Hooniverse Asks: How did Minivans Get Their Bad Reputation?

There comes a point in almost every person’s life when they need a vehicle with greater than average carrying capacity. That vehicle was once the station wagon; the scion of suburbia, the reigning king of the road trip. No one ever thought that there was anything emasculating or dispiriting about driving a wagon, it was just what families had.
The wagon’s rule would end in the Nineties as the twin tsunamis of the Minivan and truck-based SUV gained favor, and not even innovative tailgate technology could stem the tide. SUVs evolved into the more car-like tall wagons we have today, typically denoted as crossovers or CUVs, but Minivans took a different turn. For some reason, they acquired a negative stigma, a taint of resignation, and of having given up on life.
Here’s the thing, Minivans are awesome. Even more so than the station wagons of lore, they are able to swallow large quantities of both cargo and passengers. They are also typically less unwieldy than a comparable capacity SUV or old wagon, and they offer incomparable levels of versatility. Plus, sliding doors!  How could all that value result in something that people are actually ashamed to drive? What did Minivans ever do to earn such a reputation?
Image: Great Ads

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  1. tonyola Avatar

    I blame the fake wood panelling on the early Caravan/Voyager. That alone took away from any cool factor that these vanlets possessed.

    1. Tony D Avatar
      Tony D

      I drove a 1990 same color w/ugly trim. 7 years 150,000 miles. 3 LA – NY round trips loaded with merchandise. Lots of camping. 4 transmissions.

  2. Chris Tonn Avatar
    Chris Tonn

    If I might humbly submit my piece from this morning on TTAC: http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2016/01/digestible-collectible-2007-mercedes-benz-r63-amg/

    1. dukeisduke Avatar

      I call the R-Class a “loaf”, because when I first saw one, the rear end made me think of a loaf of bread. Plus, when I see them, they’re usually loafing along.

      1. rovingardener Avatar

        Even an R63 doesn’t get exercised, not that it would be a good idea. Maybe a spectacular idea but not a good one.

      2. karonetwentyc Avatar

        That’s a lot kinder than my initial description upon first seeing them: “extruded dog turd”.

    2. engineerd Avatar

      I’d rock an R63…if I could find one with like 2 miles on the odo.

  3. Sjalabais Avatar

    Every kid today thinks they’re either going to be president or dance naked on a scene. Short of these accomplishments, the minivan represents the ordinary life of old; a house, kids, a common job. Imho, this odd hate for the normal is pretty temporary, especially considering how many young adults struggle to find their way into the labour market and emancipation. Why people tend to raise themselves by lowering others is a strange phenomenon – but I honestly think that there’s a niche for every taste and need today. The minivan is not dead yet.

  4. Tanshanomi Avatar

    1) Not fast.
    2) Not sharp-handling.
    3) Not prestigious.
    4) Not particularly luxurious.
    They were designed to be nothing but practical in a culture that sees one’s automotive choice as a major statement about oneself. In a world where people saw themselves in action movie heroes who drove Ferraris and Jags, buying a self-propelled, seven-passenger baby stroller was admitting you were nothing like that.
    And I disagree with your statement, “No one ever thought that there was anything emasculating or dispiriting about driving a wagon.” In the ’70s, the station wagon had the same dad-tastic reputation as the minivan would later. Chevy Chase drove the be-woodgrained Family Truckster for the same reason Chili Palmer drove the Olds Silhouette — because people already knew the joke.

    1. 0A5599 Avatar

      Before I read your comments, I was going to post pretty much the same thing. The exception being that, even in the 70’s, there were still a few standout wagons you could drive without damage to your masculinity. Chevy Nomads, real Woody surf wagons, Jerrari, wagons towing cool boats or race cars, etc.

      1. Lokki Avatar

        “Even in there 70’s there were a few standout wagons you could drive without damage to your masculinity..”
        I present the 1972 Olds Vista Cruiser For your consideration:
        Further: I submit this article as evidence to support my position (Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s not stock, but it was worthy of modification

    2. Maymar Avatar

      This, for sure. I’m not sure I can ever think of a minivan ad that didn’t have kids in it, while basically every SUV ad in the 90s had windswept dunes, or huge rock piles, or snowy peaks, or something to suggest you were a rugged individualist. It allowed one to indulge in a middle-age crisis without everyone laughing at you. Minivans don’t have that luxury, or plausible deniability.
      Then again, crossovers are mostly less useful minivans, and they’ve managed to leech of residual SUV image.

      1. Tanshanomi Avatar

        I was just reading this yesterday:
        This Etios surely comes with Cross badging and mate cladding but it is no SUV or a potential SUV rival from any aspect. It does not have a higher ground clearance nor is it a go anywhere vehicle. It is still very much the Liva hatch which looks rugged and muscular.
        P.S.: I love reading Indian car and bike reviews. He actually refers to the Etios Cross’s engine as a “big block”, saying “I personally love higher displacement petrol engines.” Reading that said about a 89HP, 1.5L mill is a great calibration.

