A whole generation of families has turned its collective back on the minivan, with sales floundering and entries dwindling.
Remember the Ford Aerostar and Windstar? What about the Chevrolet Venture or the Nissan Quest? These pantheons of practicality dotted driveways across the country, and then they just sort of vanished.
I’m not quite sure exactly when it happened, but I think I know why. Now grownups with kids of their own, those who grew up riding in the back of minivans have rejected them in favour of SUVs. The same happened with wagons before them – and the same might well happen with sport-utilities one day. But I digress.
For those willing to put practicality above perceived coolness, it really doesn’t get much better than a minivan. But I’m not so narrow-minded that I can’t see the merits of those minivan alternatives, too, so here’s a list of three reasons minivans are better than SUVs, and three reasons they aren’t.
1. Minivans Are More Practical
The Oxford dictionary defines the word practical as “relating to the actual doing or use of something rather than theory.” Must I go on?
Sure, that three-row SUV might make sense in theory, but when it’s time to actually do stuff it’s just not as good as a minivan, plain and simple. Take the space inside; unless you plan to step up to a full-size family hauler like the Chevrolet Tahoe, there’s no way you’re getting an SUV that’s as roomy as a minivan – and even that’s debatable.
Just look at the overhauled Toyota Sienna, for example: it’s got 950 L of cargo room behind the third row, including a deep well that’s like a magician’s hat with all the stuff you can pull out of there. The Tahoe has more than 200 L less – and the liftover height means lugging your stuff up and inside the cargo area rather than dropping it down and in.
And it only gets worse when you look at smaller three-rows like the Volkswagen Atlas, which are a helluva lot more popular and have even less space for stuff. Actually, there’s less room for people, too. Point: Minivan.
2. Sliding Doors Are Saviours
Kids aren’t reckless little creatures – at least not all of them – but even the best of the brood can be prone to the occasional act of carelessness. And that’s exactly why the sliding doors on a minivan are amazing.
There will be no need to leave a note explaining that your kid accidentally dented the door of the car parked next to you at the mall since there’s nothing to swing open wildly or get caught in a gust of wind. Those sliding doors are usually power opening and closing, too, and some even feature kick sensors so you can open them without putting your stuff – or your offspring – down. As if you needed another reason to love those doors, they’re also huge, so whether you need to buckle a kid into the back or climb in yourself, it’s about as convenient as it gets.
3. Minivans Have AWD, Too
One of the most common complaints about minivans is that you can’t get them with all-wheel drive. Glossing over the fact General Motors (GM) sold all-wheel-drive minivans up until about 15 years ago, the Toyota Sienna has been available with four-wheel traction for the better part of two decades – and it’s a hybrid now, too.
But it’s not alone, and you can get the Chrysler Pacifica with all-wheel drive these days. OK, that’s still only a couple to choose from, but the glass-half-full outlook is that it’s 50 per cent of the segment. It’s called progress, people; look it up.
All kidding aside, is all-wheel drive a must-have in a minivan? Absolutely not – and it definitely doesn’t give you an excuse to skip winter tires regardless of drive configuration. But at least it’s one less reason not to consider one given all the good stuff they’re capable of.
1. SUVs Have an Inherent Height Advantage
I personally think this one’s a bit of a stretch, but I can see the benefits of having just a little more ground clearance – and that’s something just about every big SUV has going for it compared to minivans. Just take a look at the Toyota lineup; the Highlander rides 38 mm (1.5 in) or so higher than the Sienna, and the 4Runner has some 76 mm (three inches) more ground clearance. That means making easier work of that rough cottage road, or even less stress after a heavy snowfall.
2. They Can Tow More Than Minivans
Minivans may be able to fit more stuff inside than most SUVs, but they can’t come close to towing as much. When you look down the line at the minivans left on the market, most are good to pull 1,588 kg (3,500 lb) or so.
But if you look at the average gas-powered three-row SUV, you get 2,268 kg (5,000 lb) of towing capacity – and the big ones like the Tahoe or Ford Expedition can pull 3,629 kg (8,000 lb) or more. While 1,588 kg is still plenty for a little utility trailer or even a pop-up camper, if you’re serious about towing then SUVs have the upper hand.
3. There’s Less of a Stigma About SUVs
I hate to admit it, but the smear campaign has been effective. I don’t worry too much about how people feel about what I drive – I’m 6-foot-3, I weigh 113 kg (250 lb), and I own a 1995 Mazda Miata, which is about as close to gorilla in a phonebooth as it gets – but I can understand why the incessant trash talk about minivans being lame can be deafening.
Who knows what the future holds, when your kids could one day turn their noses up at what they grew up with like so many of you have done with minivans, but for the time being sport utilities are safe from being stigmatized.
I’m still on Team Minivan, but it’s up to you to decide which one makes more sense for you and your family. So get out there and drive them. And while you’re at it, don’t forget about the few wagons left on the market, either. Long live the long roof.