Minivans and SUVs

2016 Honda Odyssey photoParenting is hard, and your choice of family transport doesn’t need to compound whatever problems are likely to crop up during the course of a day or week. Yet American moms and dads regularly choose vehicles that are less than ideal for the task of hauling a brood and living suburban life, all because they think that minivans aren’t cool.*

Let me tell you something: Minivans are cool. Certainly not for their image, as demonstrated by J.D. Power research data, 1 which reveals that the “image the vehicle portrays” is the second-most frequently cited reason people reject a minivan in favor of an SUV, after price. Rather, minivans are cool because they make your life as a parent easier.

My 7-year-old daughter gets it. She tells me that her ideal family car has these qualities:

1. A DVD player
2. Side window shades to block the sun
3. A back seat with extra room for her cousins
4. Sliding doors that she can power open without hitting the car next to her

That last quality is one of my favorite things about minivans. Sliding side doors make loading kids into and removing them from child safety seats so much easier. You don’t need to worry about clearance between a minivan and the vehicle next to it. You don’t twist as much, or lean as much, or strain as much. Plus, those sliding side doors sure make it easier to load people into the third-row seat.

2015 Toyota Sienna photoJ.D. Power data also illustrates that minivan buyers cite interior roominess as the most important factor impacting their choice of vehicle. In fact, when examining the reasons that minivan buyers rejected an SUV, three of the top four explanations for their decision are related to vehicle size, interior roominess, and cargo capacity. That makes sense, given that minivans are the roomiest family vehicles you can buy.

For example, compare the dimensions of a new Chevrolet Suburban with those of a Honda Odyssey. The big, hulking Chevy SUV can carry up to 9 people (only with a bench-style front seat) or as much as 121.1 cu. ft. of cargo. The Odyssey minivan is designed to seat up to 8 people and can hold as much as 148.5 cu. ft. of cargo. There goes the argument for choosing the SUV because you have lots of people and stuff to haul around.
Granted, the ‘Burban, for example, can tow more than double the amount of weight a typical minivan can, but at what price? A 2016 Suburban without a single option costs more than 50 grand ($50, 895 including destination freight charge). You couldn’t spend that much money on a minivan from the factory if you tried.

That price premium is one reason why many people don’t drive traditional full-size SUVs anymore, and J.D. Power data finds that “price/payment” is the leading reason minivan buyers reject an SUV. Another is that something like a Suburban is EPA-rated to get 18 mpg on a good day, and poor fuel economy is also cited by a high percentage of minivan buyers as a reason for rejecting an SUV.

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