuel than the V6 Sienna that will leave it in the dust on interstate grades during the family road trip. And the Sienna family didn’t have to leave several suitcases behind in order to get the back hatch closed. I love the idea of the 5, but if I had 3 or 4 kids I wouldn’t even test drive it.

    • 0 avatar
      npaladin2000

      Only until the Mazda5 gets SkyActiv engines anyway. I see the 2.5L finding its way in there.

    • 0 avatar
      onyxtape

      I see several 5s parked in the Mormon temple close to my house. I’m guessing they’re used by the “smaller” families of the church.

    • 0 avatar
      USAFMech

      2/3 Wrong, 1/3 Right. The third row is perfectly useful for children. I even put two car seats side by side in the third row. Bonus fact: the second row slides, so there’s plenty of room for dangling feet in the third row. The cargo area behind is “grocery bag” sized – so perfect for those short runs for milk. (I will say that other than the Suburban-class vehicles, we did not find any three-row vehicle to have useful area behind the third row.) The third row very easily folds flat, so the cargo area is very useful and bigger than a hatchback’s.

      You are right about the engine, though. I live at some altitude and it’s a marvelously mediocre in town. And it’s a Gutless Wonder on a grade. It’s perfectly fine the Midwest and, I would guess, the more recent 5-speed is better than ye olde 4 speed that I’m saddled with.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      You must not remember before the 1980s. The 1965 Dodge Dart is about the size of a midsize today, and it was a compact. Check out the specs for a 1968 Ford Torino or Mercury Montego and compare to a “full size” Chrysler 300. They were called midsized back then. It’s just the imports that have grown from incredibly tiny to much bigger than anyone remembers.

  • avatar
    OneAlpha

    “one of those college lecture halls that could, in a pinch, seat everyone in suburban Dallas.”

    “Today’s Sienna stands at 200.2 inches long, or – for you metric folks – a whopping 0.005085 kilometers.”

    “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.”

    Bravo. Well said, sir.

  • avatar
    fredtal

    Minivans are the greatest family/people haulers around. Can’t do much towing with them but otherwise they are perfect.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Americans have this disorder of thinking they need to ride in their living rooms around in a Thunderdome to be safe and comfy on the road.

    Personally I find for quick squirts around town something loud and unforgiving is more fun.

    • 0 avatar
      jz78817

      yes, for a quick “squirt” around town, something zippy might be fun. For spending 40 minutes going to and again coming from work, not so much.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I always want to go the opposite way, and say for a quick squirt around town you need a Lincoln Mark V. Or a ’71 Fleetwood. Be different!

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      Good for you.

      Those of us who drive longer distances prefer actually being comfortable (be it in a minivan or not).

      And people with kids or more people to haul around for whatever reason will keep buying minivans because they’re excellent solutions to their transport problems, even if they’re not nearly as Gearhead-y as something “loud and unforgiving”.

      (I drove 600 miles this weekend in an F-250. I’m glad it’s cushy and quiet, because I’ve done the same drive in my old 300D, and the latter is about a million times more draining, *precisely* because it’s louder and less forgiving.)

    • 0 avatar
      GoesLikeStink

      This is why a family has 2 cars. My wife drives the van, 2011 GrandCaravan, and I drive a Fiat Cabrio. The Fiat will fit all 4 of us and is a lot of fun with the top down (and a stick) The Dodge holds us, friends and all our stuff. We have had 4 minivans so far, Honda, Dodge, Kia,Dodge. None with the DVD players, on long trips we listen to audiobooks. I had tried to talk the wife into a Mazda 5 so we could have a minivan with a manual, but we got this combo instead. (bought 30 days apart.)

  • avatar
    walleyeman57

    Excellent. Funny. No really, funny.

    One point is that the writer claims that families have not grown in the 30 years the “mini” van has been around. While the average number of children has decreased, the SIZE of said children has increased quite a bit. While I have no scientific data at hand, waiting outside my granddaughters school I noted that about 30% of the kids are…well…FAT. I mean jelly roll, three chins fat. Thus while no additional seats are required, the size and power to haul must increase to accommodate.

  • avatar
    ash78

    I submit that everything has grown, but the minivan is the only platform that still makes the most of its footprint and cube. Trucks have all gone to crewcabs, generally growing in length at the expense of the bed (the original point of a pickup).

    “Crossovers” have grown, too, and most of them just provide a little more unnecessary ground clearance to appear more SUV-like, all while offering the space of a midsize car inside. The Infiniti FX comes to mind, as well as the Nissan Juke, in terms of maximizing exterior size while minimizing the interior.

    I still respect the minivan, I just wish the Mazda5-sized vehicles were a little more popular. I want more options there! The Ford C-Max changed tactics right before launch, only offering the full hybrid version with no sliding doors and a hefty pricetag. Where’s our Renault Espace (sold as a Nissan) or our Ford S-Max?

