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Minivan vs SUV - Here's How to Choose

By Autolist Staff | December 5, 2018

The battle for family haulers has long come down to SUVs versus minivans. Each has its pros and its cons and neither is necessarily right for everyone.

Minivans offer easy access to kids and cargo thanks to their large sliding doors and all come with three rows of seats, most of which are removable or stowable.

SUVs -- and their crossover subcategory -- are often thought to be cooler and many offer features like all-wheel-drive and a variety of powertrain options (diesel, electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid) and either two or three rows of seats.

Both boast the latest technology in safety and entertainment.

Regardless of which you choose, it's clear that these two vehicle types have replaced the large family station wagon from decades past and are now the go-to choice for 21st-century family-haulers.

Here's a look at how SUVs/CUVs stack up against minivans:

SUV vs. Minivan Prices

Generally, minivans win this competition over similarly-equipped SUVs, particularly as you start to add options or trim levels.

Most new minivans start at around $30,000 and top out in the high $40,000 range, fully-loaded.

Comparable SUVs (from non-luxury brands) with three rows of seats also start around $30,000 but usually run an extra $1,000 - $2,000 more with the same features -- ending up closer to $50,000.

SUV vs. Minivan Safety

Due to their higher ride height and more rugged appearance, some consumers believe SUVs are safer than minivans.

However, the higher ground clearance can also make SUVs more prone to accidents, namely rollovers. By contrast, minivans have more car-like handling and a lower center of gravity that gives them a more stable feel.

Aside from rollover risks, the two vehicle types are equally as safe as one another. Both SUVs and minivans offer a range of advanced and high-tech safety features that make this comparison end in a tie.

If safety is a top priority, then check out vehicles in both categories with top safety ratings from both NHTSA and IIHS, such as the 2019 Honda Odyssey for minivans and the 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe for SUVs.

SUV vs. Minivan Interior Comfort

Modern SUVs and minivans both offer long lists of (sometimes optional) interior features that make them appealing to parents with many miles of road trips on the horizon.

Minivans hold an edge in comfort thanks to their flexible seating arrangements and their sliding doors.

Many minivans offer middle seats that slide fore and aft plus side-to-side AND are removable or stowable in the floor plus third-row seats that also fold out of the way.

SUVs may have folding third-row seats, but they're often more cramped than minivan seating. The middle seats in SUVs are often far less configurable than minivans.

A minivan's sliding side doors can be a huge boon in tight parking lots or when you need easy access to the kids or cargo inside. Plus, minivans usually have a low step-in height for added convenience and practicality. Higher profile SUVs can present a challenge in some cases.

SUV vs. Minivan Cargo Space

Minivans easily win this category due to the cavernous amount of space offered in nearly every minivan, plus the easier load access. For example, in comparing a Honda Odyssey and Chevy Suburban with the same interior size, roughly 39 cubic feet, the Honda wins once the seats start folding down. The Odyssey can allow up to 158 cubic feet while the Suburban clocks in at a little more than 120.

SUV vs. Minivan Performance

The SUV category takes the win here as most minivans pale in comparison when it comes to power. Larger SUVs, in particular, can offer optional V8 engines or turbocharged or supercharged V6 engines that provide superior acceleration and towing ability.

When it comes to handling, minivans tend to be nimbler due to their lower center of gravity, but plenty of crossovers also offer car-like handling even with higher ground clearances. There's no contest when it comes to towing large trailers like RVs or oversized boats. If you need something to haul the family and tow your large toys, then an SUV is probably a better bet.

SUV vs. Minivan in Bad Weather

Driving in adverse conditions is one of the biggest draws of the SUV category. Nearly every SUV and CUV has at least an option for AWD or 4WD.

Most minivans only come with front-wheel drive, with only the Toyota Sienna offering an AWD option.

Ground clearance is another benefit that some CUVs and most SUVs have over minivans.

For those looking for actual off-roading prowess, then only the traditional SUV will suffice as crossovers and minivans are usually not robust enough to handle true off-road travel.

SUV vs. Minivan Fuel Economy

Believe it or not, this category ends in a tie. Minivans have traditionally had the better MPG over the years, but an increasing number of SUVs and crossover have launched with fuel-efficiency powertrains that are diesel, hybrid, plug-in hybrid or fully electric.

The Chrysler Pacifica PHEV is the only minivan to offer a fuel-efficient powertrain option.

Minivan Perceptions

Though they're often more practical, minivans are passed over by some consumers who aren't willing to drive one because they think they're uncool. Don't let this dissuade you from considering one though; there's very little a minivan can't do better than an SUV.

What to Buy?

When it comes to SUVs vs. minivans, the best choice will come down to how you plan to use it.

Minivans are generally more practical; they usually offer more space for people and cargo and more flexible ways to configure their interiors. They also offer plenty of comfort, drivability and value.

But SUVs have a better image, a wider range of powertrain options and greater abilities in bad weather and off-road.

The best way to decide? Test-drive one of each and see which one you like the most.

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