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It’s an age-old question that most parents will face at some point: SUV or minivan? Which vehicle works best for my growing family?

Start this convo during moms’ night out, and it can get pretty polarizing. As a mom working in the automotive industry, I’ve had this conversation with fellow parents so many times, and for good reason. Parents need particular things when it comes to toting their families around. 

And even if you know absolutely nothing about cars, it’s pretty apparent that sport utility vehicles and minivans remain two of the most efficient types of vehicles for hauling people and cargo. (One look at an elementary school carpool line will give that away.) 

However, when you dig a little deeper, you quickly realize that these two options differ in price, style, features, and capability. In other words, choosing between an SUV and a minivan really depends on your budget, demands, and lifestyle. 

Understanding the differences is essential before picking the best vehicle for your family, so continue reading to learn more to help you decide between minivans and SUVs.

Also see: 10 of the cheapest new 3-row SUVs for 2024

Similarities between SUVs and minivans

At first glance, you may not think SUVs and minivans have much in common, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Interior technology

To start, both have excellent interior technology: Most current models have all the latest must-haves, like rear-seat entertainment systems, Apple
CarPlay, Android Auto, and surround-view cameras, which is my favorite mom car feature of all time (game changer for parking in a tight preschool parking lot!). And in today’s connected climate, most SUVs and minivans also come with more than one rear USB port, which means more access for parents and passengers to recharge mobile devices.  

Safety technology

Since carmakers designed SUVs and minivans to be family-friendly vehicles, they often have the most up-to-date safety technology. Features like lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, and collision avoidance systems help give parents the peace of mind they need when hauling around their most precious cargo. 

Be sure to read: These are 2023’s safest new cars

Both types of vehicles also tend to have decent driving performance and handling, and they typically have similar fuel economy and other costs. 

So, if SUVs and minivans are that similar, how on earth does a mom decide between them? Read on to understand the differences and nuances of each vehicle type. 


The Chrysler Pacifica minivan hybrid


A minivan is a smaller version of a conventional passenger van. It’s less boxy but still designed to transport passengers in the rear. Minivans aren’t typically known for their sleek and sexy designs.

Let’s just address the elephant in the room and get it out of the way: Minivans do not look sleek or sexy.

A major stigma still exists around minivans, and I know this because I talk to moms weekly about it. It’s not unusual for me to hear a mom say, “You couldn’t pay me to drive a minivan,” which I think has to do with the cool factor (or lack thereof) that comes with driving a perceived mom-mobile. My response is always the same: “I totally get it, but trust me when I tell you that one day behind the wheel of a minivan will completely change your mind.”

Plus: Here are 15 SUVs that seat 8—for your big family or small team

Minivan pros

  • Cost. On average, minivans cost less than 3-row SUVs (of course, this doesn’t include higher-end models), a definite check in the minivan column.

  • Space — and more space. Minivans typically offer more space than the average three-row SUV, with about five additional inches of legroom on average in the third row. That’s a big deal if you have a large family, older teens, or typically drive around with multiple generations (you don’t want grandma cramped in the back). Plus, at least one Kelley Blue Book editor boasts of putting down the seats in his Chrysler Pacifica and hauling full sheets of plywood and drywall.

  • Accessibility. Now, let’s talk about the number one feature that makes a minivan so amazing: sliding rear doors. Any mom with little kids knows the struggle of an independent toddler insisting on getting into the car all by himself — 10 minutes plus a few gray hairs later, and most moms would do just about anything to make that process quicker and easier. Enter the sliding door with a lower step-in height than most SUVs, giving you (and your tiny dictator) easy access to enter and exit the vehicle. That’s helpful for grandparents or other family members with mobility challenges, too. And tight parking spaces are a breeze with that sliding door. Honestly, it’s a huge plus that often gets overlooked.

  • User-friendly tech. Another plus for minivans is that interior technology tends to be more family- and passenger-oriented. For example, the Toyota Sienna offers a whopping seven USB ports. And the Pacifica trim levels provide dual rear-seat entertainment touchscreens with a Blu-ray player, wireless headphones, tons of cool apps, and educational games (my 3-year-old learned how to play solitaire in the Pacifica — no judging, please), all of which make road trips a million times more palatable.

