Ask Jack: A Van for No Reasons?

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
ask jack a van for no reasons

It’s best to just admit it: I have van envy. The educated among you will know that van envy, like many other communicable diseases, comes in a few forms. There’s Van Envy A, which is the traditional desire to have a boxy vehicle of some sort in the immediate vicinity for carrying children and accomplishing household tasks; this virus is typically found in the water supply of single-family homes. Van Envy B is indicated by repeated involuntary exclamations of “dajiban!” You catch that from accidental subculture immersion.

Van Envy MTB is when you can’t stop thinking about fitting out a fresh new Transit with a toolbox and internal bicycle mounts so you can take a quick trip to Ray’s Bike Park in Cleveland — or maybe Moab. The most virulent and damaging strain of the disease is Van Envy IG, which manifests in a gnawing sense of envy regarding attractive twenty-something couples who rootlessly travel the West holding drum circles and making love in converted high-roof Sprinters, subsisting on nothing but their income from selling woven bracelets at street fairs and an eight-figure trust fund.

Today’s question comes from someone who is suffering from precisely none of that. Instead, he has another condition. One marked by eroding telomere chains, drying skin, and a growing desire to watch Matlock. Chances are you have it too, although it might not be as severe.

Matthew writes,

Hey Jack,

Like you I’m getting old, but I’m a bit farther along, staring down the barrel at Social Security age. I have a lot of joint pain and think I’m going to let my Outback wagon go. It used to be high enough now it isn’t… It might be time for a minivan. $35,000 or less, going to buy it new, need to get ten years out of it, maybe a bit more. If they’re all the same except for reliability, I guess maybe the Toyota is the one. Am I wrong?

This was actually a pretty long email, but it covered some other topics that aren’t directly related to vans. I get the sense that Matthew is a pretty self-sufficient fellow, which is why he isn’t looking at, say, an Encore or BMW X3. He likes the idea of having the space behind the driver’s seat.

There’s a school of thought that says, basically: minivans are refrigerators, buy the one that lasts longest for the least money. Which, as Matthew intuits, would almost certainly be the Toyota Sienna, which puts clear distance between itself and the next most likely choice, the Honda Odyssey, by virtue of having a more respectable transmission supplier. In Honda’s defense, the company has made some nontrivial commitments to improvement in the decade or so since the era of the glass-gearbox Odysseys and Acura TLs, up to and including the creation of a dedicated transmission plant in northeastern Ohio. (Insiders call it HTM, in case you’re curious.)

With that said, you’d be a fool to bet against the long-term durability of the infamous Swagger Wagon from Toyota. It’s a proven performer in its current and all previous iterations. Just call up an UberXL in any major city if you want proof of that. It’s fit for purpose. There’s nothing wrong with it. Even the price is right; when a friend of mine went shopping for one last year I was frankly amazed at how much Sienna you can get for a transaction price of under $30k.

Ah, but let’s take a moment and view Matthew for what he is: a fellow who very well might be buying his last car. Any time you have someone in their sixties talking about getting a decade-plus out of a purchase, it’s a fair bet that they aren’t planning to replace it with a Huracan at the age of seventy-eighty. I think Matthew is entitled to a little surprise-and-delight, even at the expense of resale value or some additional maintenance expenses down the road.

For that reason and a few others beside, I’m kind of sweet on the idea of a loaded-up Chrysler Pacifica. The new model hasn’t been totally trouble-free on debut, and I’m fully aware of its likely deficiencies in service life compared to a Sienna, but do me a favor if you have time: open up the doors of both a Pacifica and a Sienna and have a seat for a few minutes. The Sienna is all Playskool knobs and wide open spaces of undifferentiated light-texture plastics, but the Pacifica has gloss and polish and chrome and, perish the thought, a bit of actual grown-up design in the thing.

