Home » Hold Up – Is The New Toyota Century With The Sliding Doors A Minivan?

Hold Up – Is The New Toyota Century With The Sliding Doors A Minivan?

Century Van Top
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Like many of you, I just read about Toyota’s new hyperswank Century SUV on some weird car-fetish website, and like (I suspect) a lot of you, one particular detail of the car really grabbed my attention by its attention-privates: the optional sliding door. A sliding door makes a lot of sense for a car like this, something that’s built to keep excellency has been installed in that back seat as happy as possible. So, you want a nice, wide-opening door, and you want to be able to open that door nice and wide wherever you may be, even in a tight parking spot. A sliding door fits the bill incredibly well. It also introduces a fascinating taxonomical problem: Does that make this Toyota Century SUV a minivan? Let’s dig into this a bit.

First, it’s worth noting that this new Century is called an SUV and is built on the same basic platform as the Highlander and Camry. Well, it’s also the same platform (TNGA-K) as the Toyota Sienna minivan, so maybe that’s not really useful information for us. I think more interesting is the fact that the sliding door is optional, as there are versions with it:

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Toyota Century Suv Gr

…and without it:

Centurysuv Normaldoor

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Interestingly, it’s not the first car to offer both swing-out or sliding doors on the same model; VW did that back in 1966 and 1967 on the Type 2 Microbus. Microbuses normally came with a pair of conventionally-opening doors on the side, but for those two years you could specify one or two sliding doors, though they became standard on the 1968 Type 2 redesign. Here, look for yourself:

Vwtype2 Doors

Now, here’s where things get weird: When the Century SUV is spec’d with the sliding door, which they call the GR version, does it become sort of a minivan? (Or simply a van, because it’s hardly mini).

It’s a more complex question than you’d think, at least in part because I don’t think sliding doors are necessary for van-hood. There are plenty of uncontested vans that never had sliding doors:

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Openingdoorvans

So it’s not just that. But sliding doors are a factor in vanhood. The problem is that determining what is and isn’t a van is wildly complex. Let all the mental lightweights wrestle with good and evil and free will like babies, we’re here to figure what are vans and what aren’t vans.

I’ve tackled this before at the old site, and I still stand by those rules, but I’ll be the first to admit they’re strangely blurry. There’s a fundamental concept that has to be understood for vanhood, I think, and that’s the concept that vans can be one of two basic categories: 1. van by design and 2. van by job.

Van Design Job

A van by design is a van that is designated according to certain general proportions and parameters: 1. a one-box or 2. a one-big-one-small two-box design where the height of the body is taller, relative to length, than other vehicles — basically a big ol’ box that may or may not have a stubby hood. (this is the archetypal van).

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A van by job is a van that started life as some other sort of vehicle but has been converted to van duties — something that is most commonly accomplished by removing all passenger comforts behind the front seats, including side windows, and the purpose of the car becomes a cargo-hauler instead of a people-hauler. Consider the Fiat Panda van or the VW Polo van:

Fiat Vw Vans

Another example of this is how the Chevy HHR, a small crossover/station wagon, can become a van:

Hhrs

So, here, vanhood is granted because of some (sometimes significant) physical changes and, importantly, intent. They’re still vans, but they don’t necessarily have the physical characteristics of a van by design. But they’re vans, because that was always the job they were intended to fill.

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So how does this relate to the Toyota Century SUV? Well, okay, hear me out. This is where the sliding door comes into play. Let’s look at a strange example of a van, the Nissan NV-series.

I’ve never really been a fan of the NV vans because I always thought they had too much hood for their own good. When it comes to delivery vans, a long hood is a liability, because it’s just length that you can’t use to haul stuff, yet you still have to park it in regular-sized parking places and so on.

The reason the hood is so stupidly long is because the NV is a sort of secret Van by Job, being adapted from the Nissan Titan pickup truck.