    The practicalities of the market rarely align with the product offerings, but at least minivans are still pretty close in their offering function that is maximized in exchange for their form.

    IMHO

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      I want an S-Max! I would prefer some sort of EcoBoost V6, but I’d even take the 2.0L EcoBoost. Too bad that it would probably further erode Flex sales. Why can’t my house have a Flex, S-Max, and a Ka!

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      Yes and no. I mean, I look askew at a crew-cab short-bed, myself, typically (this means you, Avalanche).

      But I see a lot of long-beds around, and even the “normal” short-bed I see on a full-size pickup is 6-6.5 feet these days. Which is pretty significant.

      I think a lot of it is people realizing that a “standard” cab is kind of horrible for anything but an absolutely dedicated work truck.

      • 0 avatar
        jhefner

        I also think the crew-cab long bed truck replaced the station wagon as most families’ trailer hauler; or even the family truckster. We had a Ford crew cab, with the tiny rear bench seat, replaced by a full size crew cab as the kids got bigger as our family car, along with the wagon.

  • avatar
    npaladin2000

    I learned how to drive on an 89 Dodge Grand Caravan. One of the ones with the heavy duty towing suspension, which, as per SOP, my family did not use for towing ever. Interestingly it made a nice stand-in for a sport suspension, had anyone heard of such a thing in the 80s, back when suspensions with actual road feel and the word “sport” in them were illegal for domestic manufacturers to produce. But I digress.

    That was an actual mini-van. Today only the Mazda5 and the Kia Rondo would qualify. And the Rondo is gone. The C-Max would qualify if it’s third row had actually made it through customs on the way here. What, you thought that because it says “FORD” on it that it’s an American car?

    • 0 avatar
      NoGoYo

      I love how, in some respects, a towing package made for a more exciting vehicle.

      The final generation GM B-body wagons with the towing package got better suspension, a better rear axle ratio, and the LT1 standard. Therefore, you basically got a somewhat less sporty Impala SS in wagon form.

    • 0 avatar
      ash78

      I drove an 88 Caravan (short wheelbase, stiff suspension) for the first year with my permit and license. It was reasonably sized and the Yamaha V6 did reasonably well, especially with light loads. I’m actually nostalgic for that thing, including the burgundy plush interior and heavy, heavy bench seats.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Did Yamaha play a role in creating the Mitsubishi V6? I didn’t know that. I worked at a new car dealer in 1989. The Caravans, Voyagers, and Town&Countries were nicer to drive than many of the sedans of the time. I drove a 2.5 turbo SWB Caravan or one of the V6 Grand Caravans on many an extended lunch trip. You could induce oversteer on corner entries and they were quick enough unladen to see off many a beater malaise era coupe.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    They still sell the 2.7L V6? Forget that. I’ll take the budget-special Ford Fiesta, or whatever…

    • 0 avatar
      MLS

      No, they don’t. Until the new 3.2L V6 debuts in the Jeep Cherokee later this year, the related 3.6L Pentastar will remain Chrysler’s only gas-powered six cylinder engine.

  • avatar
    86er

    “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.”

    They stopped making “ugly sticks”?

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      I think the Quest is way past an ugly stick. We need an ugly tree or ugly forest.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      I don’t know. But if the new Quest wasn’t beat with an ugly-stick, it certainly took a clobbering from something else that made it so unsightly. I can actually tolerate the front end…but the rear… For one thing, why on earth would you put those leaf-shaped tail lamps on such a slab-sided surface?

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Whenever I see the front of a new Quest, I think it has a cheekbones issue.

        • 0 avatar
          brettc

          A Nissan Quest was the vehicle for the human family on ABC’s The Neighbors. Would have made more sense if the aliens drove it, but whatever. Either way, that’s one of the few new Quests I’ve ever seen on the road. However I did see a rusty gold colored Quest from the Quest/Villager generation today.

          And yes, minivans today are probably close to the size of short wheelbase full size GM vans from the 80s. Although that would require looking up specs and it’s time to go home.

  • avatar
    poltergeist

    Based on what I’ve seen when working on customer’s Odysseys, they had to make them bigger to make room for the accumulation of trash that collects inside each and every one. Seriously….40 years later, my dad still gives me crap for puking in the back of his old Chevy as a toddler. Today “parents” seem to look the other way when junior throws food, drink, toy, trash etc all over the back of the family “brat-wagon”.

    • 0 avatar

      So true. It’s like you can’t have a minivan without having enormous empty spaces filled with half-empty potato chip bags.