From the archives (2021): Why a minivan is the best car ever

Minivan cons

Minivans are sounding pretty good right about now. So why wouldn’t you get one? We’ll tell you about the cons — read on.

  • Ground clearance. First of all, they don’t offer a whole lot of ground clearance compared to SUVs. They’re also not great in extreme weather or off-road conditions, so you need to consider your typical driving environment and terrain.

  • Towing capacity. Another factor to consider is that the highest maximum towing capacity of any minivan is 3,600 pounds. So, if your family vehicle is required to tow a boat or a trailer, an SUV might be a better bet for you.

  • Size. Minivans are big vehicles with a large external footprint. I remember getting behind the wheel of one for the first time and feeling like I was driving a boat (that feeling does not last, FYI).

  • Fuel efficiency (with an asterisk). Most minivans are not particularly fuel-efficient, though there are two different hybrid minivan options on the market today (the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid and the Toyota

TIP: Almost every minivan on the market is going through changes over the next couple of years. When a new model comes out, that’s a great time to look at the previous generation, as dealers are typically more willing to discount older models.

But be aware: Minivans are the hottest-selling vehicles in America, so finding available inventory could be a challenge. Have patience, and start looking long before you actually need that new car.


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The 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander Hybrid


SUV stands for sport utility vehicle. This automotive term typically refers to a vehicle with a taller ride height, off-road features, extra interior space, and 4-wheel (4WD) or all-wheel drive (AWD). If you have a smaller family (maybe just one or two kiddos), you might not need all that extra minivan square footage. A compact or midsize SUV could be the perfect fit for those families. 

Alternatively, if you haul a huge crew, several full-size SUVs could offer up even more space than a minivan. And if the aesthetics are nonnegotiable for you, you’ll likely gravitate toward an SUV’s overall sportier, sleeker look. Despite minivans’ moment in the spotlight, more SUVs get bought in this country than cars and trucks combined. Moms are responsible for a large portion of those SUV sales. 

SUV pros

  • More options. There are so many more SUV options on the market than minivans, giving parents seemingly endless (albeit slightly overwhelming) options for all budgets and lifestyles.

  • Hybrid and electric options. SUVs include many hybrid and electric options if that’s important to you.

  • Better visibility. SUVs also tend to offer a higher ground clearance, taller ride height than minivans, and stellar visibility, which can help moms feel more confident at the wheel.

  • Elevated safety features. You’ll find that SUVs typically offer slightly elevated safety features beyond the typical crash avoidance systems. For example, the Toyota Highlander offers a gauge cluster seatbelt indicator telling you who buckled up and who did not. This feature comes in handy, so you don’t have to rely on your testy tweens to tell you whether they buckled or not. Necessary? No. But certainly nice to have.

  • Tech amenities. SUVs tend to offer interior amenities focused on the overall cabin experience. Heated steering wheels, heated and cooled seats, massaging seats, and even length-adjustable seats are common features found in SUVs. That’s not to say you can’t find them in minivans, but you may need to look a little harder, especially if you’re buying a used model.

  • Handling. Another pro for SUVs is that they are available with either AWD or 4WD, so they’ll have much better handling when on rough terrain or in stormy weather.

  • Towing capacity. If towing is a must for your family, some large SUVs surpass the towing capacity of even the best compact pickup trucks and can tow over 9,000 pounds, which means you can pull a much larger trailer or a large boat with ease.

SUV cons

  • Less space. If space is top on your list of priorities, minivans hold more than 15 inches of extra space than the average 3-row midsize SUV. There’s typically less overall cargo space with the third row in use compared to a minivan.

  • Fuel efficiency. And SUVs are not very fuel-efficient unless you go with an environmentally friendly EV or hybrid model.

  • Bigger environmental footprint. In addition, SUVs require more resources to manufacture than smaller vehicles. This means that SUV production contributes to climate change and environmental degradation on a larger scale than other vehicle choices (unless you go with an electric SUV option, of course).

