When my wife told me she was pregnant six years ago, one of the first questions I asked her was “when are we buying the minivan?” That in and of itself is not an uncommon question. The unusual part was I asked it with excitement and eagerness rather than dread and forboding.
Yup, that’s right. I’m a man who loves minivans.
The only problem is MJ wouldn’t hear of it. Not for a second. She’s a self-described “car person” and her vehicles have always been sporty Jeep Wranglers and VW Jettas and things of that ilk. When I expressed my excitement for minivans two things happened: 1) she told me her sexual desire for me decreased, and 2) assured me that not even the threat of death and dismemberment could ever convince her to change her mind. She viewed it as the end of days and the final leap into the fires of parenthood in which all portions of your pre-kid personality is incinerated and lost forever. Needless to say, we didn’t end up with a minivan.
Fast forward six years to last weekend.
We needed to go to the grocery store, but there was a problem. We now have Will, Will’s carseat, Sam, Sam’s carseat, and the dog to consider. Then we threw Sam’s stroller in the back, and off we went into the store. But when we came out, the problem was pretty evident — no freaking space. Our Kia Sportage is a nice car, but we were stuffing bags in every available crevice just to be able to bring it home. When I mentioned the fact that we didn’t even have the dog in the car and could never fit a few suitcases and the kids all at once, MJ’s face was a mixture of dread and reluctant resignation. She knows. And I know she knows.
It’s time for a minivan.
As luck would have it, I received a fortuitous e-mail from Toyota inviting me to Las Vegas to preview none other than the 2014 Toyota Sienna minivans. And so off I went to the City of Sin, strictly to do my research mind you. It wasn’t at all because Toyota was paying for a nice hotel, my airfare, meals, and some truly spectacular events we’ll get to later.
It helps that I was already a huge Toyota fan. The best car I’ve ever owned was my 2002 Toyota Highlander, which I only traded in 18 months ago when I started commuting 90 miles a day and needed something with better gas mileage. But now that I have two kids, a dog, and a love of road trips, I can say with absolute certainty our biggest car requirement as a family is space. Thankfully the Sienna has it in spades, and you can configure the seats in a variety of ways. You can fit up to eight passengers and have 39 cubic feet behind the third row, or use the 60/40 split & stow seats and increase that to a whopping 150 cubic feet of space.
That was proven beyond a shadow of a doubt at Bass Pro Shops Las Vegas, where we fit all of this stuff easily into the Sienna.
And if you opt to upgrade to the Limited Sienna, it becomes a kid paradise. They have reclining seats with footrests. I repeat, the seats have footrests. I’m not sure why I was so obsessed with this aspect of the car, but it just absolutely blew me away. Not to mention the dual screen entertainment screen in the back. I repeat, dual screen. As in two. Both kids can watch different things. I know some of you are parents who nix TV and think it’s awful for kids to watch in the car. Well, to hell with you. On a long road trip you’re using that thing. I know it, you know it, they know it. Just bask in it and enjoy.
Also of note (and great importance where I live in New England) is that the Sienna is the ONLY minivan in America with available All-Wheel Drive. Something we used plenty of when we participated in a scavenger hunt in and around Las Vegas that took us to several places, including Mt. Charleston.
Now the next thing we did…well, it was pretty amazing.
We went to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and met up with Dream Racing, whose trained professional drivers tested the Sienna to its max. We had the honor of being driven by Enrico Bertaggia, an Italian race car driver who expertly took the Sienna through its paces. I know most parents driving minivans only need to navigate parking lots and school drop-offs, but just in case you ever find yourself on a professional skills course, rest assured the Sienna can hold its own. Here’s video that doesn’t do the ride justice.
Then, after the Sienna, I got the surprise of a lifetime. We were told we’d be able to drive a Ferrari GT F430 around the racetrack. I’m not nearly skilled enough as a writer to describe what it was like going 160 MPH and then, just seconds later, go into a 90-degree turn. I’m not a car guy by any means so I didn’t know what to expect, and this was my first experience with paddle shifters as well. Thankfully we had an instructor next to us telling us what to do the whole time. It was equal parts nerve-wracking and exhilarating, and definitely a once in a lifetime experience. Not even the fact that I had to stuff my fat ass into a racing suit could take away from it.
All in all it was an amazing trip — especially because I knew a bunch of the guys from blogging and got to hang out with them finally in real life. We were already favoring the Toyota Sienna for our next car, but this sealed the deal for me. With the storage space, V6 engine, All-Wheel Drive, and added extras should we go for the Limited, it’s pretty clear minivans aren’t anything to dread. They’re comfortable, powerful, sporty, and they enhance parenthood rather than hold parents back. And while masculinity isn’t determined what you drive, trust me when I say the Sienna doesn’t detract from it whatsoever.
The race suit on the other hand…
Disclaimer: Toyota covered my airfare, hotel, and other costs while in Vegas. It was phenomenal and I can’t thank them enough, along with the folks at Golin Harris. But, as always, my opinions are my own.
For more great content and coverage of this event, here are some of the other guys lucky enough to attend: