Minivan vs. SUV: the decision has haunted families for nearly a quarter-century. Each vehicle type has its perks and drawbacks, which is why an in-depth analysis of features (both standard and optional) becomes all the more necessary when choosing the best option for you. To help make the decision a little easier, this guide breaks down the main features to consider along with the best vehicle for different types of buyer.
If you have to grocery shop for a big family or you're a perennial do-it-yourself homeowner, a minivan is a versatile family car that gives you more space for everything. The generous amount of space in a minivan lies not only in the large cargo area behind the third seat but also on the lower floors, which increases the amount of cubic feet you can accommodate. And when you throw in foldable second-row and third-row seats and stow-and-go seating, you have the versatility to fit just about anything, no matter how bulky.
The proverbial icing on the cake is dual sliding doors, which allow you to place cargo just how you want it. Plus, many minivans made within the last five years come with a standard or optional power liftgate. At the touch of a button, you can open the rear even if your hands are full of groceries, home improvement supplies, or kids.
If you don’t see yourself as a minivan owner but still want loads of cargo capacity, opt for the Chevy Suburban large SUV. With 144 cubic feet of cargo space, the Suburban's capacity eclipses even the most sizable minivan — the Chrysler Pacifica.
Best Minivan for Cargo Space: Chrysler Pacifica with 140 cubic feet
Whether you love to go off-road or need a workhorse to tow a camper or trailer, SUVs have the upper hand. Unlike minivans, automakers manufacture SUVs to come in more specialized models. For example, the Ford Explorer pairs seven seats with the capability for off-roading thanks to higher ground clearance and larger tires while the Chevrolet Suburban offers brawn and raw power behind a 6.2-litre V-8.
The real advantage that SUVs have over minivans is that nearly all of them (crossovers aside) have superior towing capabilities. Typically, the most towing power you'll get out of a minivan is 3,500 pounds. Conversely, the Ford Expedition can tow up to 9,300 pounds, rivaling even heavy-duty trucks.
Most Capable SUV Overall: Ford Expedition
Until about a decade ago, minivans always had more space for passengers, as they were designed for burgeoning families and practicality. But the popularity of SUVs for families continued to soar. To keep up with demand, manufacturers threw in an additional third row or rear seats.
Although SUVs don't offer the same amount of legroom, headroom, or shoulder room in their rows of seats, they can reasonably accommodate up to seven or eight passengers. Now, with the added versatility of different luxury features, sales of three-row SUVs continue to grow.
Most standard minivans without any options can haul seven passengers with the base model. But most consumers opt for the slightly nicer trims, which all tend to accommodate eight passengers with the notable exception of the Dodge Grand Caravan. However, most minivans come with second-row captain's chairs, providing extra comfort for kids and passengers during road trips.
Best Minivan for Passenger Comfort: Honda Odyssey; 8 passengers
Best SUV for Passenger Capacity: Toyota Highlander; 8 passengers
Do you love everything about a vehicle but find a sole powertrain option off-putting? Or maybe you want to lower your carbon footprint through a plug-in hybrid or electric option? With an SUV, you can have your pick.
Many SUVs now come with hybrid powertrains to appease the planet-saving force within you. The versatile Toyota Highlander Hybrid offers 7.8L/100km while the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV boasts an all-electric range of up to 35 kilometres.
Other SUVs offer numerous gas-powered options that can provide straight-up power, more fuel efficiency, or a balance between the two. Several SUVs offer up to three powertrains, including the Chevy Tahoe, which also throws in a powerful, fuel-efficient diesel that combines torque and savings at the pump.
Best SUV for Powertrain Options: Chevy Tahoe
Sometimes, front-wheel drive or two-wheel drive just won't cut it in the harsh Canadian winter, even with the best snow tires. You need the rugged abilities of four-wheel drive (4WD) or the tough-weather grip of all-wheel drive (AWD). Until 2021, the Toyota Sienna was the only minivan to offer all-wheel drive when it was joined by the Chrysler Pacifica. This ushered in a new era of powertrain options for minivans, but the SUV still reigns supreme.
