Head of the family
For the purposes of this article, I will dispense with my usual sphinx-like air of mystery to tell you something personal. I am a new father.
This is an astonishing turn of events, primarily on account of my astonishing age (47). Nonetheless, my two gorgeous daughters are the joy of my life and will be until the day I keel over at a middle-school dance recital.
Apropos of current events, I’ve been reading Alan S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa’s new book, “Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters,” a rollicking bit of pop science that turns the lens of evolutionary psychology on issues of the day, everything from suicide bombers to the porn industry.
Evolutionary psychology deals with the behavioral programming humans inherited from their genetically successful, species-perpetuating ancestors. Why are young single men more likely to be xenophobic? (It has to do with maximizing mating opportunities.) Why can we stomach Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones as a romantic pairing but not Lauren Bacall and Brad Pitt? Why are there so few deadbeat moms? Beautiful people want to know.
As far as it goes, Miller and Kanazawa’s book does a bang-up job explaining how ancient breeding imperatives inform modern human behavior. But, in an unforgivable lapse in scholarly rigor, there is no mention of minivans. And they call themselves scientists.
Why, for example, do women -- moms -- rebel against minivans, when they are so evidently superior to SUVs and crossovers in function and capacity? Compared with sport-utes, minivans drive better and get better gas mileage. They are safer and easier to park. With their sliding doors and flexible seating, they are more convenient. If females are evolutionarily hard-wired to put their offspring first, why do so many choose a tippy SUV or a barely less impractical crossover? Why is the minivan market cratering?
Apparently, it all goes back to the savanna. According to evolutionary psychology, females’ value as potential mates was signaled by their youth (fertility) and sexual availability. A minivan, however, sends out the opposite signal, that the driver is older (old enough to already have offspring) and spoken for -- off the reproductive market, so to speak. In a culture where women spend billions to create the illusion of youth, it’s no wonder minivans have been fighting a market headwind.
But what about men? Ah, this is where my analysis gets fascinating (as if the foregoing weren’t fascinating enough). Out on the savanna, the reproductively desirable male was older (à la Connery), of higher rank and status within the tribe and commanding more of its wealth. A female’s innate programming tends to favor males with the potential to invest in her offspring, to commit resources to the family.
And that is why the 2008 Chrysler Town & Country Limited just might be the sexiest vehicle a man could ever drive.
Let me draw a line under that: This 2 1/2 -ton pachyderm, with window shades and the Cartoon Network on Sirius satellite TV, is sexier than a Ferrari. After all, do mate-seeking females really care about two-seat, mid-engine sports cars that go 200 mph? Not in the slightest. If they are heeding their instincts at all, they are looking for a man with patriarchal bearing, one with the means and inclination to raise a family. So the next time you have a blind date, lay off the Sean John “Unforgivable” cologne. Roll up in the Town & Country minivan and just listen to the biological bells go off.
This, the fifth generation of Chrysler’s game-changing minivan since 1983, is pretty amazing. Roughly 2 inches longer than the previous model, it’s also quite a bit blockier, carving out more cubic inches for the interior, where you will find a stunning array of convenience features and amenities and enough cup holders (13) to host a goodly Brownie scout meeting. Plainly, Chrysler has enormous equity in the Dodge Caravan/Chrysler T&C twins, and the company went all out making these vehicles best in class. Solid, comprehensively equipped and effortless to drive, the T&C will, I predict, give the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey absolute fits in the showroom.
The Chrysler minivans start in the mid-$20,000 range (with a 3.3-liter, 175-hp V6 behind the grille) but our tester was the top-of-the-heap, full-boat Town & Country Limited with a slew of endearing features, including the dual overhead video displays.
Just about everywhere you looked there was something to admire. The windows in the power-sliding doors roll down almost three-quarters. The overhead console bathes the cabin in soft indirect lighting. Standard features include remote starting; power sliding doors; heated front- and second-row seats; power liftgate; rear-view camera and parking assist sensors; the myGIG hard-drive based entertainment unit. This is one awesome pile of pelts.
And, not insignificantly, the thing goes like stink. Our tester had Chrysler’s 4.0-liter, 253-hp V6 buttoned to a new six-speed transmission. Zero-to-60-mph acceleration is about 8.5 seconds. Hang on to your juice boxes, kids.
The signature feature for 2008 is the trick Swivel ‘n Go seating option: The second-row captain’s chairs spin around to face the third-row seats. A small pedestal table (stowed in an under-floor compartment) fits between the rows, so passengers can play games, eat or -- in extreme cases -- do their schoolwork. Essentially, what Chrysler has done is combine a minivan with the long-distance livability of custom van interior. It’s just brilliant.
Naturally, the third-row Stow ‘n Go system is standard. The third-row seats fold flat into the cargo floor, or they can somersault backward to create tailgate seating, for those nights watching soccer games. A very cool option not on our test vehicle was the power third-row. At a touch of a button, the seats fold and disappear into the load floor, or do the back flip. Three-passenger Stow ‘n Go bench seating is available for the second row; this has the benefit of making the full flat cargo floor accessible. With the Swivel ‘n Go system, you’d have to horse the 90-pound captain’s chairs off their brackets to open up that floor space. What are the evolutionary implications of hernias?
As for protecting the family on the freeway savanna, the T&C’s got that covered too, with standard stability control and ABS, three-row side-curtain airbags, driver’s side inflatable knee bolsters -- not to mention sheer Newtonian advantage. A fully loaded model like ours, larded with servos and electronics, almost certainly weighs 5,000 pounds.
I grant that the implications of evolutionary psychology are, well, unsettling. By such reasoning, it’s women who should be driving flirty Porsches and Corvettes. By the same reasoning, men -- who are forever trying to close sexual escrow -- should really be driving vehicles that convey their fitness as mates. As strange and perverse as it may seem -- and it does -- middle-aged men tooling around in minivans (like me) are damn sexy. Hey, I don’t make the rules. I just follow them.
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.