Seven hundred miles into my 1,000-mile weekend trip, I found myself stuck in the wasteland of rural Pennsylvania. I was sitting at a dead stop in construction traffic on I-80 — bored, done, sick of being in a car and ready to be back home in New York. I spotted a BMW X6 M in the oncoming lane, and a surprising thought entered my head: “God, I’m glad I’m in this and not that.”
It’s not a mental comparison I expected to make, between a top-tier BMW performance crossover and a Chrysler minivan with cheap plastic trim. But you know what? I stand by it. If you’re taking a Great American Road Trip, do it in a minivan.
Full Disclosure: Chrysler loaned me a top-trim Pacifica Hybrid for a weekend, and was gracious enough to let me add four digits to the odometer. I returned the favor by giving the car back with approximately one million bugs caked onto the windshield, because every car wash I visited on the return trip was closed. I promise I tried.
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This past weekend, a college friend got married out in Ohio. I promised I’d attend, but in our world of flight delays and cancellations I feared I’d never make it by plane. So, I hatched a plan: A road trip, from New York City to Sandusky and back. Eighteen hours in a car over two days, with the wedding in between.
Now, I knew what I was taking on. My parents are, essentially, snowbirds — making trips from Connecticut to Florida and back on the regular, spending days in the car so as not to force their enormous, anxious dog onto a plane. I’ve ridden along on a couple of those drives, which total about the same length as my little weekend jaunt. I knew it wouldn’t be the most fun trip in the world, but it would certainly be doable.
I had my plan. I had my playlists. I just needed a vehicle.
Initially, I thought about something flashy. Take a page out of Andy’s book, get something big and ostentatious to stunt on everyone else at a midwest wedding. Instead, I let my curiosity get the best of me — I’d spent days in crossovers, but had entirely missed out on the current crop of minivans. Honestly, I don’t think I’d ever even ridden shotgun in one.
See, I remember minivans from my elementary and middle-school carpool days. I remember a bright-blue Sienna, its taillight repaired with packing tape after a run-in with a garbage can, its tan cloth interior encrusted with Goldfish dust. I remember the little box of Goosebumps books and Fruit-by-the-Foot that always sat between the second-row seats, ready to make the ride home a bit less boring.
Could a minivan make a better road-trip chariot than the ubiquitous crossover? Were we wrong to abandon those long bodies and powered sliding doors?
There was only one way to find out. I picked up the minivan from its Manhattan garage, plugged my cheap motel into the navigation, and forced my way through the hellish merge into the Lincoln Tunnel. With New Jersey drivers seemingly aiming for me, attempting PIT maneuvers in their efforts to skip one spot ahead in line, I had second thoughts. Why had I picked such a long vehicle for just me and my backpack? Was this extra space, entirely useless to me as the driver, worth it?
The long highway from New Jersey to Ohio gave me some indication. The Pacifica’s long wheelbase made for a smooth ride, almost gliding over the pockmarked interstate asphalt. It was quiet, too — smooth aerodynamics meant I never heard the whipping wind noises you’d expect from 70-mile-an-hour speed limits. On phone calls, people asked me why I’d stopped. They assumed, from the silence in the cabin, that I’d pulled over to chat.
All that space nearly came in handy on my first night in Ohio. My friend’s wedding invitation had helpfully listed a number of nice local hotels. I, an idiot, instead decided to stay in the Rosebud Motel of Schitt’s Creek fame. At least that’s how it felt, entering my room to find peeling wallpaper and buzzing mosquitoes. My friends had similar thoughts upon seeing a video walkthrough:
I did in fact tear off the bed coverings, and I did check the mattress, and I didn’t find evidence of bedbugs. But, despite my mistake in motel choice, there was always a reassuring alternative: The van was right there. If need be, I could always fold down those rear seats and settle in for the night.
After discovering a cockroach in the room the next day, and turning in my key without a refund for the next night’s reservation, sleeping in the van became a much more real possibility. It also meant I’d spend the morning of the wedding in the Chrysler, sitting in parking lots outside various Starbucks stores and pancake restaurants. Anything was better than roaches.
So that Saturday, I spent hours just sitting in the car. Relaxing in the driver’s seat, the second row, the third row. In each row, the seats were plush enough to lounge in comfort; in each, there was room for my six-foot-tall frame to comfortably stretch out. Minivans were roomy when I was a kid, and they’ve only gotten roomier as I’ve grown up.
All that space that caused such trouble for me in Manhattan became a luxury, a welcome respite from the grunge and grime of the motel. The Pacifica had leather, a nice stereo; it was my own space that never felt confined or limiting. I controlled the cleanliness. I even did a good job of it, mostly.
The Pacifica can afford to be roomy in a way most crossovers can’t. A crossover’s long hood and truncated tail encroach on the cabin, eating away at space, pushing seats ever closer together in the name of style. Look no further than the coupe-crossover to see it in its worst form.
Most vans lack that pretentiousness. They’re never acting like something they aren’t. Of course they’re big; of course they aren’t particularly stylish. That’s the point. A good van is unapologetically itself, never pretending to be sporty or sleek. Minivans know themselves, know their purpose, and know how best to serve that cause.
One wedding and one night in a much-less-sketchy hotel later, I was homeward bound. The trip back was long, with dead-stop traffic the only notable occurrence. Of course the drive was boring — a van as competent as this one, as put-together and purpose-built, never draws attention to itself with flaws or foibles. Long distances are boring because they’re easy, enabled by the mile-eating prowess of god’s perfect road trip vehicle.
I talk often about how EVs are the future of cars. That always garners responses about hundred-mile commutes and thousand-mile road trips. If that’s you, then fine: Here’s your next vehicle. The Pacifica Hybrid, and the minivan as a whole, is the perfect choice for your next family road trip. Learn to stop worrying and love the van.