        1. BЯдΖǐL-ЯЄРΘЯΤЄЯ Avatar

          Brazil invented that segment with the Fiat Adventure line, then came the Fox Cross, the Ford Ecosport, the Renault Sandero Stepway and the door was open and everybody needed a adventures Hatch.

          1. karonetwentyc Avatar

            Memo to Brazil: you need to talk Fiat into making the Strada Adventure Locker with actual 4WD and retaining the E-locker option in that configuration, then sending them to FCA to sell in North America. It’ll save me from having to scour Craigslist and eBay for rust-free Subaru Brats and create at least one ‘shut up and take my money’ moment that would cause at least me to set foot in a dealership.

    3. Jax Lazzo Rhapsody Avatar

      Not fast, don’t handle well…shiiiittt, the new Caravans will spin tires from a standstill, the awd Sienna is not only quick, but handles well, the Sedonas are pretty fast, and an Astro/Safari is a 350/LS swap, and S-10 go fast suspension componenta away from being a decent corner carver. The turbo k-car vans were decent sleepers, hell even the Mazda5 is pretty peppy. Actually, I like the looks and the Sedona, and Sienna, would love to see an awd TRD turbo sedona, maybe with a(cn’t believe I’m saying this) DSG.
      Are they literally rockets, no they aren’t, but for large ass vehicles, most of them are pretty fast, I mean the Oddysey has about 295crank hp

  5. Citric Avatar

    It was the car your parents drove and nobody wants to turn into their parents for some silly reason. This is also why the days of the CUV are numbered, but the replacement for that hasn’t arrived yet.

    1. Maymar Avatar

      Strangely enough, about a year back, GM had a local radio ad for the SRX, asking you to remember your mom’s sleek SUV, and how jealous it made all the other parents. Totally the anti-Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile, and just as obnoxious, especially since the SRX is dated and meh.

    2. Rudy™ Avatar

      We must be a generation apart–we only had station wagons when I was a kid. 😉 They were actually Dad’s company cars. Favorite was a Plymouth Suburban, early 70s. Built like a tank, and roomy for our two week trips out west. Funny how the speedometer quit working the day we left for each trip, and started working again on that Sunday once we’d get back home…

  6. KarlH Avatar

    I’ve (my wife) got a 2013 Odyssey and pretty frequently I catch the whole “why in the world did you buy a minivan” gripe from friends. That is until they ride in it and they become converts. The van rocks, plenty of room for 6 linebackers or TWO families of 4 to go on a road trip very comfortably. Enough power to pass angry brotrucks on the highway. Pretty decent gas mileage, and a good stereo. For better or worse it feels like driving an Accord. Need to pick up some drywall or carry bikes or whatever, no problem. It also appears to be totally invisible to police.
    Is a GT-R going to be a more fun car to drive – of course.
    I think a lot of people that are so against minivans are simply afraid of hurting their own image, and I think that’s a pretty sad way to live life. I’m not talking about buying something else instead because you’ve done your research – but that whole no minivan no way attitude.
    For a family that needs / wants to haul some crap I think it’s tough to beat the bang for your buck of a minivan.
    To add to my car buying decisions – my car is an AWD Manual Wagon (that I think is rad but maybe that’s just because I’m a 40 year old with a family).

    1. Rudy™ Avatar

      I’m with you on this one.
      I’m at an age now where I don’t really care about what image I project. If I had a need for a minivan as opposed to a larger SUV, I’d get one. Or if the right deal came along, I’d probably go for a used Odyssey over the used MDXes I’m looking at currently. My thing is, I often need to haul larger loads than I could easily pack into a car. I have a kidlet heading to college in a year and a half, and in the near future I will also have a need for a vehicle with a decent tow rating (and by extension, I’d rather have all wheel drive on tap, hence the SUV).
      So for my needs the larger SUV makes sense. I have a nearly antique CR-V at the moment. I can’t afford, nor do I have a need for, more than one vehicle. Yet I would never discount a minivan if it solved my transportation and hauling needs in one vehicle.
      With different needs, or if I could afford a weekend car, I’d be all over something a little more svelte I’m sure… 😉

    2. Jax Lazzo Rhapsody Avatar

      I actually wouldn%t mind a 1st gen Astro awd, with a mildly built 350, and the T5 from anS10. Massage the body for either 86 Monte SS wheels, or 86 IROC wheels

  7. smalleyxb122 Avatar

    Lee Iacocca killed the minivan by giving birth to the minivan. Mini vans existed long before the minivan was conceived, but it was the S-platform progeny of the (now) maligned K-car that made it ubiquitous. It was that ubiquity that killed its image. There is a generation and a half now for whom the minivan is the quintessential mom-mobile. If their own mom didn’t have one, their friend’s mom did. Virtually every American under the age of forty has a memory of a minivan, and for most of them, it is of a Plymouth Voyager. It would take glasses tinted to nearly opaque rose to recall that with any fondness.

