QOTD: The Impossibility of High Society Vanning?

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
qotd the impossibility of high society vanning

Some segments and roles just don’t mix. While unfavorable bodystyles and vehicle sizes can be kitted out for sport or luxury, perhaps even succeeding in their mission, sometimes a vehicle’s basic fiber — its core identity — proves an impossible match for its newfound mission.

Sometimes a car is too ponderously large for serious muscle car competition (Mercury’s bargelike, Marquis-based Marauder X-100) or too small and basic for well-padded luxury transport (the earliest Chevrolet Cavalier-based Cadillac Cimarron). Like a dumb-as-rocks linebacker donning a tux and attempting to make conversation at a literary society soirée, these vehicles didn’t fool anyone.

Now, what about the lowly, plebian van?

The seeming incompatibility of vans and high society living came to mind after seeing this unintentionally hilarious ad from the decade that brought us Eddie Murphy. Credit goes to Corey for setting aside part of his evening to bask in the awkward placement of a GMC Safari in a setting that should feature something with Givenchy, Cartier, or Bill Blass badging, but doesn’t.


I will never get tired of GM pitching their vans as luxury formal evening transport. pic.twitter.com/zoeAdtlTto

— Corey D Lewis (@CoreyLewis86) May 11, 2020

No time for extra canapes, cocktails and cocaine — we told the babysitter we’d be back by midnight!

In the seldomly mentioned country of China, automakers compete for supremacy in the high-zoot minivan space (Lexus LM, Buick GL8 Avenir), but it seems consumers on these shores are less inclined to try new things. Faster than you can say “Mercury Villager Nautica,” the mind instantly turns to soccer mom mobiles upon any utterance of the word “minivan.” Plymouth Voyagers and Dodge Caravans and the like. Luxury doesn’t spring to mind as far as the larger commercial and passenger van market is concerned, either.

Show up to a party in any domestically sold minivan these days, and you’ll be playing second fiddle to someone’s MKZ. Maybe even their Camry. Sure, you can easily drop the same amount of cash on a Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid that it would take to buy a Lexus RX, but the result in polite, upper crust circles won’t be the same. With the former setup, you’re an eco-conscious parent who settled. With the latter ride, you’re at least a realtor.

Some automakers tried putting a premium stamp on minivans sold here; it didn’t work. Now, with the minivan segment contracting like a dying star, it doesn’t look like we’ll ever see a true luxury minivan.

Has there ever been a luxurious minivan sold on these shores with the ability to impress the hard-to-impress? Is “premium” a too-strong word for any and all examples of this bodystyle? Feel free to disagree. And please provide examples.

[Image: Toyota]

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2 of 40 comments
  • Cimarron typeR Cimarron typeR on May 13, 2020

    I joke that our '18 Limited Premium AWD Sienna is the "Lexus of mini-vans". But it is/was the nicest in the segment that offered AWD when we bought it new.Our local dealer had to make a trade for it out of state, because we wanted a rare combo of dark metallic blue over brown leather. He jokingly said we're unusual buyers because "no one spends that much on minivans anymore", although we bought it 5k miles on it so we got a pretty good deal. The only luxury item it doesn't have that I would like is heated rear seats. I'm not really into infotainment so Carplay/AA doesn't really factor. I hope the DI V6/8 speed doesn't go away. My 2.0t daily driver is just not that luxurious.

  • WallMeerkat WallMeerkat on May 28, 2020

    This side of the Atlantic, Mercedes have this sown up. I've seen American technology execs turn up at the office for a meeting, their chauffeur in a blacked out Mercedes Vito waiting patiently outside to whisk them back to the exec lounge of the airport. I remember St Andrews, luxurious Sprinter vans would ferry golfers from Edinburgh airport. Though those are more modified panel vans, albeit Vito could class as a Minivan. The UK version of The Apprentice used to use Chrysler Voyagers as luxury transport, though when Chrysler left the European market they changed to VW Transporter vans. Otherwise, a ground-up luxury minivan? The Mercedes R class was an attempt, looking a bit like a raised S class wagon. BMW tried the 2 series MPV, but it was a bit of an ugly duckling. Lancia sold the Theta/Phedra as their version of the Fiat-Peugeot-Citroen eurovans, if they could be classed as luxury? (the successor was a rebadged Chrysler Voyager)

  • Jim Bonham Thanks.
  • Luke42 I just bought a 3-row Tesla Model Y.If Toyota made a similar vehicle, I would have bought that instead. I'm former Prius owner, and would have bought a Prius-like EV if it were available.Toyota hasn't tried to compete with the Model Y. GM made the Bolt EUV, and Ford made the Mach-E. Tesla beat them all fair and square, but Toyota didn't even try.[Shrug]
  • RHD Toyota is trying to hedge their bets, and have something for everyone. They also may be farther behind in developing electric vehicles than they care to admit. Japanese corporations sometimes come up with cutting-edge products, such as the Sony Walkman. Large corporations (and not just Japanese corporations) tend to be like GM, though - too many voices just don't get heard, to the long-term detriment of the entity.
  • Randy in rocklin The Japanese can be so smart and yet so dumb. I'm America-Japanese and they really can be dumb sometimes like their masking paranoia.
  • Bunkie The Flying Flea has a fascinating story and served, inadvertently, to broaden the understanding of aircraft design. The crash described in the article is only part of the tale.