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.