Vintage VW minivan ad
  • Image Credit: Volkswagen

Coolest Minivans Of All Time

Minivans have developed a bad rap over the years, but that's bound to happen to a vehicle that focuses on families. Minivans, to many, embody maturity and, in a way, surrender: You grow up, you have kids and trade in the keys to your beloved college beater or dream car for a slower, safer ride.

Before the rise of the SUV and the crossover, there weren't a lot of options for a family and their accompanying stuff. It was either a sedan which had limited space, a huge van or a station wagon. Minivans changed that. But, these vehicles didn't start out as lame as the vast majority of people seem to think they are today. The minivan helped pull Chrysler from the brink of bankruptcy, they changed the way automakers build for their customers and they have been a constant source of innovation in the industry. In fact, one can make the argument that the minivan is as open to experimentation and innovation as any other vehicle segment.

To prove that the minivan has never truly deserved to be relegated to "soccer mom" status, we've compiled a list of some of the coolest minivans to ever hit the market.

Head on through to see the most interesting boring vehicles ever built.
Volkswagen T2
  • Image Credit: Flickr, Marbles

Volkswagen T2

The Volkswagen T2, also known as the Microbus, Transporter and Kombi, was a proto-minivan. The T2 was released in 1950, and had tons of different options and conversion kits, such as those for police, ambulance and hearse.

Like the Scarab, the T2 put the driver in front and the engine in the rear, which kept the cabin roomy and quiet. It seemed like the perfect family vehicle for the parents of baby boomers, but the T2 ended up actually growing up along with their kids. Once they started grabbing the keys to the old family Microbus for themselves, it morphed from a quirky suburban family hauler into the hippie-mobile.

The T2 was built and sold around the world in increasingly smaller markets until just last year, when the last plant building the T2 shuttered production. Volkswagen still has a minivan, however, in the form of the Volkswagen Routan, but now even that model is closed to the public. The Routan is only sold as a fleet vehicle to rental companies and businesses.
1936 Stout Scarab
  • Image Credit: Wikicommons France

1936 Stout Scarab

This weird little vehicle is considered to be one of the very first minivans of all time. Built by Stout Motor Car Company, one of many Detroit brands many people have never heard of, the Scarab was considered ugly at the time, though we now find its art deco details quite charming.

By using a unitized body structure, the Scarab created a low, flat floor in the interior. The engine was at the rear of the vehicle, allowing for an open airy greenhouse. It was the first car to feature a removable table that could be placed almost anywhere inside the cabin and a second row of seats that could turn 180 degrees to face the rear, a feature Chrysler now calls 'Swivel n' go.'

It was also the first car to feature an independent suspension and an aluminum spaceframe unit-construction body, both features found in performance vehicles today. The company planned to build up to 100, but the cost, at $5,000 (the equivalent of $80,000 in today's money) was much too high, especially considering the luxurious Chrysler Imperial Airflow cost just $1,345. Only nine were ever made, all of which were custom built to order.
1985 Toyota Previa
  • Image Credit: Toyota

1985 Toyota Previa

A 'supercharged Minivan' sounds pretty absurd, but in March 1990 Toyota unleashed just that in the form of the Previa. The Previa had an unusual mid-body engine that was laid almost flat against the body on the car. The layout maximized cabin space, but kept the engine quite small. Since Chrysler minivans at the time all sported big V6 engines, the Toyota Previa couldn't hold a candle to its American competitor's power and fuel economy. Enter the supercharger, which brought engine power up to a competitive 160 horsepower and added 6 mpg to the vehicle's fuel economy.

Chrysler was certain Toyota was introducing the Previa to try and steal some of the magic of the Dodge Caravan, a best seller released five years earlier. The threat to Dodge and Plymouth never really materialized, however. The Previa had a fairly strong go, but it was replaced with the Camry-based Sienna in 1997.
2005 Renault Espace F1
  • Image Credit: wikicommons France

2005 Renault Espace F1

Most minivans don't conjure the squeal of rubber on a racetrack, but the Renault Espace F1 wasn't like most minivans.

The Espace was one of the first minivans ever developed, but it took years of shopping the idea around to automakers before Matra, the company developing the prototype, finally got Renault to sign on as manufacturer. The minivan sold all of nine units in the first month, but soon experienced a surge in popularity due to its versatility.

In 1995, Renault created a show car to celebrate both the 10th birthday of the Espace and Renault's involvement in Formula One racing. What better way to celebrate the two disparate anniversaries than with one insane car? This minivan used a carbon fiber F1 chassis and a carbon fiber reinforced body. The engine was a massive 800-horsepower 3.5 litre V10, set in the middle of the van's body, rather than in the front.

A minivan that could accelerate from 0-60 in 2.8 seconds? Suburban life never seemed so badass.
1985 Dodge Caravan
  • Image Credit: Chrysler

1985 Dodge Caravan

Automotive heavyweight Lee Iacocca came up with the idea for the minivan around the same time as Matra (see previous slide). In 1974, Iacocca brought the idea to Henry Ford II with his partner Hal Sperlich. Ford rejected it. Iacocca and Sperlich then carried the idea over with them to Chrysler, who accepted the idea and created the Caravan and Voyager.

The Chrysler minivans were some of the first examples of the modern minivan ever built. The Caravan was trendier than the boring sedans of the era, and smaller than the monster vans. To make the vehicle more accessible to buyers who might have been intimidated by a van, the interior was largely borrowed from Chrysler's cars. When the company introduced the minivan at the end of 1983, it had an instant success on its hands. By the end of the first full year in production, Chrysler sold 210,000 minivans. The two vehicles alone helped rescue the company from the brink of bankruptcy. Over the course of nearly three decades, the company has sold more than 12 million units.
2011 Toyota Sienna
  • Image Credit: Toyota

2011 Toyota Sienna

Toyota's "Swagger Wagon" can be forgiven for trying to up the cool of the modern minivan. Minivans had long ago gained a reputation for being boring kiddie carriers, but the 2011 Sienna SE has been fighting back.

Employing a special body trim usually reserved for sportier cars, the Sienna SE features 19-inch alloy wheels, sports suspension, exclusive instrumentation and unique interior colors and trim. The SE uses side skirting to visually lower the vehicle and smoked headlights and taillights that make a distinctive statement. It's still a minivan, but a minivan that sits on a low, sport-tuned suspension and features electric power steering tuned for quicker response and better feedback. It just might be a sports car in disguise.
2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class
  • Image Credit: Mercedes-Benz

2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class

The R-Class featured the kind of refined and roomy interior customers expect from Mercedes-Benz. Just because it was a minivan (or Multi-Purpose Vehicle, as the Europeans call it) didn't mean it couldn't have some flair. Although the exterior design was questionable, the interior was great.

The R-Class was so roomy that full-grown adults could sit in the third row and not want for leg or headroom. The standard gas engine wasn't enough to put much power behind the R-Class, but, fortunately, it came with a BlueTEC 4MATIC trim, which allowed customers to rev a powerful diesel engine instead: the oil-burner provided a muscular 400 lb-ft torque. Unfortunately, the engine was an extra $1,500, and Americans were, and still are, iffy on diesel cars.

The R-Class came out when gas prices were hitting new heights in 2005, and the gas engine was both inefficient and lacking in power. In 2011, the R-Class underwent a mid-generation refresh, but sales continued to disappoint. Mercedes even brought a performance-oriented AMG version to the 2007 Auto Show in Detroit, but the vehicle was too heavy, and adding a more powerful engine took a toll on driving dynamics. The R-Class quietly died in 2011.


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