      • 0 avatar
        Aqua225

        My Titan 4-door suffers the same fate when my fiancé is driving and her child is present. If I am in the vehicle it doesn’t happen, since my parents were absolutely fastidious about the interiors of their cars and about me eating in it, I have a dictator approach to on board eating. First, it can’t crunch. Secondly, the bag shall not end up on the floor, and thirdly, keep your feet off the back of the front seats.

        Honestly, it’s like pulling teeth, but I usually win. And I usually end up vacuuming out the truck, and hauling off the garbage inside when they get around in it without me :)

        • 0 avatar
          Fordson

          “Honestly, it’s like pulling teeth, but I usually win. And I usually end up vacuuming out the truck, and hauling off the garbage inside when they get around in it without me :)”

          Somehow, it doesn’t sound like you’re winning.

    • 0 avatar
      dts187

      This is true. I don’t have any progeny yet but some close friends do. Most of these kids are walking/talking and old enough to use the bathroom on their own. It amazes me the amount of stuff parents bring along when taking their kid anywhere. They’ve got to bring snacks, disposable wipes, disinfectant, snacks, toys, a book, a change of clothes, a jacket just in case, and an ipad for good measure. God forbid the little prince or princess catch of whiff of boredom on the way to the grocery store. Minivans have to be bigger to swallow all the bullshit people think they need.

    • 0 avatar
      slance66

      This is thoroughly true. Many are disgusting collections of old french fries and mcnuggets.

      They resemble aircraft carriers to me, seeming more unwieldy than even Suburbans and the like. They are somewhat comfortable I suppose, definitely so for the pampered kids in back with captains chairs and TV screens.

      But with this piece by Doug can we now and forever end the nonsense of TTAC commenters telling people who buy crossovers as family vehicles that “mini” vans make more sense? For most people with a couple kids this is definitely false, as these enormous vans are gas pigs that are difficult to maneuver and park and don’t even offer the minor “dirt road” capability of most crossovers.

      • 0 avatar

        Agreed. I was one of the “get a minivan” set until I really looked at the numbers. At this point, what’s the difference? The Sienna is larger in every measurable dimension than my Range Rover with the exception of height, and as I mention in the article it’s damn close there too. Minivans hardly offer the “reasonably sized” alternative to a “wasteful” SUV anymore. Worth an article all on its own very soon.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        “They resemble aircraft carriers to me, seeming more unwieldy than even Suburbans and the like”

        Seeming and resembling, maybe.

        But I’ve driven a Sienna (my parents have one), and a full-size truck, and I can assure you that the minivan handles very nicely in comparison, no matter how it looks. Maneuvers and parks fine.

        (Likewise, that thing gets great fuel economy for its V6, and from what I hear it’s easier to lug kid seats in one than in a Generic Crossover.)

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        My Sienna gets 29 MPG on the highway. My Escape got 23 MPG on the highway.

        Minivan is both bigger, and more efficient. For my purposes: Minivan 2, Escape 0.

        P.S. My mom is driving the Escape, now. She does lot of soft-roading and a fair bit of off-roading. So she actually needs a four-wheel-drive compact car, and it’s perfect for her — so the Escape does have a place in the world. But,as far as I know, my mom’s Escape only one that’s ever been offroad… :-)

  • avatar
    nguyenvuminh

    I had the same observation about “minivan” and that is they are much bigger than the original minivan, not too mention they are so expensive. My family of 4 have two young children and I’ve been looking at vans because of their practicality (sliding door, 3 row seating) so the Mazda 5 is really my only choice. The Odyssey and Sienna are just too big and uneconomical for my taste. There really is no excuse for a family-oriented vehicle to have low 20mpg rating. The only problem with the Mazda 5 is as someone had pointed out, they are not as fuel economical as they should be (21/28mpg). Heck, a petrol Accord and Civic have 30+mpg. The sad thing is that Mazda have Skyactiv engine for over a year now and they will not put it in the Mazda 5 (only Mazda 5, 6 and the CX5). I’ve asked Mazda and they confirmed 2014 Mazda 5 will not have Skyactiv engine.

    • 0 avatar

      Price is another good point. Should’ve mentioned that too. The days of $50k minivans are upon us…

    • 0 avatar
      hriehl1

      FWIW, I drive a 2012 Mazda 5 stick, mostly on a 25-mile-each-way commute through back country roads. Hence, my use probably squeezes as many MPG as one could ever expect.

      But keeping careful records over 20+/- consecutive tankfuls resulted in an overall real-world 30.8 MPG. The exact same use pattern with my prior Suzuki Aerio (can you say econobox?) was 33 MPG. Giving up 10% for the extreme convenience of the Mazda 5′s design was well worth it.

      The Mazda5 was also a bargain… $17.5 before TTL for a stripped 6-speed, but with all the basics (A/C, PW, Remote PL, etc.). Spartan? Yes, but still a very good value.

