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Why I Finally Gave in and Bought a Minivan

The “soccer dad” taxi has become the epitome of Gen X cool

Humorous setting of man with cool glasses proudly kneeling in front of his van
Paul Spella

The pandemic caused many of us to reexamine our life choices. Some people quit their awful jobs. Some fled from (or returned to) the suffocating embrace of partners, spouses or families. And some traded in their sedan, wagon, hatchback or sports coupe for a minivan.

Yes, a minivan. For Gen Xers weaned on station wagons, who endured the vile SUV craze of the past few decades, it was the one vehicle we swore we’d never own. It was the suburban dad’s ride, proof that you’d given up on any semblance of urban coolness. There but for the grace of God go I.

And yet minivans have become the hottest-selling vehicle on the market. And Gen X dudes are buying them. What gives?

“We just ran out of space,” explains Jim Yu, a 47-year-old lawyer in northern California, who ditched his electric BMW i3 for a base Chrysler Voyager. 

Working from home with two small children during a seemingly eternal lockdown might make anyone long for an abyss. But then you discover—like so many other Gen Xers did—that buying a minivan is like that dream where one discovers an extra room in their house.

“I describe it as a living room on wheels,” says Yu. “It just totally encapsulates you.”

Jeff Uegama, 49, traded in his 10-year-old Kia Forte sedan for a new Kia Carnival. “Even compared to a midsize SUV with a third row, the amount of cargo space you have is really the deciding thing,” he says.

That’s because a minivan is essentially a giant box on wheels, privileging comfortable carrying capacity over everything else. 

This comes in handy particularly as a means to preclude the “Veronica’s touching me” arguments that plague families with multiple children. “With a third row, they can be a little more separated from each other back there,” Uegama notes. “Happy kids make a trip a lot nicer.”

Minivans are the locus of the greatest innovations in the auto industry. They have seats that fold and disappear into the floor. And panopticon-like surveillance systems that allow a driver to view an individual passenger on a dashboard-mounted camera and to deliver instructions to them through their headphones. 

They have integrated vacuums! Does your Escalade or your S-Class have vacuums? Hell no!

“The number one thing for me was the push-button doors,” says Kyle Stock, a 44-year-old automotive writer for Bloomberg in New Jersey, who recently traded in his Audi wagon for a Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid with signature doors that slide open and shut at the touch of a button. “I would buy a pile of garbage if it had push-button doors.”

Minivans speak to our current pandemic-induced desire to simultaneously cocoon and escape. They’re like an RV but just for the trip part. And instead of having to sleep in them in a Wal-Mart parking lot, you can drive them to a cool Airbnb in Joshua Tree or the Outer Banks and sleep in a real bed like a grownup.

Though I’m a childless, middle-aged, urbane homosexual—and thus among the least likely people to ever need, desire or purchase a minivan—every time I drive one, I think, Thank God I don’t have any kids. 

Then I think, Maybe I should trade in my little German station wagon and my five other vintage cars and splurge on a top-of-the-line minivan and head out on a yearlong balls-out road trip to all the states where weed is legal. 

And then I google “Van Sized Stoned Unicorn Decal,” and we all know where that leads. 

Are vans still uncool? Sure they are. But they can also be knowingly, slyly contrarian. Like living in Manhattan or wearing wide-wale corduroy blazers, they’re so uncool, they’re cool.

Additional photo credits: Getty Images (background, glasses, fire, man); Drive Images/Alamy (van)