• Buying Guides

Minivan vs. SUV -- What’s Best For You?

By Michael O'Connor | December 19, 2022

Purchasing a van or SUV can be an exciting process, especially if you have recently expanded your family and want the best possible vehicle for the adventures ahead. Making the right choice when it comes to your family vehicle is essential and there are a lot of great options on the market.

Choosing between a minivan and an SUV can be difficult unless you know what each of them has to offer. With the right knowledge of the differences, you can make the right choice for yourself and your family.

SUVs and minivans have similar qualities and in some cases, they offer the same features. However, they have distinct differences that can make one or the other the better choice for your particular family and driving habits. By considering all the different factors, you can get a vehicle that will serve you well for many years and give you everything you need for your journeys.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Between a Minivan and SUV:

When choosing between a minivan and an SUV, it is easy to focus on the similarities. In many ways, these two vehicle types are the same but they have distinct characteristics that will make them better or worse for individual families. By examining some of the factors that you need to consider when making a decision, you can end up with the perfect vehicle.

1. Price

When purchasing a car, the price is going to be a massive factor in whether or not it will be a good choice. For the most part, a minivan is going to be less expensive than an SUV, even at the most basic level.

For example, the Honda Pilot, which is a three-row SUV with a 285-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine, has a starting MSRP of $40,445. The Toyota Sienna, which sports a 2.5-liter gasoline-powered four-cylinder engine with two electric motors for 245 horsepower, starts at just $36,720. Depending on your budget, a minivan could give you more functionality and versatility for your buck.

One of the major factors that contribute to the smaller price tag of most minivans is their front-wheel-drive configuration. While most people expect an SUV to have all-wheel-drive, a minivan can get away with a simple FWD drivetrain. This can cut a lot of the cost of manufacturing, which then gets passed on to you.

Since SUVs are expected to have some off-road capability, they are going to have a more complex drivetrain, which can drive up costs.

2. Fuel Efficiency

If you are purchasing your vehicle for a large family with a lot of errands to run and trips to make, fuel economy is going to be a major factor.

For the most part, minivans are going to be your best bet if you are looking to save some money at the fuel pump. This is generally because many new minivans are offered as hybrids while SUVs are a little bit slower to catch up in this department.

For example, if you choose to go with the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, you can expect to get up to 84 MPGe combined.

The Hyundai Kona, however, which is on the smaller side and should get some of the best gas mileage in its class, only gets 30 mpg city and 35 mpg highway and there is no hybrid option available.

If you are looking to take advantage of the savings that a hybrid can offer and you still want the space and practicality of a larger vehicle, a minivan is going to be your best possible option.

3. Space

No matter what kind of driving you are doing, if you are purchasing a new vehicle for your family, you are going to want as much passenger and cargo space as possible. When it comes to room for people and things, a minivan is almost always going to be your best bet.

Due to the design of the cabin and the lower deck floor, there is more headroom and legroom as well as more interior space in a minivan. This makes them more comfortable for long rides and offers more capability for moving equipment and passengers.

While the Chrysler Pacifica is on the smaller side of the spectrum, it offers 32.3 of cargo space behind the back seats and if you fold down the Stow n’ Go seats, you get a massive 87.5 cubic feet of space behind the second row.

Conversely, the Chevrolet Suburban is one of the largest SUVs on the market and it only has 41.5 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats with 93.8 cubic feet with the third row folded. While this is more than what the Pacifica offers, it is a much larger vehicle and the cargo space difference is negligible.

The Pacifica is also available with captain’s chairs, which can give you even more cargo space and a more comfortable experience.

4. Versatility

Part of the car buying process involves not only getting the things you need for your specific purposes but also making sure that the vehicle will be appropriate for other applications should they come up.

When it comes to versatility, an SUV is almost always going to be your best bet. Many of them offer features like four-wheel-drive and higher ground clearance, which makes them perfect for driving on roads that a minivan might not be able to handle.

Large SUVs and even some midsize SUVs will have a much higher towing capacity than an average minivan, which makes them great for all kinds of applications on the road and on the job site.

If you are looking for towing capacity, an SUV is going to be the way to go. SUVs like the Honda Pilot, Subaru Ascent, Kia Telluride, and Ford Explorer can tow up to 5,000 pounds and in some cases, even more. Full-size SUVs like the GMC Yukon, Chevy Tahoe, Chevy Suburban, and Ford Expedition can tow even more.

5. Safety

When purchasing a car for your family, safety should be your top priority. When it comes to safety, most modern SUVs are going to be the way to go.

While both SUVs and minivans come with a wide variety of safety features like lane-keeping assist, automated emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control, most SUVs are going to have an overall better safety rating. This happens for a variety of reasons that are unique to each individual model but the main contributing factor is visibility.

In an SUV, the driver is seated in a much higher position. This offers better visibility for the driver and a more complete overall view of the road. Plus, in an SUV, there are fewer blind spots than you might experience with a minivan.

Minivans have things like sliding doors that can block visibility and cause potential safety issues. Smaller SUVs like crossovers and compacts will have excellent views of the road, which can help you drive as safely as possible.

6. Technology

If you are buying a family car for road trips or long commutes, having the latest tech in the cabin should be a major consideration. Making sure that everyone has the conveniences and entertainment options they want will make driving with the whole family much easier and more fun.

Since this has become a priority for automakers, both SUVs and minivans are going to have the latest tech, which makes them fairly evenly matched.

When looking for a minivan or SUV, keep an eye out for things like large touchscreen infotainment systems, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, and digital gauge displays.

Plus, you can also look for features like rear-seat entertainment systems and high-end stereos, which can make driving more fun for everyone, especially on long road trips.

7. Style

When searching for a vehicle to drive your family around, you are probably not considering style as much as you would be with other types of vehicles. However, SUVs can be incredibly stylish and have interesting, unique lines that can exude class and be very aesthetically pleasing.

Minivans, on the other hand, tend to be fairly bland in the style department and have a stigma attached to them that can be difficult to shake.

Even the most stylish minivan, the Honda Odyssey, which has been pushing the boundaries of the way minivans are supposed to look for years, still has some aesthetic issues that may not be very appealing to everyone.

Who Should Choose an SUV?

If you want a versatile, well-rounded vehicle, SUVs offer the kind of overall functionality you might be looking for. With capabilities ranging from rugged off-road configurations all the way up to luxury comfort, an SUV will be able to deliver a high-quality experience to all kinds of drivers no matter what your needs are.

Whether you are trying to find the ideal family wagon or looking for something a little more capable, an SUV will be able to deliver that. However, it may not be able to give you the passenger space or the low price you might need if you have a large family that needs to get around town.

Who Should Choose a Minivan?

Minivans may not offer the versatility and capabilities that SUVs can, but they serve their specific purpose incredibly well.

For people who want something that will deliver their families to and from their appointments and back and forth across town, a minivan will almost always be the best option. They are designed to offer the kind of cargo room, low ride height, and comfortable rows of seats that you are looking for and an SUV won’t be able to give you that kind of specialization.

Because of this, large families or people who have a lot of gear to haul around should look at minivans as their main choices for new cars.

Final Thoughts:

Buying a family vehicle can be difficult since there are so many options available on the market. If you are going to find something that will serve you well for many years, you will have to know what each one has to offer and how that can affect your overall driving experience.

Both minivans and SUVs have their own sets of strengths and weaknesses and each one will be better for some than others. By having a good idea of what their advantages are, you can make the right choice when buying your family vehicle.