Seated comfortably behind the wheel of a 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, driving through the suburbs on a frigid morning with my seat and steering wheel comfortably warmed, I considered the notion few vehicles have more stigma than the minivan.
To many, they epitomize the loss of youth and independence and the ultimate surrender to bourgeois banality.
This conundrum has inspired quite a few books on the subject, such as:
- Dan Gets a Minivan: Life at the Intersection of Dude and Dad,
- How to Feel Manly in a Minivan, and
- Date Night in a Minivan: Revving Up Your Marriage After Kids Arrive.
Was it fair, I wondered, for the lowly minivan to incur so much scorn?
I never had a minivan crisis. I’ve driven a Dodge Grand Caravan since 2005 and fail to understand the anxiety. I always expected to one day become a dad and I always expected, as soon as the metamorphosis was complete, to become a sock-and-sandal-wearing doofus embarrassment. And I was right.
A minivan is the best vehicle for family travel, for the price and for what they do. Yet many parents try to cling to their "edge” via automobile, purchasing an SUV or crossover because they’re too insecure to just get in the van.
My 2010 Grand Caravan, however, is on the way out, and I’ve vowed to never own another minivan. It’s nothing personal; it’s just the prospect of spending another decade driving a glorified box on four wheels fills me with dread. I want compact and sporty. I’m obsessed. This is a mindset my editor notice,d and he not-too-subtly suggested that, to make my search truly open, I should consider assessing what the new crop of minivans is like. He had a point. A lot has changed since 2010.
And so I found myself driving a Windsor, Ont.-made Ocean Blue Metallic Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid with a 3.6-litre Pentastar VVT V-6 hybrid engine, which I’d been assured is mechanically identical to the 2019 model. Would I feel those old emotions?
When it comes to a minivan, confidence is key. Parents want to be confident that their car is safe and flexible. I got to experience the Pacifica’s safety features almost immediately. An hour into my drive, a car darted out before me. The Pacifica handled the near-miss adroitly. I reacted by instinct, braking quickly then steering into the right lane.
In terms of flexibility, the Pacifica has Chrysler’s Stow N’ Go fold-flat seats, as did both my Grand Caravans. I can’t overstate how convenient these are. Over years spent hauling child-related objects, I’ve Stowed and Go-ed so many times it’s almost a workout.
The Pacifica had all the connectivity you could ask for, including a Uconnect Theatre comprised of two wireless headphones, dual front seatback 10-inch touchscreens, video USB port, and a Blu-ray/DVD player/USB port. This was a step up from what my kids used to watch in our 2010 Caravan, which was an iPad duct-taped to a seat with headphones sticking out of it.
Those were all positives, but the big question for me was: How it would feel under real “minivan conditions?" This meant replicating the hellish experience of long drives with unruly children. So I downed an extra-large coffee and drove around until I had to go to the washroom. Then I searched Spotify for screaming sound effects, something that would duplicate the unnerving experience of children arguing and complaining. I tried some death metal and ultimately settled for a playlist that featured “Laurie Knows” and the title music from Halloween, and the “Psycho Suite” as well, just for the screaming.
I drove on, shaken by caffeine, on the verge of wetting myself, helplessly listening to a nightmarish symphony of discontent.
And there it was again – that minivan feeling!
The final verdict? There’s no way I’m getting another minivan, but if I was, I’d strongly consider the Pacifica – which was just named Family Car of the Year by Cars.com.
Here’s the honest truth. While most of us minivan drivers may go on to drive “better” cars, I doubt any of us will ever own a vehicle that holds so many fond memories. The long drives, the screams, the Cheerios scattered all over, the vomit and dirty diapers, and the day my three-year-old somehow locked himself in the Grand Caravan while it was running – at the time, these made me feel as if I was losing my mind. When I remember them now, it kind of makes me want to do it all over again.
Then I lie down and the feeling goes away.
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