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I Think an Off-Roady Minivan Would Be a Huge Success

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author photo by Doug DeMuro August 2017

I was recently discussing cars with my friend David, and he came up with a brilliant idea that I've decided to steal for a blog post: an off-road-oriented minivan. A minivan with a slight lift, a two-tone exterior color scheme, all-wheel drive and maybe some plastic cladding on the lower half. And, of course, some sort of family-oriented, go-anywhere lifestyle name. The Toyota Sienna FamilyCross. The Honda Odyssey Mojave. The Chrysler Pacifica XFamily. The Kia Sedona Glacier.

I know, I know, half of you think this sounds stupid, and the other half are scurrying down to the comment section to make a joke about how this already exists, and it's the Chevy Tahoe. But, of course, that's not really true; the Tahoe (along with its rivals) is a true SUV, with SUV styling and SUV practicality, which isn't quite minivan practicality; there's no stowable middle-row seating or rear vacuum cleaner or power sliding doors, and it's not as easy to drive as a minivan.

But, you'll argue, isn't the whole point of a minivan that it's not an SUV? Why SUV-ify it?

Well, here's my reasoning: 20 years ago, Subaru took their Legacy station wagon and decided to lift it a little bit, give it SUV styling and add an off-roady name. The resulting Subaru Legacy Outback was a massive hit, combining two things that buyers wanted: SUV styling and appeal with station wagon practicality. It was so popular, in fact, that Subaru later did it again to much success (the Impreza-based Crosstrek) and practically every other wagon automaker copied it, too: The Volvo V70 became the Volvo XC70, for instance, to the point where the normal one has been totally killed off. Same for the Audi A4 Avant, which is now the Audi allroad -- with the "regular" model gone completely.

So why not do the same thing for the minivan?

The thing about the minivan is that everyone who has a family wants a minivan, whether they have one or not. Some people refuse to actually get a minivan, because of the social stigma, but everyone agrees they're the most versatile, practical people movers on the planet. They're better than SUVs, with their wide doors and their easy driving position and their acres of easily accessible seating.

But then there's that social stigma. A minivan? Who wants a MINIVAN?! That's the rallying cry of people who buy Tahoes and Expeditions and Explorers and the Mercedes GLS-Class: They won't touch a minivan. But they have the same suburban house and the same soccer practices and the same trumpet lessons and the same carpool runs as everyone else -- they just insist on sticking their families into something less practical.

So why not combine them? Why not give those people a minivan that looks like an SUV, so they can have the practicality of the minivan without giving up the ruggedness they seem to crave from an SUV? This is exactly what happened with the allroad, the XC70 and the Outback: Wagons were "uncool," but SUVs were cool, so they just made wagons that looked like SUVs. Why not a minivan that looks like an SUV? Admittedly, not quite like the one above, which was some sort of funny concept thing Toyota did for SEMA. Just a half-inch lift and some two-tone paint and some unique wheels and some good marketing.

I'm completely serious about this idea, and I think it will revolutionize the minivan world. And you will, too, when you're driving around your family in your new Toyota Sienna WindRunner.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
I Think an Off-Roady Minivan Would Be a Huge Success - Autotrader