Nissan Nvs

Now, you’ll note that there is an NV passenger version, and it has sliding doors for the passengers. There is also a Nissan Armada, which is the SUV based on the same Titan platform. So, really, we have two passenger-carrying versions of this same basic car, one classified as a van, one as an SUV.

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Nv Armada

 

So what’s the difference, really? There are clear design differences, sure: the NV has a more upright windshield and a boxier body, but it’s not like the difference is really that vast. Look at the difference in windshield rakes up there; it looks different, but it’s really pretty subtle.

What is a big difference is that the NV has a sliding door for the passengers, and the SUV Armada has conventional swing-out doors. And I think this may be a differentiating factor in this specific case.

Here’s what I think the rule is: for a given Van by Job-type of passenger van, the primary differentiating factor between being a van or just an SUV or crossover or station wagon is the presence or absence of sliding doors. Sliding doors are not a requirement for a Van by Design-type van, passenger or otherwise, or any cargo-focused van, but it is the key differentiator between a passenger vehicle like an SUV or station wagon and a passenger van. A Ford Flex, for example, is not a passenger van. But a Flex with a sliding door would be a van.

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Century Van

Does this make sense? This means, that, according to my criteria, the Toyota Century SUV GR is a van.

And what are those criteria? Let’s recap:

• There’s two categories of van: Van by Design and Van by Job. Van by Design has specific proportions (one box or one and a stubby box, large height to length ratio) and Van by Job vans can start life as cars that are not vans

• A hatchback, station wagon, crossover, SUV or pickup truck can become a cargo Van by Job if the interior is converted to cargo use, side windows removed, or other body modifications made

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• A passenger Van by Design (i.e. upright, one-box, etc.) does not need sliding doors

• A passenger Van by Job (one that doesn’t look upright, one-box, etc.) must have sliding doors as part of its conversion process to be a van

Deal with it, Toyota. You just made an amazing luxury van. Revel in it.

What do you think? Am I off base with this taxonomy? This is a tricky one, so I’m really curious to hear the input from the Universe’s Smartest Auto Site Commenters. I mean it!

 

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Doug Schaefer
Doug Schaefer
10 months ago

The @itsvantime Twitter account established rules for this long ago. The alternative door clause says the sliding door Century is a van.

Parsko
Parsko
10 months ago

It’s totally a van.

Bret Fowler
Bret Fowler
10 months ago

For years I’ve called SUVs “vans”, just to annoy SUV owners. When someone corrects me, I ask how many off-roading trips they’ve taken since they bought it. When they reply with the inevitable answer of “none” I reply, “then it’s a van.”

Chi_spotting
Chi_spotting
10 months ago
Reply to  Bret Fowler

I like your thinking. It kind of sullies the category of van by calling non-vans vans, but to annoy Suburban soccer mommies and their insecure husbands, I will gladly address them as vans from here on out.

VanGuy
VanGuy
10 months ago
Reply to  Bret Fowler

As a person, I like your approach as a statement.
As a pedant, I correct people when they call a minivan a “van”.

D M
D M
10 months ago
Reply to  Bret Fowler

I say “I like your van”. Then smile like I’m confused when they quickly try to explain how it’s not a van. I then follow with, “Oh, okay. But why does it look like a van?” That seems to cause them the most anguish.

I’m a moderately terrible person.

CUlater
CUlater
10 months ago
Reply to  Bret Fowler

“Nice station wagon. Cool that they made a comeback, isn’t it?”

D M
D M
10 months ago
Reply to  CUlater

I use that one on the smaller crossovers.

VanGuy
VanGuy
10 months ago

Dunno if I can truly do this taxonomic justice, Jason, but I have “minivan” and “van” as separate categories in my mind.

A minivan is never primarily a cargo vehicle. (If the rear windows are replaced by panels and rear seats removed, it becomes a van.) I do agree that the HHR cargo version (for example) is a van. “Compact van”, perhaps, but the difference between “van” and “compact van” is more by volume than by anything else. Ultimately the intended uses are very similar.

