Minivans go from dowdy to chic with makeover

LOS ANGELES Minivans are usually viewed as very practical but not very exciting.

Over the past few years, the number of people buying minivans has shrunk quite a bit, but /*Toyota*/ has introduced a new Sienna van and thinks the time is right for a minivan comeback.

"What we're seeing is that the minivan is re-emerging as a stage-of-life vehicle. For growing families, it's something that they really need," said Toyota spokesman Joe Tolmo.

The 2010 Sienna is the newest in essentially a three-way minivan race between Toyota, Honda and Chrysler for volume sales. Essentially, they're big boxes on wheels. That makes them useful, but how do you make them look less like a box?

"It's a great looking box. It has lots of character, lots of flowing lines if you will," said Tolmo.

Other companies have gotten out of the minivan market entirely. /*Ford*/ dropped its vans in favor of the big /*Flex*/ crossover

It's a similar story at /*GM*/. They no longer carry minivans, just large three-row crossovers.

But /*Honda*/ is sticking with minivans and recently unveiled a sleeker new /*Odyssey*/ concept that could be a preview of things to come.

There's one way a crossover SUV, even one with three rows of seats, just can't match up against a minivan. And that's the minivan's dual sliding doors. They make getting in and out so much easier, especially in a crowded parking lot.

For sheer volume, vans like the Sienna can really swallow things up. There's space for lots of cargo or lots of people and even room for two to stretch out in optional second-row captain's chairs.

Still, minivans have that dowdy image, but one rather hip mom seemed to be won over by the clever seating.

"I'm okay driving one of these. I know a lot of people are into the SUVs, and I myself currently drive an SUV, but I would definitely consider a minivan," said Venice resident Linda Perry, who writes a parenting blog.

The newer minivans lost a bit of that boxy shape and gained some new innovative features and maybe some stylish parents behind the wheel. With all of these additions, Minivans may actually be getting a little cooler.

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