SUVs offer all three drivetrains on various trims, allowing you to choose between a commuter vehicle or a beast that can overcome insurmountable terrain thanks to either AWD or 4WD. Moreover, compact, midsize, and large SUVs all tend to offer AWD or 4WD, giving you more choices for your style, needs, and budget.
Best SUV for 2WD or AWD: Nissan Rogue
Once notorious gas guzzlers, many SUVs have reined in their monstrous engines in favour of more fuel-efficient options. This goes hand-in-hand with the emergence of hybrid-electric or plug-in hybrid electric powertrains across the SUV market. Such a transition has been greeted with open arms, as small and midsize SUVs have become some of the most fuel-efficient options available.
Not to be outdone, minivans have ushered in more fuel economy in recent memory. In 2020, the Toyota Sienna jumped from 11.7L/100km to 7.8L/100km — an impressive 80% improvement in fuel economy. And in 2021, every Toyota Sienna off the production line will be a hybrid — adding even better fuel economy to the vastly improved 2020 model. Still, the overall edge goes to SUVs, simply because of the sheer number of choices in the market.
Best Minivan for Fuel Economy: Toyota Sienna (7.8L/100km)
Best SUV for Fuel Economy: Ford Escape Hybrid (5.8L/100km)
Do you want to enjoy your vehicle on the open road while the kids are at school? Or perhaps you want to satisfy your need for speed? In either case, an SUV has your back. Although minivans have come a long way with regard to speed — highlighted by the 287-horsepower Chrysler Pacifica — sports car-esque SUVs come out every year in droves.
The good news is that you truly have a wide array of options to suit your need for ponies and torque. The Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk offers a mind-blowing 707 horsepower through a supercharged Hellcat V-8, but you don't have to pick a souped-up monster.
Several SUVs now come with a turbocharged engine, ranging from the Kia Soul to the Mazda CX-9. With this at the helm, the engine displacement is lowered while the output increases — effectively creating a more powerful yet more fuel-efficient engine. Once deemed a pipe dream, the balance between these two important aspects has been realized, much to the delight of consumers.
Most Powerful SUV: Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk (707 hp) or Dodge Durango SRT (475 hp)
On the whole, minivans — especially used models — tend to cost thousands less than SUVs on average. That's not to say minivans can't put a bite into your wallet. Fully loaded minivans with options such as an entertainment system, heated driver's seat, and leather can easily go toe-to-toe with SUVs on pricing. Although the average minivan costs less (at least at the base model), watch out for those expensive features that can make the price skyrocket.
Conversely, SUVs have so many more options that finding one to fit your budget is an easier venture. Although more affordable models may not have the roominess of a minivan, they can still seat seven passengers while offering many of the same interior specs. And with a vast array of engine choices, 4WD or AWD, and perhaps a clear edge in styling, budget SUVs are becoming more popular with consumers.
Best Minivan on a Budget: Dodge Grand Caravan
Best SUV on a Budget: Volkswagen Tiguan
Every new vehicle in Canada has to go through a safety test administered by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Rated on a scale from one to five stars, this rating determines how safe a vehicle is. Based on this test, SUVs and minivans — on average — tend to fare the same.
As such, the real comparison comes down to safety features. While both vehicle types offer a comprehensive array of active (via camera and radar) and passive (air bags and traction control) safety features, SUVs typically have more to offer in terms of the breadth of their advanced safety systems.
Best SUV for Safety: Ford Expedition
Whether you opt for a family-hauling minivan or a versatile SUV, Clutch has the right vehicle to suit your needs. What’s more, we offer low-interest financing, an easy trade-in estimator, a 210-point inspection, and a 90-day, 6,000-kilometre to put your mind at ease. And with the ability to shop our inventory from the comfort of your own home, you can find exactly what you want without stepping out the door. That's one option any future minivan or SUV owner can agree upon.