Chrysler Brings A 'Man Van' To Take On The Swagger Wagons

June 28, 2010
Dodge Caravan R/T concept

Dodge Caravan R/T concept

Minivans are many things: functional, convenient, and sometimes easy on the eyes. But they don't always inspire pride in their owners, and they don't exactly scream "Master of my Domain" -- particularly when men are behind the wheel. In fact, countless commercials have light of the fact that for guys, minivans are a necessary evil -- the price a man pays for settling down. (Well, unless you're Elon Musk and can drive your tykes to preschool in a 911.) But rumor has it that Dodge is coming to the rescue with a new upgrade that could help minivan men regain a sliver of dignity.

The rumors come from Dodge dealers who were told about the "man van" last month. According to those reports, it's likely to be a special package for the Dodge Grand Caravan, and it may bear a number of similarities to the Grand Caravan R/T concept that popped up at the 2008 Detroit Auto Show. That model featured a screaming, preening paint job, a hood scoop, a hipper grill, and -- as you might expect from something wearing Dodge's R/T badge -- sportier wheels.

Of course, those changes would be purely cosmetic, and there's no mention of improvements in power, handling, or any other areas that might address the van's  testicular credentials. Officials at Chrysler and Dodge are staying mum, but given the proposed improvements and the speedy launch timeline (rumored to be within the next few months), it sounds as if the "man van" could simply be a trim package for the Grand Caravan, rather than a bona fide variant like a true R/T.

Our take

Hearing all this, we're left with two questions. First: can a sport package change the public's perception of minivans? Perhaps. We've seen sporty details turn otherwise humdrum-looking models into sought-after rides with their own subculture of enthusiasts -- like, say, the Subaru Impreza WRX. But the WRX has the performance and handling credentials to back up the hood scoop. The Grand Caravan may not.

And second: will there come a day when men boast about driving minivans? That seems like an uphill battle -- not only because of public notions about minivans and masculinity, but also because the minivan is falling out of favor with drivers of both sexes. One dealer who talked about the "man van" said, "I mean, if it gets one guy to give the minivan a second look, its [sic] worth it." But with minivan sales currently hovering around 424,000 a year -- less than half of what they were in 2005 -- that one guy would need to buy a heck of a lot of minivans to make it "worth it".

Frankly, we have nothing against minivans. In fact, the recent "Swagger Wagon" ad for the Toyota Sienna actually made us laugh. But for now, our money is on smarter, more stylish, family-oriented, gender-neutral rides like the GMC Terrain and the Honda Element -- or even station wagons, which are definitely on the rebound. That doesn't mean that minivans are gone for good, but like bell bottoms, you may need to put them on ice for a while.


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