By Teddy Field
In the late-1970’s – 1980’s, full size conversion vans were quite popular in the Burbs. Swivel velour captains chairs, fold-out tables, a tv set with VCR, skylights, and small forest’s worth of cheap wood trim. On a roadtrip, your mom’s Tropic Traveler van was awesome. Just pop-in your Back to the Future tape, close the pink/brown/tan curtains, and chillax on your way to visit grandma.
Nobody cared that your hi-top living room-on-wheels got 10-mpg. Gas was $0.799, and your RoadLiner had two 855-gallon tanks. Granted, these vans were a bit difficult to park (see: Docking a Cruise Ship), but everybody wanted one. Then along came the minivan, with its high-fiber approach to people moving, and ruined everything.
Mom liked how easy her minivan was to drive. Dad liked how cheap it was on gas. And you were stuck fighting with your sister over the third-row-bench, because it was the furthest outpost from mom & dad. If the hi-top Tropic Traveler was a condo-on-wheels, then mom’s new Aerostar was like taking a Greyhound bus. But minivans worked on a practical level, which is why so many were sold.
Today, most of us who are old enough to despise the maternal imagery associated with minivan ownership, shuttle our brood around in CUVs. They offer similar levels of practicality, without the stigma of showing up for a date…in your mum’s two-toned brown Astro van. Silly, but true for many of us. However, there are two kid chariots on the market which are actually worth looking at. And the luxury-themed models even approach those ridiculously commodious wheeled-condos of our youth. Let’s check them out…
2013 Toyota Sienna
Part of the reason that minivans fell out of favor is because they were sinfully boring. Black-plastic interior trim, beige cloth seats, and all the exterior grace of a loaf of Wonder Bread. But Toyota’s people-pod is anything but boring. The 2013 Toyota Sienna has presence. There’s a massive grille, subtly flared wheel arches, and a pronounced lower sill. It’s big, and proud of it…like a big girl that knows how to dress.
Opt for the sport-flavored 2013 Toyota Sienna SE, and you get a bodykit (yes) with an enormous lower air dam (it could swallow a Mazda without chewing), tinted headlights / Euro tail lights, 19-inch wheels, a unique interior, and a firmer sport-tuned suspension. It’s not going to set any records at the Nurburgring, but the 2013 Toyota Sienna SE beats the heck outa boring.
On the practicality front, the 2013 Toyota Sienna can be configured to fit up to 8 people. To do this, there’s a child-sized jump seat between the 2nd row buckets, and ample room for 3 adults in the rear. When you’re not tasked with ferrying the entire cheer squad to out-of-town games, you can stow that jump seat in a compartment located in the cargo area. The third row also folds flat into the floor, revealing a cavernous amount of room. However, turning the Sienna into a full-on moving van (150 cu-ft), means that you’re going to have to wrestle out the bulky second row thrones, and you’ll be left with non-movable bracketry in the floor.
If you want to recreate your dad’s Vandura Gladiator (minus the shag carpet of course), the 2013 Toyota Sienna Limited offers plush second row buckets with fold-out foot rests, a huge 16-inch video display with DVD playback & AUX video jacks, a dual-pane glass roof, rear sunshades, and a whole bunch more.
While the 2013 Toyota Sienna may have a few sub-par materials on the inside, along with a really big sticker price, the 266-hp 3.5L V6 is hilariously powerful. And the available AWD system will keep your son from getting your luxo-van stuck in the soggy field, outside the concert that he wasn’t suppose to be at.
2013 Honda Odyssey
Back in the day, conversion vans relied on stripes, to add some style to what was basically a slab-sided rolling deep freezer. Red, brown, and gold swashes snaked their way around these behemoths, attempting to detract from the conversion van’s sheer size. The 2013 Honda Odyssey however, has style built right into the body. An aggressive front end gives way to a wide stance, with a flowing roofline, and that signature lightning bolt detail beneath the side windows. From any angle, the 2013 Honda Odyssey looks hunkered down and aggressive. No small feat for an 8-seat baby buggy.
Like the 2013 Toyota Sienna, the 2013 Honda Odyssey offers seating for 8, using an innovative second row arrangement. Except here, the middle seat is much wider, and the outboard seats can be slid 1.5 inches away from the middle, providing more seating room for adults, or extra room for tethering car seats. You can also slide each of the 3 seating sections fore & aft independently, and the center section can be moved 5.5 inches toward the front, allowing easy access to the screaming baby in a car seat. And there’s even a fold-out trash bag holder in the back of the center console, so you’ll have someplace to throw all those dirty diapers. It’s helpful little touches like these, that remind us just how much Honda pays attention to their customers.
Of course, the surprisingly comfortable third row flops easily into the floor. And there’s like 972 cup/juice box/bottle holders sprinkled throughout the cabin. But the real reason that a Generation X-er should consider a 2013 Honda Odyssey, instead of say, a 2013 Chevy Traverse, is because of the way it drives. Sharp steering, (relatively) agile handling, and a smooth, responsive 3.5L V6 (248-hp / 250 lb-ft) make this people-pod a delight to drive.
A corner-carving barnstormer it isn’t. But, it’s not bad. Sort of like that Accord / Civic you had in high school. Not a sports car, but not a snooze-fest either. And the $43k 2013 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite can be outfitted with all the same reclining, widescreen amenities found in the Sienna, and your dad’s “shaggin wagon”. Plus, you can even option a 650-watt sound system…which Junior is sure to love.
Car Comparison: 2013 Toyota Sienna vs. 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe
|SPECIFICATION||2013 Toyota Sienna||2013 Honda Odyssey|
|Fuel Economy||18/25/21 3.5L / FWD||18/27/21 5-sp auto / FWD|
|16/23/19 3.5L / AWD||19/28/22 6-sp auto / FWD (Touring / Touring Elite)|
|Suburban Snob Factor||7 / 10 Camrys||10 / 10 Camrys|
|IIHS Ranking||Top Safety Pick = Y||Top Safety Pick = Y|
|Why Buy It?||If you want a supremely comfortable cruiser, that’ll probably outlast the polar ice caps, then Toyota’s van is for you. Oh, what a feeling!||If you want a nice, reliable mile-eater, that’s not totally boring to drive, then Honda’s/Homer’s Odyssey is for you. Respect the van!|