SUVs vs. Minivans: Which Is the Right Option for Your Family?

suv vs minivan

“I need a new car—I want a DVD system for my son and seating for more than five people. Should I look at a minivan or an SUV, and which one is best? Which do you drive?”

I drive an SUV with a third row, and I chose it for many of the reasons you might choose a minivan. My advice is to consider the similarities and differences between the two and then decide which is right for you.

Minivans Vs. Suvs: What’s The Difference, Anyway?

Minivans are great when you regularly have a lot of people or stuff to carry. The third row is easily accessible, and when you don’t need it, the seats fold down for extra cargo space. They also have sliding center doors that typically can be operated by a button on the key fob or from the driver’s seat, so once everyone is in you can close the doors for them. Lastly, minivans have deep cargo wells in the back, so there’s an extra 10 or so cubic feet of storage. Great for leaving beach chairs or snow gear in your car all season.

The Chrysler Pacifica might give you the most for your money, and it has a plug-in EV/hybrid version. In the Honda Odyssey, the middle seat in the center row pops out, creating captain’s chairs when you need them. The ultra-popular Toyota Sienna has possibly the best combination of features and is available with all-wheel drive (it’s the only minivan that has it) and reclining seats with footrests.

If you’re going to be driving in the country a lot, especially in the winter, AWD should be a requirement. You don’t want to slide off the road or get stuck in an icy driveway. Consider a full-sized SUV with a third row, such as the Ford Explorer (the best-selling full-size SUV in the country), Honda Pilot (which sets the standard for space and reliability), VW Atlas (one of the most popular new SUVs), Chevy Tahoe (pricey but awesome), Toyota Highlander (which comes in a hybrid version and gets 28 miles per gallon!) or Nissan Pathfinder (all-around fun). All of these SUVs have the third row and pretty good storage. The Tahoe lets you choose AWD, 2WD or 4WD, which increases your fuel economy but gives you the capability when you need it. SUV fuel economy is about the same as a minivan, so don’t focus too much on that.

And What About Crossovers?

If you only need the third row occasionally, perhaps consider a crossover or SUV with a smaller third row. Midsize or compact SUVs—like the Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe, Dodge Journey, VW Tiguan and Nissan Rogue—will be easier to park in the city and offer that extra seating when you need it.

My kids get bored in two seconds. Which one will keep me from losing my mind on a road trip?

Most of these SUVs and minivans offer an entertainment system option, built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth that everyone can connect to. The bonus of an entertainment system is that backseat passengers often get extra apps such as navigation so they can see how far it is to your destination, as well as games or entertainment channels. Some don’t, though, and many customers are deciding to invest in tablets and Wi-Fi packages rather than a built-in system.

For families with young kids and families who take a lot of road trips, the built-in system may be a benefit, especially with wireless headphones that let passengers listen in (or not). But for families with older kids who may have their own games and entertainment channels already loaded onto a tablet or phone, simply going with the Wi-Fi might be enough—and will save you $2,000 on the price of the car. Hope this helps you decide the best option for your family!

Scotty Reiss is a writer and founder of the website A Girl’s Guide to Cars. She lives in Connecticut with her husband and two daughters and can be reached at

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Scotty Reiss

Freelance PureWow Editor

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