Here's an NYT article about car companies trying to rid the minivan of its association with boring life, in order to convince fence-sitting car-buyers. The car-makers are afraid that if they try to make minivans look cooler, they'll have to sacrifice the various features that make the inside look like the bridge on the starship Enterprise -- and what helicopter parent could shelter and cushify their children without them?
Back in 1984 when minivans were born, the endless cycle between parenting styles was still in the "let them know hardship" phase. As a result, they weren't so god awfully humungous, and therefore weren't so dorky looking -- on an absolute scale anyway, though of course they were next to a Pontiac Firebird or even a Toyota Celica.
Compared to the short wheelbase 1984 Dodge Caravan, the 2011 Chrysler Town & Country is over two feet longer, half a foot wider, and a third of a foot taller. Crudely (pretending they're boxes), that amounts to a 36% increase in the volume taken up by the damn thing. Not surprisingly, the first one looked about as sporty as a minivan ever could.
Even station wagons looked sleeker when the zeitgeist favored racecars over boat-cars. Our family-mobile growing up was an early '80s Subaru GL that looked like this -- hardly a rival to a Porsche 944, but still light-years away from the "Lezbaru" design of wagons from the '90s and after. When the tide turned against sports cars during the '90s, as part of the wider wussification of the culture, it was no longer possible to have a decent-looking car that would satisfy overprotective parents, who believe that each of their kids needs their own studio apartment inside the family car in order to be safe, comfortable, and on track toward early acceptance at an Ivy.