By the same token, I dunno if I could reasonably permit a vehicle with capacity for only 4 be called a minivan. I don’t know what that leaves it as (“luxury wagon?” I really don’t know), but I think it lacks the usable space you get from just about any car that can reasonably claim “compact van”, “minivan” or “van” status.

For the last event I ever DJ’d, I used a 2014 Toyota Sienna. It had ~150 cubic feet of storage space behind the front rows. Compared to the ~240 of my old Econoline-150 conversion van, it felt pretty cramped.

I’m sad the NV was too late to take on the establishment of Transits, Sprinters, Expresses, and E-series here. I always thought they looked cool, and I bet the bigger hood made them easier to work on. Heard good things about them here and there on forums. Although I wish there had been a high-roof passenger version.

Jim Zavist
Jim Zavist
10 months ago

Even today, Chevy’s full-size Express vans can be ordered with sliding and swinging rear door(s) (on the right side only; they eliminated the left-side options years ago).

VanGuy
VanGuy
10 months ago
Reply to  Jim Zavist

Interesting that they eliminated the left-side door. Lack of demand? Cost-cutting?

Not like it’s a feature I would seek out, but I know some people like it.

Mitch
Mitch
10 months ago
Reply to  VanGuy

I would assume it’s a combination of both. It makes sense for an American car, to give you the option on the right side, as that’s the side that will be on the curb, and likely to see more loading/unloading.

It looks like the option to take the sliding door over the swing out doors is ~$200. Not huge, but I could see a company ordering fleets of these opting to not take the option on the left side to save cash. As people order less, Chevy found it not worth while to run two production processes (Maybe three. I don’t know if the old options were no door, swing door, slide door, or just swing vs slide.) for an option not often taken. And instead just slimming it down to the one process, making the no door panel for the van.

Jim Zavist
Jim Zavist
10 months ago
Reply to  VanGuy

I’m guessing that they didn’t move very many, especially in the vans (as compared to the people movers) since it eliminates a lot of wall space that can be fitted with bins for the various trades, like plumbers and HVAC technicians.

VanGuy
VanGuy
10 months ago
Reply to  Jim Zavist

That makes a lot of sense. I “window shop” for conversion vans a lot and I see many with the left-side doors, but it wouldn’t be my preference.

Captain Zoll
Captain Zoll
10 months ago

I think another thing to consider is the interior layout.
the NV passenger van, first and foremost has a big open rear interior space with a flat floor, which seats happen to be bolted to.
The Patrol however, has the floor of the vehicle laid out around having 2 rows of seats in the back, and the seats are much more “moulded” to fit.

The only problem then is certain minivans and MPVs no longer classify as “vans”, but I think there’s some merit there.

By traditional definition, (for railway carriages) a van was simply a closed box for carrying goods, and it’s unreasonable to expect that installing some windows and seats would result in a shift in taxonomy for the whole vehicle, hence we call such a vehicle a “passenger van”.
But when it is primarily designed around being a family vehicle, in lieu of the transportation of goods, the original “van” nature is lost, and thus it is foolish to categorise it as such.

And to those who decry “how can a vehicle called a minivan not be a van?! it’s in the name idiot!”
I proclaim: the very word “minivan” has become purely skeuomorphic, It is preposterous to suppose that the gargantuan monstrosity known as the Kia Carnival is deserving of the prefix “mini”, when the Toyota Granvia or Hyundai Staria exist, let alone a Suzuki Every Wagon!

VanGuy
VanGuy
10 months ago
Reply to  Captain Zoll

I shed a tear whenever people say “van” as shorthand for “minivan”, like when I borrowed my parents’ Sienna on a recent vacation. Having used the same for my last DJ event, I felt the difference between 150 cubic feet and the 240 my old Econoline-150 had.

If a minivan has seats and side windows in the back, it is a minivan. It’s a separate category.

Beached Wail
Beached Wail
10 months ago

Jason, I think you’re doing yeoman’s work, but you’ve somehow driven the van appellation right over the great historic Sedan Delivery and Panel Delivery vehicle types/names.