      • 0 avatar

        Further proof that the Mazda5 is possibly the best vehicle in history. I want to write an article on this too. It’s EVERYTHING! An economy car, a family car, a compact car…

        • 0 avatar
          Luke42

          My wife and I looked at a Mazda 5 and liked it a lot, but it had roughly the same sticker MPG as a full-sized minivan.

          So, we just bought a used Sienna.

          EDIT: The Mazda 5′s lack of an approved towing capacity was also an issue for me. The car looks like it can tow just fine… But I tow a small utility trailer for home improvement projects, and I eally didn’t want to fight about the warranty.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    The original Caravan/Voyager was not much more than a repackage of the
    Aries/Reliant wagon chassis. By making the roof higher, and pushing the driving position forward, Chrysler created a LOT more room than the wagons, at very little cost in efficiency. That alone began the demise in wagons and growth of minivans.

    But with 7 people and their “stuff”, that 2.2/TorqueFlite couldn’t get out of it’s own way. People wanted and demanded more.

    Be careful what you ask for, you might get it.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      Back in the day, one of our work vehicles was a first-gen Chrysler minivan 2.2 carbureted, 3 speed automatic.

      At a traffic light, the instant the first electrons reached the green signal, you smashed the accelerator pedal into the floorpan. Always. It didn’t matter if there was someone in front of you. The revs slowly climbed up against the economy-oriented low-slip torque converter and too-tall first gear ratio, and the van gently moved away from a stop. You would not spin the tires, you would not hit the vehicle in front. Traction control and vehicle distance management before they invented such things.

      • 0 avatar
        JuniperBug

        Growing up, my parents had an ’86 Caravan with the Mitsu carbed 2.6. We pulled a 2,000 lb tent trailer with it, on one trip to Gaspe, with four adults and two kids in it. With about 110 hp, I remember at least one occasion when Dad had to literally back up down a hill and take a second running start to get up it. Dad also used it to haul things for his shoe mould business, loading it up until the rear leaf springs bottomed out. The 3 speed needed a rebuild by 70k miles. Shocking, right?

        Sadly, it was gone before I started driving, so I never got to see how the red-veloured breadbox drove. It was replaced with a ’97 Voyager (3.3L, 4 speed), which was a different world of power and refinement, but it had nowhere near the character of the ’86 with its quad stacked sealed beam headlights, pentastar hood emblem and oddest of all: manual rotary knobs on the ceiling behind the front seats to open the rear side window vents. I can only imagine the mechanicals that were needed to make that setup work, but to Chrysler’s credit, it did.

  • avatar
    celebrity208

    I think there is a legitimate reason for the growth. Starting in the 80′s through today I think minivans (and cars in general) have grown not because family sizes have changed but because of the junk that is brought along with any family anywhere they go. In addition, the size and proliferation of child car seat use has increased based on social and government mandated factors (this is annecdotally my opinion but is kinda backed up by this document: http://www.saferidenews.com/srndnn/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=NIPfcuqNL1U%3D&tabid=375). In the 80′s a weekend trip to Grandma’s meant sleeping on the floor with grandma’s stinky pillows, no toys, and getting there while lying across the back speaker deck of our sedan. Today I’ll be taking my children on interstate road trips with a carseat and base that take up 10cuft, I’ll have a pack-n-play in the hatch and all kinds of other ‘stuff’ that my parents did without.

    • 0 avatar
      ash78

      This. A combination of changing regulations and changing parental expectations have multiplied our junk. In turn, it does allow for longer, better roadtrips with kids, but at what cost?

      We’re still a wagon-plus-roof-bag family with 2 young kids, but a minivan is inevitably around the corner. You can only struggle for so long while all of your friends and peers extoll the virtues of taller, bigger, easier, and just-as-capable vehicles for years and years.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        Get a minivan.

        You lost any ability to fight against it when you said “roof bag”; that’s just an aftermarket airbrake.

        • 0 avatar
          ash78

          Indeed — it takes 2mpg off the top, even when packed perfectly, and far more flexible and cheaper than roof boxes.

          But it’s a slippery slope. How many minivans and SUVs do you see with roof bags or boxes? Lots. The accumulation of stuff never ends!

  • avatar
    jco

    I guess I’m the only one who likes that Nissan are selling us an almost-undiluted JDM style van. seriously, everything there is a white van-ish thing.

    minivans are larger for the reason that you can get a 3rd row in a RAV4? no idea.

    i, for one, also demand a 4×4 JDM van.

    i also think 99% of all driving, even with children, can be handled with a 4 door sedan or hatchback. i have two brothers and there was no minivan in our family until the oldest of us was already driving. we had that old standby, the station wagon.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    I still see a strangely large number of those Previas on the road, given how few they sold. They must either be either the most reliable vehicles ever built, or they aren’t quite as bad as the legends claim to service.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      My aunt had 250K+ miles and three kids through it without major issue, before she gave the damn thing to Goodwill.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      I had one for 140,000 miles, with the supercharger. The only non-routine service item was a failed U-joint. IMHO, it was a very good car. It’s only fault was that it ate brakes; I think they were sized a little small for the weight of the vehicle. And, of course, it was designed for the 55 mph speed limit. With today’s actual road speeds of 70-75, even the supercharged model would be weak.

