Texas®

I’ve been having the strangest argument this week. It’s not just that I’ve been arguing with a car that has me perplexed; really, I do that all the time. It’s the fact the argument seems strangely familiar from someplace, but I can’t put my finger on where it’s from.

The argument is the result of how Mazda’s CX9 crossover minivan SUV is just too smart for my liking. It’s a properly-sized seven passenger minivan that tries all its worth not to be a minivan. The interior proportions are very van-ish with a third-row seat, tons of stowage, and an easy access rear gate. It’s optioned out with GPS, Satellite Radio, heated seats, power everything and tons of usable internal acreage.

So, inside it is a van, outside it’s something else all together.

From curbside, the CX9 is a wagon SUV crossover, really. Good looking and sleek with nice fluid lines wrapped over a great wheel base that drives more like a car than either a bulky van or notchy truck.

It’s not the multiple personalities of the CX9 that I have been arguing with, mind you. It has been the Blind Spot intervention system. The system alerts the driver that there is a vehicle driving along-side and warns of intrusion into the lane when it’s already occupied. I’m sure that if I looked I could have been able to find a sensitivity adjustment for the system, but the shrill squawking of the “OH MY GOD YOU ARE GOING TO DIE” alarm was just unsettling.

The alarm would trigger from the most unobtrusive intrusions. I would be a half a block away from a car turning into a strip mall and OHMYGODYOUAREGOINGTODIE would beep away. And the lane wandering was just as twitchy. I signaled to change lanes coming up to my street and OHMYGODYOUAREGOINTODIE lept to life.

It was as oversensitive as a teenage girl talking about Twilight. Now unlike a Tween Twi-fan I could turn off the incessant tweetalage of the BLiPs. When I did that, the CX9 became a great people mover to move many things beyond just people. The interior is very flexible and can swallow half an isle of groceries or what ever else you might need it to.

This has just enough sport wagon in its minivan mix to make the CX9 one of the best driving options in the over-crowded market. Many of the competitors try deftly to disguise the multi passenger aspect of their CUV or Cross over Utility Vehicle, some try and call a minivan an SUV, others name a wagon as a truck. It always seems to be a little bit of Goldilocks in the recipe, and the Mazda CX9 has the just right aspect handled.

I’m not in the target market for a wagon/SUV/van, but if I were the Mazda would be one of the few I would put on my personal list. It has great curb appeal, excellent driving characteristics full sized passenger and cargo capabilities on a chassis that responds like a car. I generally don’t go for that myself, as I like my trucks to be trucks and cars to be cars. But the market has moved into the Swiss Army Knife approach to the world where a vehicle seems to have to have the capabilities of all the market segments rather than being just one.

Like the Swiss Army Knife in my camera gear that I can use for almost everything, I will never use the corkscrew, but it’s there, none the less. The CX9 has a number of things I would never use, like the third row seating and that pesky BLiPs system. But for most people, I’m sure it’s something they would be more than happy to have.

The CX9 was jammed full of options that took the baseline $33k up to a pretty respectable $38,500.00 and rolls a 17-24 MPG rating from the EPA. My driving around north Texas was pretty much all in-town and I ran in the very low 20’s, so their numbers seem shockingly accurate.

After I discovered the best way of winning my argument was to disable the ability of the offending device that interfered with me, I have now begun rethinking other relationships… but I digress.

I love cars. I love driving, racing, and traveling by car. I’m that guy who gets up early on a Sunday to wash a car by hand. I love gadgets and gizmos and sensual design, so there are no words that can strike fear as deep into my heart as: “Your minivan is here.”

The Minivan: An anonymous, emasculating, cheerio-encrusted,suburban assault vehicle. Typically, they burst with the soul-destroying songs of Sponge Bob, and Dora the Explorer for the pre-Beiber set. It seems as though the car seat-mounted children stare as blankly at their mobile entertainment units as the sleep deprived parents do from the driver’s seat.

Do you get the notion that driving a minivan is not on my “must do” list? Checking any sort of residual masculinity at the door, Toyota dropped off a 2011 Sienna for Any Driven Sunday to test out, recently. In my front window, my neutered Yellow Labrador Retriever, Carlin, smiled, “Now, you will know how I felt!”

As much as I don’t want to admit it, the Sienna is about the only minivan I’ve driven that might rate as kind of cool. It’s a good-looking vehicle, and with optional, high-end aerodynamic front bumper fascia, and all the bells and whistles jammed into the “Limited” it wasn’t as bad as my preconceived notions warned.

The price starts at $24,000 and steps up to $25,600 for LE trim, $30,000 for the SE, $32,500 for the XLE and $38,800 for the fully loaded-up Limited. Even at the entry point, the Sienna is pretty well put together. The Limited had leather-covered everything, dual DVD, navigation, and pretty much every option available on a car or truck.

Both rear side doors were power and remote-operated from the key-fob, as was the rear hatch. Such an attribute is pretty cool, and for the I-have-to-carry-everything-in-one-trip set, it’s very convenient, indeed.

The more I drove the Sienna, the more I realized that if one is ever forced into this market segment – and no one ever wakes up saying they WANT a minivan unless they need one – the Sienna is easily one of the better choices out there.

As I was setting up next to a suburban soccer field to take some pictures of the van, I couldn’t help become hyper-aware that I didn’t belong there. As a 45 year old, single dude with a pretty expensive camera in tow, driving a minivan, I figured that someone would have called Chris Hansen, and that any second, the “To Catch a Predator” staff was going to jump out from behind a bush. So, I took the pictures and got out of there as quickly as I could.

Really, the minivan just isn’t a vehicle I would ever get for myself, unless there was a very significant shift in my world. The funny thing is: The market whose parents owned the first generation minivans in the 80’s are now old enough to be the target consumer. For the most part, those former back seat passengers of minivans have run away from this product at break-neck speed. They’re the folks who have created the SUV and Crossover segment as one of the biggest parts of the automobile market.

They seek out the functionality but, in their minds, they also avoid the stigma attached to the minivan.

As the generation before them created the minivan market because they swore they would never drive a station wagon like their Mom’s, the Minivan has created its own anti-market. For those who do not have that particular bias in their heads, and don’t mind the look of defeat that seems to come with piloting one of these very functional vehicles, the Sienna is the high-water mark for drivability and livability.

When Toyota came back to pick up the Sienna, they left me with a Scion TC, equipped with a six-speed manual. As a result, my manhood was restored faster than a spike of Viagra. For the week of Suburban Amnesia and for all my whining about driving a minivan, the Toyota option proved its worth. Hauling all sorts of stuff without any problem and finding its way around town very comfortably was quite the treat.

It is most definitely not for me, but for those looking at Chrysler’s Grand Caravan, or the other benchmarks of the market, the Sienna should be considered seriously. I don’t love it, but I have learned to respect it for what it is.