That HHR in your example isn’t a van, it’s a sedan delivery. (Assuming the HHR is a car and not a truck, which is also debatable). The Panda and Polo? Sedan deliveries. The 2CV? Pretty much a sedan delivery.

Sedan Delivery cars are station wagons with the rear compartment windows replaced with sheet metal and the rear seats removed. Panel Delivery vehicles are the same concept on truck chassis. This nomenclature was popular in the 1920s through at least the 1960s – even the ’70s with the cute Chevy Vega Panel Express (which technically should have been called a Sedan Express) – but then the Great Minivanning and Crossovering happened and manufacturers dropped truly descriptive names in favor of Aspirational Family Ruggedness descriptors.

Captain Zoll
Captain Zoll
10 months ago
Reply to  Beached Wail

One counterpoint to this: how would you categorise an Australian Holden/Ford/Chrysler panel van? you could make the case that some are sedan deliveries, indeed the early falcons are practically identical to US falcon sedan deliveries, but they are also arbitrarily “truck based”, since they share so many parts with the adjacent ute bodystyles.

PajeroPilot
PajeroPilot
10 months ago
Reply to  Captain Zoll

The Aussie panel vans are unique. They were “vans by job” but as they haven’t been made for decades, they are very rarely used as commercial vehicles anymore. They are now ostensibly driven by surfers, to carry boards and fuck in. (Well, in reality they are all now beautifully restored and owned by middle aged dudes nostalgic for their surfie youth, but I digress) My point is, now they are passed their prime they are lifestyle vehicles. Do they lose their van hood?

Beached Wail
Beached Wail
10 months ago
Reply to  Captain Zoll

I wasn’t familiar with the Holden, but after a quick image search I’d call it a high-roof (or an extended-roof) sedan delivery. I know they’re popularly called “panel vans” but would they still be considered vans when the body style includes full windows? I’d say no, they’d just be station wagons, so the windowless version should be a sedan delivery per its definition.

If they’re truly truck based, they’d be panel deliveries. I know in USA-land, most people in the era didn’t consider Falcon Rancheros or Chevy El Caminos to be true trucks. I even heard the term “pickup car” used to describe them.

Andrea Petersen
Andrea Petersen
10 months ago

Ok, hear me out on this, I have a different van decider, specifically for passenger vans and it has nothing to do with doors. If I am wearing a short or medium length skirt, how do I get in? If I can get in sideways, facing forward without danger of flashing anyone, it is an SUV. If I have to reach back and smooth my skirt down as I duck to get in, facing either sideways or to the rear of the vehicle, it is a van. And believe it or not, this applies to 3rd row SUVs as well since there is a sort of step up and back into the seat technique for that whereas with a van, one would never go ass-first into the 3rd or farther row.

LTDScott
LTDScott
10 months ago

I don’t like the lack of consistency between passenger and cargo vans, but I can’t see any better way to slice it, so I gotta agree with you.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
10 months ago

The Autopian: Vanguards of vehicular taxonomy.

D M
D M
10 months ago

All three row crossovers are just try-hard minivans. They have the stink of “no really, I’m the cool soccer mom/dad” on them. Drive what you like, but anyone who thinks their highlander or pilot is “cooler” than a sienna or Odyssey is deluding themselves.

It’s this lack of self awareness that means we have few choices of good minivans AND few choices for SUVs that actually SUV well.

The people needed minivans, but bought SUVs instead because in their heads SUVs are cooler. But SUVs are based on trucks and are body on frame and don’t ride very well on road and don’t have as much storage and have clunky 4wd transmissions. So the people complained because the SUVs were too truck like. So the manufactures made crossovers. A crossover is a van without sliding doors or good cargo area with the 3rd row up or easily foldable seats, but it looks a bit like an SUV. Although it looks a bit like an SUV, it lacks the ground clearance,, real 4wd or the towing capacity of an actually SUV. They can’t make them quickly enough.

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