      Much better handling than the competitive Honda or Chrysler products of the time.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      The scrappers around here favor the Previa.

  • avatar
    bludragon

    I normally enjoy the writing here on TTAC, but sorry to say I’m just not getting what you are trying to do with the metric conversion ‘comedy’ in this article. My eyes started to glaze over after the 3rd such sentence.

    Perhaps the joke is that you really don’t care about the details of the figures, who understands that anyway? Just that they are all getting much bigger and there are some figures to prove it.

    I was actually thinking about this as I followed a mazda 5 on the freeway at the weekend heading back from a family outing that required us to take both our cars to fit everyone in. If the 5 is a mini-van, then isn’t a Sienna a van? Or do I need to call the 5 a micro-van? And why doesn’t anyone else make a reasonably compact, reasonably priced and reasonably fuel efficient 5 or 6 seat car?

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    For those who do not have 3 or more kids, here’s the scoop. It’s all about the “No Touching Rule” .

    3 kids in one back seat simply fails. You spend the entire drive policing sharp elbows. Very painful.

    I have no idea why people with fewer than 3 kids buy them. Seating position? to lug a drum set? for the understated uh, style?

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Old people don’t like having to climb up or down into vehicles. With most minivans they can shuffle on to the seat and ease in. Plus there’s plenty of room for a Hoveround or two.

  • avatar
    Acd

    And at 4652 pounds a 2013 Chrysler Town & Country is only 17 pounds lighter than a 1978 Chrysler New Yorker which weighed 4669 pounds! At least a Town & Country can get 25+ mpg on the highway so maybe we have made progress in the past 35 years.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      This makes me wonder if a 1978 New Yorker with a pentastar swap would boogey as well as the Town and Country. Certainly not around corners, but in a straight line. With minivan fuel consumption, a case could be made to drive that yacht a lot more often.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        Remember that fuel economy depends on aerodynamics as well as (more than?) the engine…

        For highway driving, weight is mostly irrelevant; it’s the stop-and-go stuff that kills you accelerating all that mass.

    • 0 avatar
      eamiller

      I’m pretty sure you couldn’t haul a 4×8 sheet of plywood in a New Yorker which a modern minivan can.

      • 0 avatar
        Acd

        When a “minivan” weighs as much as a ’78 New Yorker it really should lose the “mini” and become a “van”.

        I completely agree about the plywood though I might try sticking some 2×4′s out the window of the New Yorker.

  • avatar
    mvoss

    I’d like to add that Minivans can be quite cool. Imagine how much everyone’s gonna love you when you tell all 7 of your friends that you can carry them all to go bar hopping while they can watch Spongebob Squarepants. Substitute your regular Honda Odyssey for an ’07 R63 and you’re probably having more fun than your drunken friends!

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Sorry, but this is old news and has been addressed here before.

    My 96 Grand Voyager was 200 inches long. There hasn’t been anything ‘mini’ about minivans for almost 20 years.

    What has changed is the demand for bling on these things, which can drive the price up into the high 40s these days.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      The Grand Caravan of 1984 was 190 inches long.

      There’s never been anything mini about the longer minivans.

      (Admittedly, the standard Caravan started at 175, and the Aerostar was about the same. But the Grand Caravan was always popular, wasn’t it?

      And starting in 1995 that was the only Dodge choice, which I guess answers my question.

      A foot and a quarter isn’t so much compared to a base of 14.5 feet anyway…)

  • avatar

    Here, we have real minivans, though they’re also being challenged by CUVs (Urban SUV). They also make more sense than the miniSUVs in that they usually can handle more luggage than the CUVs and some of them can sit more than 5. But the market has spoken and in future they’ll be gone.

    As to the general size growth, while I understand people wanting more for the same money, sometimes it’s just not worth it. I thought I’d hate the loss of space from downsizing froma Sandero to a Ka, but the fact is I had forgotten how fun these smaller car (wheelbase of a maximum of around 2,4 meters are) can be. I don’t mind sitting in them in traffic. I don’t mind them on the road. But even here they seem to be on the way out.