  • No captain’s seats. Or at least fewer models with captain’s chairs. If you’re buying used, you’re less likely to find an SUV with captain’s seats than a minivan equipped that way. Some newer models have the bench standard and offer optional captain’s seats in the middle row. This is a significant factor for parents with more than one child in a convertible car seat (rear- and forward-facing). Captain’s seats are a must in this situation for access to the third row.

TIP: My number one piece of car shopping advice to parents with two or more small children in car seats is to avoid the second-row bench at all costs! Wait until at least one child is in a booster seat to go for the bench.

Overall, SUVs offer a much broader scope of changes than minivans over the next couple of years. That means there will be many more older models with better deals to choose from. And SUVs tend to see technological advancements sooner than minivans, so if having the latest and greatest tech is important to you, or if you have off-road or towing needs, a 3-row SUV is probably your best bet.

What SUV is most like a minivan?

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The 2024 Kia Telluride


Minivans differ from SUVs with their lower ride height, sliding rear doors, and extra cargo space. No SUV will offer those exact features, but there are plenty of SUV options that serve as great family-friendly minivan alternatives. We especially like the Hyundai Palisade, with its exceptionally roomy interior; the Kia
Telluride, with its luxurious cabin and wide cargo opening; and the Chevrolet Tahoe, with its many seating configuration options and class-leading cargo space. 

Plus: 10 new SUVs coming soon—and worth the wait

SUV vs. minivan: the results

The bottom line? As a parent, you really can’t go wrong with either a minivan or an SUV. You’ll have plenty of space for kids and cargo, not to mention endless cup holders for mommy’s daily caffeine fix. It all comes down to budget, lifestyle, aesthetic preferences, and priorities. As you narrow down your choices, I highly recommend asking for an extended test drive to see how the car in question works for your daily life.

Install your car seats, park it in your garage, and let your kids jump in and out. See how it feels to live with the car for a few hours, and you’ll quickly learn whether or not it’s right for your family. 

Check out:The 2024 Honda Prologue: Honda’s new electric SUV is attractive and spacious. When can you get one?

Are SUVs or minivans safer?

Current SUV and minivan models are similarly equipped with the latest safety technology. Backup cameras, airbags, and anti-lock brakes with electronic stability control are standard, and many models include features like lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, and collision avoidance systems, among other safety tech. We recommend checking the NHTSA safety ratings on any vehicle you are considering. 

Check out: The cars, trucks, EVs and SUVs with the best resale value in 2024

What to consider when deciding between a minivan or SUV

Ultimately, choosing between a minivan and an SUV should align with your priorities. Carefully weigh these factors to make a more informed decision for your needs and lifestyle. 

  • Price. Minivans are usually more affordable than SUVs of the same size. SUVs can have a wider price range due to being available in various sizes and with luxury features. 

  • Passengers. Minivans are designed to accommodate more passengers, often with three rows of seats. The size of SUVs varies and can offer seating for as few as five or as many as eight passengers. 

  • Cargo space. Minivans are the clear winner in terms of cargo space. They’re ideal for families with lots of travel gear, groceries, or sports equipment to transport on a regular basis. SUVs have varying cargo capacities. 

  • Fuel efficiency. Minivans are generally more fuel-efficient than larger SUVs. SUV fuel efficiency will vary depending on its size and engine type. 

  • Towing. SUVs generally have higher towing capabilities, making them a better choice for towing things like trailers, boats, or campers. Minivans are designed for daily commutes and family trips, as they have a limited towing capacity. 

  • Driving considerations. Many SUVs come in AWD or 4WD varieties. This makes them a prime pick for off-road adventures and extreme weather. By contrast, minivans are often FWD and may not perform as well in challenging road conditions. 

  • Safety features. Both options can offer a wide array of safety features. Compare models and trim levels for specific safety offerings. 

  • Resale value: Since SUVs are more popular, they often have better resale value than minivans. Minivans may depreciate more quickly depending on how much wear and tear the driver puts on the vehicle.

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