  8. Tiberiuswise Avatar

    When I used to ride in my parent’s Gran Torino Country Squire I could at least identify it as being related to Detective Starsky’s two-door version. When I had an Explorer I could at least identify with an off-roading image. I’m not sure how I would maintain any such plausible deniability in a minivan.

  9. Feds_II Avatar

    Maybe it’s because I’ve owned awesome minivans, but I can’t agree more.
    My MPV was decent enough to drive (Credit the RWD layout and the Mazda tuning), and was very comfortable on long trips too.
    And of course, the Delica is better at everything than anything else I can think of. It’s currently laid up with a potentially fatal lack of combustion sealing, and I honestly can’t think of anything I want to replace it with.
    Honestly honestly, if I could go back in time and give 23 year old me a piece of advice, it would be to forgo the brand new Protege5 and buy the nicest ’98 4×4 MPV available. Would have saved me tonnes of money and hassle, and it would still fit my needs today.
    Minivans are canvasses. They can be anything you want them to be from comfy road trippers to crazy road coursers.

    1. Car_Door Avatar

      Are those both yours? If so, I’m very jealous.

      1. Feds_II Avatar

        It was my driveway for a while. Traded the MPV on a Grand Vitara a while ago. I have some regrets.

    2. karonetwentyc Avatar

      NOW KISS!

  10. Feds_II Avatar

    300zx swapped MPV:
    Drag Race Delica

    4X4 Aerostar build (picture links look broken at the moment)

  11. Car_Door Avatar

    The demise of the minivan came about when minivans stopped being mini. Take for example the VW type 2, which had a 94 inch wheelbase, and 178 inch overall length. Compare that to a Toyota Sienna today, which is 200 inches long, has a 120 inch wheelbase, and can weigh over 4,500 pounds.

    1. Tiberiuswise Avatar

      That Sienna is only 18 inches shy of a full size (regular) Ford Transit.

    2. Cool_Cadillac_Cat Avatar

      The Dodge A-108, the LWB one…wheelbase of 108″, overall length of 189″, it was tidy.
      Also, V8-powered, and could be had with 1-ton suspension.

  12. nanoop Avatar

    I don’t think they have a bad reputation. The alleged typical driver has a bad reputation among car forum contributors, but that’s our problem. It’s idiotic to try to put three child seats into a European sized sedan (Mondes. , Passat) so I’d rather take the car designed for inner space efficiency

    1. LeaksOil Avatar

      We don’t have a Mondeo here in the USA so I can’t comment on that. But even two seats!? Those rear facing ones are a pain. We had a booster and a rear facing in our Subaru Forester and my short wife could barely sit in the passenger seat in front of it. I couldn’t fit at all.
      (Subaru owners manual specifically forbids putting it in the middle position for safety reasons due to the rear seat design).

  13. mad_science Avatar

    Because they’re purely practical utilitarian, with pretty much no pretensions to doing anything cool. They have all the handling characteristics of a bland, FWD sedan.
    SUVs can tow or go offroad. CUVs are actually getting to the point where they’re fast and/or handle well. Old-school wagons can do everything their two-door platform-mates can (and more). Even full-size vans can be hopped up, converted to 4wd and/or demonstrate some burliness.
    For being practical, convenient and comfortable, they truly are the mom-jeans of the automotive world.

  14. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1

    When I used my Mk1 Espace as my windsurfing support vehicle, twenty years ago, everyone used to ask me what it was, and say what a great vehicle it was. Today in NZ people interested in outdoorsy sports seem to run either Subaru wagons or Jap import 4wd vans.
    The marketing mistake was not selling minivans as ‘lifestyle’ vehicles like SUVs. Now light vans have got better they are a good choice but proper minivans are much nicer to drive and have better dynamics than ‘separate chassis’ 4wds. The extra soundproofing over a van makes them much more bearable on a longer drive.

  15. salguod Avatar

    Minivans do more things well than any other class of vehicle.
    Thing is, in the 50s, 60s and 70s, wagons were what families had and had pretty much the same stigma. Mommy-mobiles. The minivan ruled the 80s and early 90s,then the Explorer came along and suddenly and SUV was a cool way to get (most of) the utility a family needed. Now the baton has been passed to the CUV instead, and to an extent the lowly wagon is regaining some appeal.
    Funny thing is that the uncool minivan still sells half of a million copies each year.

    1. Rudy™ Avatar

      They do sell, but GM and Ford also quit making then. It’s just more pie for the others. I agree, too–the 70s was all about station wagons. They were even big enough to carry 4×8 sheets of panelling (another relic of the 70s!) home from the lumber yard, flat on the floor.