  • avatar
    nguyenvuminh

    I suppose the appeal of the van, minivan, microvan depends on your personal situation. My wife and I have 2 young children, possibly shuttling my mom, led me to the microvan, i.e Mazda 5 (and like Ash78 above, the Ford Grand C-Max, until Ford changed their mind). I was sorely disappointed at not having the Grand C-Max as an alternative. The Odyssey and Sienna are just too big, too much gas and too much money for my preference. But I’m sure quite a few out there think the Odyssey/Sienna is the right size. As to the CUV alternative, sliding door is so much more practical for us parking wise, easier to open and close by young kinds, and ease of ingress and egress compared to regular door. Again, I just wish Mazda would put the Skyactiv engine in it.

  • avatar
    ja-gti

    We’ve had our 2006 Sienna for seven years now and love it.

    Why a vehicle this size rather than a Mazda 5 or sedan?

    1. Car seat regulations – try putting a rear facing car seat behind your seat in a midsize sedan. Then stop trying because you can’t.

    2. Grandparents – they will fit in a minivan, but not in the jump seats of the Mazda 5 third row.

    3. Your wife has friends – and they have kids. Whose car seats need to fit in your van.

    4. Compared to an SUV of similar footprint… it’s about as roomy as a Mazda 5 in those things!

    5. It can tow a utility trailer and carry a sheet of plywood with the hatch closed, and its fuel economy is not that bad compared to a mid-size or Mazda 5. Neither of which can tow a trailer. Well, at least a trailer big enough to carry a sheet of plywood.

    All cars are getting more and more bloated, not just vans. But then again, the average American male in 1960 weighed 166 lbs, but now he weighs closer to 196. And its all gotta fit in there!

    • 0 avatar

      All very true. I mean, let’s be honest: it’s funny to make fun of vans for getting so big, but it’s not like the American consumer is looking at them and thinking “STAY AWAY!” They sold hundreds of thousands of Siennas and Odysseys and Grand Caravans last year, all to people who had a very similar thought process as you.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      1. You are right. The rear facing car seat has to be in the middle in almost any non-CUV/minivan now. If you have more than one car/booster seat this feat is even more impossible.

      With two kids, a Mazda5 or Transit Connect Wagon would be fine. I can see how a full size minivan or giant CUV would make it easier though.

    • 0 avatar
      someJuan

      Practicality.

      My wife dreaded replacing her SUV with a minivan when we were expecting our second child, but I insisted. She still hates our 2010 Toyota Sienna and although she would love to replace it, she won’t because of how practical and spacious it is. Try carrying car seats, strollers, toddlers potty chair and still have room to carry adults in a car, wagon or SUV. A “mini” van is the way to go.

  • avatar
    bball40dtw

    90% of the time Spongebob Squarepants is on, it’s the best thing on TV.

  • avatar
    mktimes5

    I think your metric figures might be a little off.

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    one of the most fun conversations I had was with my very stylish, single, late 20s sister who works in the fashion business and came back from a road trip between here in Fl and Texas in a rented Dodge Grand Caravan and announced she wanted a minivan. Badly. She swore it was going to be her next vehicle. Large CUV’s never really entered the equation because they offered no more cargo space than the van for no better fuel economy. Then she ran the numbers on the van’s gas mileage and started looking elsewhere. She was about to bite the bullet and buy a Prius, which she really didn’t want, when I convinced her to go see the Honda Fit. It’s magic seats won her over instantly, and she loves the 30+ mpg she’s averaging in city driving. I think sometimes she still wishes she could’ve made the van work, as there are definitely things she could’ve done with it that she can’t do with the Fit, but overall she (and her Great Dane) are generally happy with the Honda and its TARDIS like capabilities.

  • avatar
    ranwhenparked

    Going back in time a few decades, the original intent of the minivan was to make vans more attractive and comfortable for use as everyday family cars.

    The first minivans were supposed to be “human scaled” alternatives to the full-size vans that had always been on the market. So, let’s see how well that premise holds up. Recognizing that the standard wheelbase Caravan is gone and they’re strictly long wheelbase these days, we’ll compare like-for-like.

    “Full-size” 1980s LWB Ram Wagon:
    196.9 inches long overall
    127.6 inch wheelbase
    79 inch width

    Modern Grand Caravan “minivan”
    202.5 inches overall
    121.2 inch wheelbase
    76.9 inches wide

    So, the modern minivan is longer and only slightly narrower than the big, old, full-size commercial vans they were supposed to replace as family haulers. They’ve basically become totally divorced from their original mission.

    Of course, in the 1970s and 80s, if you were speccing a Ram Wagon out as a reasonably luxurious family transport, the short wheelbase was the version most likely to be ordered – and the Grand Caravan completely dwarfs that one in every measure.

    • 0 avatar

      This is a great perspective – post of the day in my opinion. You’re totally right and that would’ve made for a great point in the article – that the minivan is actually larger than the vehicle it once intended to replace, and thus divorced entirely from its original mission.

      • 0 avatar
        tjh8402

        @ ranwhenparked and Doug: full size vans are subject to the same bloat factor.

