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Why Minivans Are Cooler Than SUVs

Why Minivans Are Cooler Than SUVs

By Christian Wardlaw, August 27, 2015

Parenting 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.

J.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.

Increasingly, Americans are finding that more fuel-efficient crossover SUVs are the best solution to the problem of family transport. Take a good look at one, though. Isn’t a crossover SUV basically a minivan without the handy sliding side doors, and with less space inside for people and their belongings?

For example, a Toyota Highlander allows you to carry up to 8 people and 13.8 cu. ft. of cargo at the same time. A Toyota Sienna allows you to carry up to 8 people and 39.1 cu. ft. of cargo at the same time. Both are rated to get 21 mpg in combined driving, though if you’re willing to spend nearly $49,000, you can get a Highlander Hybrid good for 28 mpg. Don’t justify the Highlander because it comes with all-wheel drive, either. That’s an option on the Sienna, too. No wonder Toyota calls it a “Swagger Wagon.”

What else is cool about minivans? They provide a commanding view of the road ahead from the driver’s seat, they have third-row seats that are sized for adults in addition to children, and a minivan’s third-row seat is typically located farther away from the tailgate than is the third-row seat in a crossover SUV.

This last distinction is important from a safety perspective. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says the safest location for a child is the second-row seat, but if you must use the third-row seat for transporting your kids, don’t you want them sitting as far out of your vehicle’s rear-impact crush zone as is possible?

Two minivan models also provide outstanding occupant protection in a collision, and when you’re a parent, nothing could be more important. In federal government (NHTSA) safety testing, the 2016 Honda Odyssey and 2016 Kia Sedona earn the highest-possible 5-star ratings in each individual crash-test assessment, combined with a 4-star rollover-resistance rating. Both of these models will also retain their “Top Safety Pick” ratings in 2016, despite the fact that the IIHS is strengthening requirements to earn that designation, reflecting their top-notch protection in a small overlap frontal-impact collision.

Speaking of the Kia Sedona, take a close look at that model. It has a longer and flatter hood than most minivans, and except for exposed sliding door tracks, a profile similar to a crossover SUV. Inside, a tall center console divides the front seats, just like in a crossover.

Kia doesn’t offer all-wheel drive for the Sedona, but a good set of snow tires will help any vehicle tackle inclement weather. Plus, the Sedona has a rugged name, invoking the imagery of Arizona red-rock country. And let’s not forget about the excellent warranty and roadside-assistance programs, or the free automatic collision-notification system via the available UVO eServices infotainment system.

According to J.D. Power data, exterior styling is the main reason people skip minivan ownership in favor of something else to drive. In other words, people don’t like the image, what they believe other people see when a minivan rolls up to the elementary school drop-off line. Perhaps, then, the coolest thing about a minivan is that driving one reflects not only sensibility, but also self-confidence. There’s nothing cooler than that.

*In the interest of transparency, my own family has a 5-passenger crossover vehicle. Not because I don’t want a minivan. I do. Because I think minivans are cool. My wife, however, refuses to entertain the notion.

1 Source: J.D. Power 2015 U.S. Initial Quality StudySM (IQS)
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