The Toyota looks like what it is: a durable box for unruly children, now entering its second decade of existence without much change. The Pacifica, by contrast, is a distinctly new ride, and it has just a smattering of ’76 Cordoba, a touch of glamour. It’s also a bit sharper and more rewarding to drive. Put it this way: if you were going to choose a minivan for a cross-country trip and you didn’t have to pay for it, a sane person would almost certainly choose an optioned-up Pacifica over all the other contenders.

When you get right down to it, the whole Van Envy thing is really a manifestation of the wish to have a little more excitement and adventure in our lives. If we have imagination, we see ourselves going somewhere and doing something in a van. Matthew is also on a journey, although he might not think of it that way. He’s rounding third base on the home run of life. Why not have a little pleasure out of the trip’s final leg?

[Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobile]

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2 of 149 comments
  • Phlipski Phlipski on Jul 19, 2018

    I just finished cross shopping the big 3 minivan makers (Chrysler/Honda/Toyota) and put my money down on a new Pacifica. The Sienna's interior is clearly dated when sitting next to the Odyssey and Pacifica. The captains chairs in the second row when optioned right are pretty sweet though - they slide back and have a foot rest. I can see 4 "mature" people with their luggage driving around in that thing and it's like a private jet. For folks with kids it comes down to the Honda and Pacifica, and that stow and go is hard to ignore. I'll mostly keep those seats up but that floor trunk space is amazing for road trips. For the same feature set I picked up a Pacifica for about $5k less than the comparable Honda. I couldn't convince the wife to get behind that blacked out s-line trim on the Pacifica, but damn is it NICE!!!

  • Hellenic Vanagon Hellenic Vanagon on Feb 26, 2020

    The Syncro Heresy has the answers.

  • El scotto Y'all are overthinking this. Find some young hard-charging DA seeking the TV limelight to lock this kid up. Heck, have John Boehner come up from Cincy to help the young DA get his political career going. Better yet, have the young DA spin this as hard as he or she can; I'm the candidate for Law and Order, I defied our go-easy office and leadership to get this identified criminal locked up. Oh this could be spun more than a hyper active kid's top.Now I'd do some consulting work for Little Kings Original Cream Ale and Skyline Chili.
  • El scotto Pondering if he has a clean brandy snifter. Well but, ah, I mean the original Grand Wagoneer was fully loaded and had a V-8. The original Grand Wagoneer had an almost cult-like following with a certain type of woman. Attractive, educated high earning women; or those that put on the appearances of being that way.Our esteemed HerR DOKtor Perfessor again shows how ignorant he is of the American market. What he deems "bread-vans on stilts" are highly coveted by significant others that are also highly coveted. The new Grand Cherokee with the new well engineered V-6 will sell as well as the ones from the 80s some of us get wistful over. The only real question will be: LL Bean or Orvis edition?
  • El scotto Well, I've had cats that are smarted than a great many members of congress. I rather doubt that any of the congresspeople Matt named are engineers, finance people or project managers. Ya know, professionals you call in to get a job done.Today is Wednesday, this will be out of the 36 hour news cycle by Friday. Oh it might get mentioned again on OCT 6. Unless there are cute animals to put on TV that day.
  • El scotto Oh My Good Lord Yes! Gents, this is a Caddy that carries on the soul of Caddy. Loud, brash, and apologetically American. Also large and in charge and one of GM's best evah engines. What used to be a flash roll is now bottle service.Can't deal with that reality? There are plenty of excellent SUVs/CUVs on the market. I'm a former Escape owner. The Escape was a sensible lil CUV, this Caddy is just way over the top.Canyon carver? Not a chance, this is based on a Silverado frame. Easy to park? Toss the valet the keys. Will some of the other high-end SUVs have better "soft touch" materials that make car journalist get tingly all over? Of course.This Caddy is designed to eat up huge and I mean huge amounts of American interstate miles. Four people and their luggage? Easily.
  • Miguel I have a Mitsubishi Diamante VRX 2003,and I think this is one of the luxury and sport car.