When Minivan Becomes The Answer

A lot of us start off life as parents knowing we need a vehicle with four doors, or at least four seats but regardless you quickly realize how space is a majorly important factor. We’ve been parents for over ten years and even when we were a family of three, we were quickly overwhelmed by how much stuff you need to take along with you on an outing. A road trip? Double up on the amount of stuff. Like some couples venturing into parenthood, we swore one thing from the beginning: We will NEVER own a minivan!

Why would we need one? An SUV is perfectly suitable and is a lot cooler to drive around! It sure is. It has enough cargo space, has enough room, and is plenty capable of handling the job. We made it through two kids and over ten years just fine using SUVs. So the thought never crossed our mind to ever even consider a minivan and I constantly found myself laughing at someone who had submitted to owning a minivan.

Our current vehicle market here in the US is very SUV and CUV heavy. Everything from small to large and in between. Then everything from rugged to cute and elegant. If you can think of a flavor the SUV market probably has it. Our roads our flooded with a sea of these vehicles because automakers have been swiftly responding to the demand for them and phasing out less popular models such as sedans and replacing them with new SUV models. It’s really unfortunate, because I’m a big fan of sedans myself but that’s another rabbit hole we won’t go down in this story.

We’ve owned many different variations of SUVs over the years ourselves. My 2005 Nissan Pathfinder is rugged and tough, but we have traveled on many road trips in it and it has been the most reliable vehicle I’ve owned. Our most recent one was a 2015 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD, which as you may find in an earlier article I wrote that I was quite fond of too. We purchased it in sort of a pinch though to replace my wife’s Kia Sorento that had gotten totaled a few days earlier. Even being a spur of the moment purchase, it turned out to be a fantastic vehicle. Except for one thing…

Space.

It was a small CUV, so we kinda knew what we were getting in to with it but we thought we could make it work. We did make it work for over two years. It was fine for our daily use, so my wife was able to commute in it fine and we could run most errands in it without issue. Let’s be honest here though: It just barely did the job and we kept making it work. Larger shopping trips were difficult if we went together, because the rear cargo area had limited space. Traveling was impossible, especially when we needed to take a stroller along(which ate up 40% of the rear cargo area), and we always felt like it just barely met our needs. It was super reliable though and fun to drive, so we kept living with it as mainly a commuter vehicle.

The problem was we found ourselves turning to my old faithful Pathfinder whenever we needed to travel, carry more than four people, or carry a large amount of cargo. Which is fine, because even with 171,000 miles it’s still ticking along like nothing has changed and it doesn’t get driven much now since I have a sedan I drive daily. The problem is it gets 13mpg around town and 16mpg on trips. Plus while it has plenty of space, it still can fill up quickly once we pack for a trip. It’s paid for though, so we live with the flaws and just plan our trips around using it.

So recently I was tasked with helping my brother-in-law and sister-in-law shop for a minivan. They have owned one in the past but with having four children and traveling a lot, they decided a minivan would fit their needs better. So I helped them choose a few options then went and drove a few vans for them to help them narrow down their choices. They ultimately ended up choosing a nicely cared for Chrysler Town and Country.

I’ve been in quite a few minivans over the years, but after my father-in-law purchased an older Honda Odyssey for himself as a backup vehicle and realizing how useful they can be when they’re not full of people I started to soften up my opinions on them a bit. Then after test driving the vans I did recently I started wondering to myself “why have I been avoiding one of these for so long?” Yep. I must be going insane because I had finally started to let myself think a minivan wouldn’t be so bad after all. I held out for over ten years, but it finally hit me.

So I ran across one in my shopping for the other vans that really caught my attention for some reason. A well cared for Honda Odyssey EX-L with a very detailed maintenance history. It was loaded with everything except navigation. I kept looking at it and finally decided to show it to my wife, thinking she would quickly shoot it down since she had been just as anti-minivan as I had been. Much to my surprise she was interested in it as well, so we setup an appointment to look at it.

In person it was much cleaner than I expected. Honestly I’ve never seen a used minivan cared for this well inside. It looked like the back seats had never even been used. We test drove it and both really liked it. It was unbelievable how well it drove and how much space it had inside. So we talked it over and decided we would trade our Mazda CX-5 on it, because it was the least sensible vehicle we had unfortunately. After some negotiations, it was ours. I had done it. I bought a minivan. Gasp.

Our kids were ecstatic over it. They no longer had to sit even remotely close to each other. It had a rear DVD player that they each could have their own headphones. They had their own cup holders. They had their own space. Yeah, they were pretty happy. We were also pleased with all of the storage, cargo space, and how much easier it was to get the kids in and out of it. Oh and cupholders! I never thought cupholders would ever be this important but our Mazda had AWFUL cupholders. The Odyssey? It has four in the front alone and 10 throughout the vehicle. Storage compartments everywhere. Tons of leg room. To top it all off it even has a REFRIGERATOR. Yes you read that right! A REFRIGERATOR. Honda calls it a “Cool Box”, which is this neat compartment in the lower dash area that when on funnels cool A/C into it to keep drinks cold. Pretty slick.

Much to my surprise after a few days of driving it, this van somehow gets BETTER fuel economy with a 3.5L V6 than our Mazda CX-5 did with a 2.5L 4cyl engine. So not only did we more than double our cargo space, make our life easier in general, but we also somehow are saving money on fuel. Oh and it’s cheaper to insure too! Don’t believe me? Look up the safety ratings. They’re outstanding.

We considered purchasing a larger SUV instead, but I’m glad we didn’t now because after driving the Odyssey, I don’t think an SUV would’ve met our needs nearly this well for so little money. SUVs have their place for sure, but at least right now if you like to travel and have two or more kids, a minivan offers a lot more bang for your buck compared to a lot of SUVs. The versatility and space alone are worth their weight in gold.

Now don’t get me wrong here: Sometimes you just need an SUV and I still own one myself. When you live in a region that gets lots of snow, or maybe you need to regularly go somewhere off the beaten path and 4×4 is a must. Maybe you need to tow something heavy often like a boat or a camper. Then I can’t justify a minivan to replace that type of need. The thing is though most SUVs you see on the road are nothing more than people movers that are justified by a lot of “just in case” scenarios.

So take it from an automotive enthusiast that hated on the minivan for years: They’re not anywhere near as bad as you think. Get over the stigma. Buy the darn minivan and quit worrying about what your friends think. Just because you haul your family around in a minivan doesn’t always mean it’s the only vehicle you own.

Until next time, thanks for reading yet another one of my ramblings!

-Chris

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