        Ford E-150:
        length: 216.7″
        wheelbase: 138″
        width (without mirrors): 79.4″

        Nissan NV3500HD (only passenger model available)
        length: 240.6″
        wheelbase: 146.1″
        width: 79.9″

        Chevy Express 1500 passenger;
        length: 224″
        wheelbase: 135″

        Mercedes Sprinter 2500 standard roof SWB passenger:
        length: 232.5″
        wheelbase: 144″

        All these dwarf both the 1980′s Dodge full size van, as well as the Grand Caravan, and I picked the smallest lightest duty passenger models as representatives of each of their model lines. Longer, taller, and heavier duty 350/3500 HD series are available.

  • avatar
    Secret Hi5

    “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”
    -The Consumer wants more metal for the buck. Witness how the new (& smaller) Malibu was punished.

    Another entertaining article by Dave, er . . . Doug!

    • 0 avatar

      Hah – thanks! And your point is a good one and worthy of a future article, which will also be written in a marginally entertaining way that may remind some people (I am only occasionally one) of a certain famous humorist.

  • avatar
    nickoo

    I love “mini” vans that are out now. If my Tahoe ever kicks it (it probably has 150k more miles in it) I plan to get one of the current dodge caravans to replace it. Preferably in black. It carries just as much, easier to load, near 300 hp, and better milage. The only downside is no more 4×4 but honestly, how often does a person who lives in the city really need that?

  • avatar
    rolladan

    I love my previa but to be honest stock they handle like crap mid engine or not. After a set of tein super wagon coilovers my van handles so damn good.

  • avatar
    wmba

    “There’ll always be an England” warbled Vera Lynn just a few months before the onset of WWII in September 1939.

    “There’ll always be a ‘Murica” is the refrain today, where the mysteries of a decimal based measurement system continue to befuddle the brains of ‘Muricans. Yessir, 12 inches to the foot, 3 feet to the yard and 1760 yards to the mile, let alone 8 pints to the gallon is just so much easier.

    We, the League of Undernourished Englishmen living in deep dark caves in central Cheshire and longing for the return of the Empire, Salute you! Keep it up for the sake of all English-speaking peoples. We must defeat the French and their noxious metric system. It is our destiny! We have only the fortnight left.

  • avatar
    Sgt Beavis

    My wife and I came pretty close to buying a Mazda 5. It was great in every one except on major flaw (for me). The drivers seat didn’t travel back far enough for me to get comfortable. I’m 6’2″ (tall but no giant) and my knees just didn’t enjoy being in that vehicle. We ended up with a Chevy Equinox instead. Not a bad vehicle either. Anyways, the wife is happy, so I’m happy and driving an F-150 on the days I need to actually drive.

    • 0 avatar
      wumpus

      Oddly enough the last generation Sienna (maybe two gens ago, that car must be at least 10 years old by now) doesn’t have enough headroom for me . Ok, at 6’5″ and 31″ inseam I’m a bit of a freak, but I’d expect the headroom in all seats (driver’s and passenger’s, but hit the roof in the back). I’d really like to know what was so important about putting the seats up so high that there is no longer “minivan” headroom.

  • avatar
    CurseWord

    Nailed it.

    “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.”

  • avatar
    baggins

    Lots of people commenting on others needs here, so I’ll chip in as a long time minivan owner with two kids

    - kids bicker / disturb toddler’s sleep less when situated one in each row
    - as kids get older, they have friends, my wife drives my son and two of his friends and my daughter around at least once a week. Not possible legally in a sedan or any two row vehicle.
    - The Mazda 5 is a joke of a competitor to a regular sized van. The third row and storage area is far too small for the slight fuel savings. Only makes sense for urban settings with small parking spaces. And what urban dwellers buy minivans? Hence the poor sales of that vehicle.
    - kids have grandparents – we take 4 adults and two kids in comfort all the time.
    - the space behind the third row is a beautiful thing. Even on winter trips, it swallows up all our stuff. We’ve never used the van with the 3rd row folded, other than with seats fully removed for cargo / building supplies once in a while.
    - Van is unbeatable on 5-10 hour road trips to San Diego, Tahoe, etc. i’m 6’4, and I sit in the second row with my captains chair pushed back till it nearly touches the 3rd row, I can cross my legs, nap etc. I am extremely cramped for more than 30mins in the front passenger seat of most cars.
    - As a driver, I love the roominess as well. I have tons of head room and viability/ ahead is great. The mirrors are massive. — The 04 Sienna wtih 215/65s has the tightest turning circle of any car Ive owned. (this may not be true of all vans) It does burn thru those little tires amazingly fast tho)

    Yes they are big inside and out. But space is comfort and convenience for the day to day, it flexibility to tote 6-7 when needed. Wouldnt have anything else in our driveway.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    I wondered about all of this myself when I looked at a 1980s Chrysler minivan parked next to an early-2000s model. The difference was obvious–the newer so-called minivan looked bloated, but the original looked, well, actually purposeful. The same difference exists between an early-1990s Ford Explorer and a current one–the current Escape seems larger than the original Explorer, but I wouldn’t want to go (ahem) exploring in anything the size of the current model.

