All About Minivans!

The minivan segment is a shell of its previous glory. In the 1980s, just when the Chrysler Corporation was reviving the segment, customers began moving away from wagons to minivans. By 2000, crossover utility vehicles began to enter the market in large numbers, gradually eroding demand for minivans.

But there are a few important distinctions between minivans and crossovers that should be noted. The most significant is the minivan’s second-row sliding doors. That design ensures ease of access and egress to the second-and third-row seats. Also, the typical minivan has more interior storage space than a crossover, including a deep underfloor storage compartment adjacent to the liftgate.

Today, just four minivan models remain — the Toyota Sienna, Chrysler Pacifica, Honda Odyssey, and the Kia Carnival. Kia may call the Carnival an MPV, but it is in fact a minivan.

2021 Toyota Sienna
2021 Toyota Sienna


We often credit Chrysler with inventing the small van or minivan segment. But the original models came from Europe even if most never found their way stateside.

In 1950, Volkswagen developed a van based on its Type-1 Beetle car. With the engine mounted to the rear, the Type-2 (later Bus) had no prominent hood. The original VW van featured doors on the driver’s side only and the thinnest bench seats. Nearly two decades later, an updated Bus included a sliding door, a feature unique to minivans even today.


The minivan traditionally holds seven or eight passengers, including the driver, and is based on a car platform. These vehicles are marketed chiefly to families and supply sufficient cargo space with either the second- or third-row seats folded down. Minivans typically offer bucket seats on the first row and bench seats on the second and third rows. In some cases, the captain’s chairs replace the second-row bench. Roof racks and available towing capabilities make the minivan a decent all-around vehicle.


Minivans come with dual sliding side doors. Most models offer automatic doors, although older models may have had manual. Minivans have removable back seats, with the rear row seats that fold down flat, creating the extra feature of a cargo van capacity. Minivans typically come with a V6 engine and an automatic transmission, although the Toyota Sienna hybrid offers a four-cylinder and one or two electric motors to motivate this car.

All models come with a suite of driver-assist safety features. What isn’t standard is usually available through a special package or trim upgrade. These features include lane control, front emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, and parking sonars. A color touchscreen display, audio package, USB ports, and Bluetooth are standard. Most models come with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Siri Eyes Free. The options list includes a wireless charger, Wi-Fi hotspot, navigation, power outlets, and an entertainment system.


Minivans are distinguishable by their lengthy and towering rectangular unibody frames. A minivan is about the size of bygone-era station wagons, and they sit taller. Newer minivans will have sliding doors on both sides, while an older version may include only a single sliding door on one side. Most minivans have standard front-wheel drive. The Toyota Sienna Hybrid is one exception with its available all-wheel drive. A liftgate, usually powered, supplies ease of access to the cargo area.


If you are regularly transporting more than five or six people in your vehicle, the additional room a minivan offers supplies a fantastic advantage over the average family car. Notably, minivans are smaller and get better fuel mileage than the bigger passenger vans. Also, they drive like a station wagon, with additional headroom, larger storage areas, and more individual passenger room in the seating areas. Other benefits include the seating options, particularly in the last two rows. There, seats often recline, swivel, and in some cases fold into the floor. Special aftermarket versions are ideal for handicapped services when fitted with a lift.


A minivan is just under six feet tall and that’s more than a half-foot taller than a car. The front end is short, with the engine placed near the engine wall. These models are usually just over five feet wide and most are about 200 inches long. Weight is also a factor with each one topping two tons.

Parting Thoughts

As a people carrier, the minivan does its job quite well. Despite the limited number of new models available, each of the current players is new or offers significant updates. The crossover may be king, but for some people, the minivan has an enduring value.

See AlsoThe Kia Carnival Minivan Has MPV Aspirations

Image by Kevauto – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Johnny Orion
Author: Johnny Orion
Johnny Orion is a weekend mechanic and a Cars & Coffee hound who dabbles in writing, mostly about cars. His goal is to retrace the famous Route 66 highway in a restored 1972 Pontiac Firebird hardtop with a four-barrel carburetor and a 3-speed manual gearbox. But first, he must convince his friend to sell...

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