  16. Preludacris Avatar

    I have never been tailgated as much as when I borrowed a minivan for three days. I drove the same speeds as I do in my car. It was an incredibly useful vehicle but it turned everyone around me into an idiot. If they would have looked at their speedometers instead of my borrowed Caravan’s bulbous rear end they probably would have felt much more peace.

  17. wunno sev Avatar
    wunno sev

    the minivan is unpopular in part because it is associated with mothers, rather than with parents. the station wagon was just a sedan with more space; dads drove them, moms drove them, kids were handed-them-down. minivans are 100% inextricably associated with moms (feel free to add your preferred sport prefix). yeah yeah, you know dads who drive them, whatever. minivans are associated with mothers, period. mothers of multiple young kids in particular. and that is perceived as a distinctly “uncool” period in one’s life.
    a contrast: however they’re actually used, the basic form of the pickup truck is still driven by function. pickups drive like garbage and look like things for work. yet they’re “cool” enough to get King Ranch editions that cost like 70 grand. why? because trucks are often driven by men with disposable income and spare time. a culture of ride-pimpage is inevitable. that has spread to other people: pickup trucks are way more of a personal luxury item now than they were thirty years ago amongst all ages and genders. people see their trucks not as tools, but as vehicles for self-expression.
    so when will the utilitarian, function-driven minivan become cool like the pickup truck did? probably not until young mothers get some spare time and money.

    1. neight428 Avatar

      Agree. People want to be cool. What it gains them, I’ve yet to discern. A pickup tells the world of all the daring capability that you need to have in your life when you’re not fighting to get it in a parking space at Target.

  18. Gee Nick Avatar
    Gee Nick

    Nobody wants to drive what their mom drove.

    1. LeaksOil Avatar

      I just don’t get the why…mom drove an Astro for a bit . I drive a Town & Country every day,…what my mom drove didn’t affect my decisions for any vehicle I’ve ever owned ,…

  19. jeepjeff Avatar

    That Ford Ad. Oh my.
    Button Down Shirt? Glasses? Cut his hair himself by putting the #2 comb on the clippers? Mustache? (You didn’t need to ache-k). My Dad. 1985. And yes, he drove a brand new Dodge Caravan. Red on red. (Actually: he had two: the first one was a lemon, and Chrysler replaced it a year into ownership. Both red on red. MOPAR OR NO CAR!!1!)
    Why did he drive that vehicle? It was practical, and he had three year old me, my little brother and my older sister to haul around. We didn’t fit in the MG he sold when Mom was pregnant with me. I still feel the need to apologize for forcing that choice upon him.
    But that’s it. He sold the British roadster for some family man practicality. As others have pointed out, what you drive is a big part of the image you project to the world. It’s part of why “must be awesome” is near the top of my requirements list for vehicles I buy. The projected image is one reason why I drive an aging Jeep Wrangler when I could afford just about whatever I wanted. I like what that choice implies about me.
    Finally, my Dad’s mustache is way better than the model in the ad. Way better. He rocks the hell out of his ‘stache. It’s the one part of the legacy of the family facial hair that I have not been able to pull off.

  20. neight428 Avatar

    Image indeed. The ways that people reorder their lives to influence their own perception about what other people think about them is a fertile playground for marketers. The minivan does the job for half the price of an SUV that can haul as much people and their stuff.

  21. karonetwentyc Avatar

    Minivan image problem solved – at least around here. And by ‘here’ I mean ‘Hooniverse’.

    1. marmer Avatar

      Yeah, but that thing’s tiny! About the size of a Mini Countryman.

      1. karonetwentyc Avatar

        Actually… The Countryman is considerably larger in every dimension. There’s more mini in the Multipla than in the Mini.

  22. LeaksOil Avatar

    I’ll never understand it. It’s shallow and silly, imho. An SUV/CUV says “soccer mom” just as much as a minivan does in a modern world. Besides, what’s wrong with looking like your taking the kids to school when THATS WHAT YOUR DOING. SUVs/CUVs sacrifice function for “form”. Sliding doors are awesome. I’ve had back surgery, SUVs/CUVs literally represent a pain for child hauling. If I’m buying a vehicle for a function (hauling my family) why the f’ing hell would I knowingly buy one that ISNT as good ?
    I can’t wrap my head around giving up function to look “cool”.
    I don’t get the whole “my parents had one” thing either. So what? Mine had a shitbox base model Astro. Know what else your parents did? Have kids. But that didn’t stop you from having them, now did it?
    My high school girlfriend drove one for a bit too. What’s that got to do with my life now? Nothing.
    I need to shut up before I really get on a roll on a soapbox. I love minivans. I’ve got small kids. I’m desperately holding on to the idea of being able to drive/own them until the kids are grown and gone.
    -millineial who loves his Town & Country.