    • 0 avatar
      NoGoYo

      I saw a GM “dustbuster” van next to a modern Caravan today, and even with the oversized front end of the “dustbuster”, it STILL looked smaller than the Caravan it was next to.

  • avatar
    walker42

    For someone lamenting how big minivans have become you sure are hard on the Quest. By being shorter and narrower than its predecessor, Odyssey and Sienna it is bucking the trend. It is tall and has a high seating position which you said you liked. The interior is nice enough to be an Infiniti and the ride and quietness are best in class.

    Quest usually places 2nd in magazine comparison tests and is often the editors’ personal favorite. It is currently 2nd in Consumer Reports ratings. I think it is the best looking minivan by far.

    Quest is made in Japan and the exchange rate situation has kept its pricing rather premium. That’s about the only drawback.

  • avatar
    YotaCarFan

    My theory is that vehicles need to be made larger nowadays in order to accommodate the increasingly larger manufacturer logos stuck to the hood and trunk.

  • avatar
    markholli

    The metric system is the tool of the devil! My car gets 40 rods to the hogshead and that’s the way I likes it.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    Our 08 Mazda 5 GT is good and it will stick around, but a “big” minivan is in our future.

    With only two kids(twins) the third row seat in the Mazda hasn’t left its spot in the rear floor since they were born. This is enough room for the large double stroller or two single strollers. Placing any stroller in the back means stacking stuff on top of them. It can be done, but the big stroller leaves no room for anything else. And I don’t want to stack above the headrests for obvious reasons. I couldn’t imagine trying to put any cargo back there with a rear seat up, it’s useless.

    The Mazda does decent on the highway, but it really isn’t a highway machine. Lots of road, tire and suspension noise makes for a more fatiguing drive. The power is adequate for most situations, but long grades are tough for the little guy. Changing my transmission fluid after 30k miles (mostly hilly city driving) confirms the transmission is working hard and hot.

    Mileage around town (lots of hills, stop and go) hovers around 19mpg. On the highway, we’ve seen above 30mpg( 32 being the high) but most of the time, it’s around 26-27 mpg. That’s what it’s rated for, but an Odyssey or any other van will return about the same on the highway, with a lot more comfort and power in reserve. The 17-18 real world mpg around town I expect from a bigger van will be an acceptable trade-off to me for the extra capability.

    So, the Mazda will become my DD in a year and the wife will get an Odyssey, Sienna or T&C. Minivans are too versatile a vehicle for the price paid versus an SUV or CUV. And though the 50k minivan is upon us, they don’t have great resale (especially Chrysler) so they can be had 2 years old for considerably less. A 40k T&C is about 30k in a year, 25 in two. A 35k Odyssey is still about 28 in two years.

    We had a conversion van growing up, an 84 Ford E-150 with a simple but well done conversion. No high-roof, no TV, captains chairs and a rear seat sofa/bed. There wasn’t really any room for stuff behind the rear seat either and my dad had a roof box for it( we called it the Big Mac box, since it was fiberglass and looked like the Big Mac foam box at the time).

    It got 11 mpg with a carbed 351 and 3 spd auto. It got this highway or city, Big Mac box or not (EPA website confirmed what my dad said for years). We’d go on a trip (like most Pittsburghers, to Myrtle Beach) and both the 18 and 22 gallon tank would be drained by the NC/VA border.

    My Dad resisted the minivan because he disliked Chrysler and the Japanese vans were laughable. Glad for the option of the “Big Minivan” now that I’m a Dad. My wife wouldn’t drive a E-150, Sprinter or anything like that. And they won’t fit in my garage either.

  • avatar
    akatsuki

    Once cars drive themselves, I am buying a Sprinter van with conference tables and lazy-boys. But currently shopping for a minivan which I regard as just barely large enough (and I just have 2 kids, but you add a couple of bicycles, a dual jogging stroller, luggage, a couple of friends, etc). So no, they are still mini.

    Now just to decide T&C (which I like the best) and take the hit on depreciation or Odyssey…

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      Choose the Odyssey!

      My daughter had one for the past five years. Drove the p!ss out of it. Never did anything except had oil and filters changed at Jiffy Lube and tires at Discount Tire. Still has the original battery in it.

      It’s already got >150K on the clock so she will buy a new minivan when the 2014s come out. You guessed it! It will be another Odyssey.

  • avatar
    964junkie

    You should enter this article for a Pulitzer.


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