Buyer's Guide: SUV vs. Minivan

Both boast room for a family of buyers, but deciding which is best for you often comes down to image versus function.

April 1, 2002

The popularity of sport-utility vehicles over the past several years has some observers wondering whether the minivan—ubiquitous on the nation’s highways since the mid-1980s—is past its prime.

But as Mark Twain might have asserted—and recent auto shows have confirmed—reports of the minivan’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. If you’re trying to decide between a minivan and an SUV for your business car, there are important pros and cons to consider on both sides.

To its advocates, the minivan may be the single most effective use of space to ever hit the road. Minivans typically seat seven or eight, store plenty of cargo, and offer great visibility. Top-line minivans, such as Chrysler’s Town & Country, boast a lavish array of creature comforts traditionally aimed more at empty nesters than at soccer moms. No wonder minivans became the vehicle of choice for many real estate professionals: It’s easy to take an entire homebuyer family, or a pile of for-sale signs, in tow.

The downside has more to do with image than reality. Some car buyers think the sport-utility vehicle is more hip. And SUVs certainly have a lot to offer, particularly for those in the snowbelt, where four-wheel drive is practically a must.

SUVs come in a seemingly endless array of sizes and shapes, from subcompacts, such as the Chevrolet Tracker, to the massive Ford Expedition. Most offer four-wheel or all-wheel drive, at least as an option. Once targeted at the rugged outdoorsman, modern sport-utes, such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee, combine that rugged image with the interior amenities of a luxury sedan.

Image is clearly important for real estate professionals, but you can’t dismiss functionality and comfort. Minivans still reign as the roomiest vehicles on the road, especially where ease of entry is critical. Extended wheelbase minivans, such as the Dodge Grand Caravan, boast tremendous cargo space not always found in SUVs. Chrysler’s roll-out rear seats, and Honda Odyssey’s fold-away third row, offer even more of a plus. A few minivans, including several Chrysler models, even offer optional all-wheel drive.

At the same time, SUVs are beginning to give serious competition to minivans in the category of seating capacity. Many of the newest sport-utes, such as the recently updated Ford Explorer, have added third-row seats.

Handling, fuel economy, and ride comfort also come into the equation, and typically tend to favor the more car-like minivan, especially on dry roads. But there’s a generation of new crossover SUVs and segment busters, such as the upcoming wagon-like Chrysler Pacifica, that may prove the perfect compromise. Station wagons and wagon-like vehicles are the hot ticket, as anyone who has seen the new Volvo XC90 or Pacifica can’t help but notice. The latter is officially designated a “concept” vehicle, but Chrysler’s chief of design, Trevor Creed, says a production version will hit showrooms a year from now.

The growing list of SUVs, minivans, and crossovers—more than 70 according to an unofficial count at this year’s North American International Auto Show—is evidence that the auto industry is working to find the best blend of form and function. That’s good news for you—the consumer—but it doesn’t make your choice easy.

Well, here’s another factor to consider: Chrysler and NAR have formed a unique alliance program. As the official vehicle manufacturer of the NAR, members can receive a $500 cash allowance on the purchase or lease of select new 2001 and 2002 model year Chrysler and Jeep vehicles. The $500 cash allowance is in addition to national, regional, and local Chrysler-Jeep incentive programs. Learning more about the $500 allowance is easy: For Chrysler vehicles, visit nar.chrysler.com or dial 800-CHRYSLER (247-9753) and for Jeep vehicles visit nar.jeep.com or dial 800-925-JEEP (5337). Tell the operator you’re with NAR and calling about the NAR–Chrysler/Jeep deal.

Which to Choose?

The line between minivans and SUVs is blurring, but here are some pointers to help you choose which is right for you.

Minivans

  • More car-like ride
  • Slightly better mileage, on average
  • Typically offer more seats (six to eight)
  • Usually more cargo space (especially long wheelbase versions)
  • Usually offer more creature comforts, such as rear-seat video
  • Walk-through seating, so one can move around in the vehicle without going outside

SUVs

  • All- or four-wheel-drive for inclement weather
  • Generally considered more stylish
  • Better for off-road and rough-road situations
  • Typically seat four to five, though some new models offer seating for up to eight and more cargo room than previously available
  • Higher trade-in value, traditionally

SUVs

MANUFACTURER/
MODEL/MSRP
POWER-
TRAIN
COMFORT & SAFETY FEATURES CARGO CAPACITY* SEATING/
BACKSEAT LEGROOM
DESCRIPTION
JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE
nar.jeep.com
$26,025 to $37,430
4.0-liter
6-cyl. or 4.7-liter
V-8
Power adjustable accelerator and brake pedals optional on Limited and Overland with memory, on Laredo without memory; rain-sensing auto wipers optional on Limited; dual-stage front air bags. Rear seat up:
39.0 cu. ft.;
rear seat tumbled:
72.3 cu. ft.

NAR Cargo Test:
609 reams

2 front,
3 rear/
35.1 in.
Robust and reliable, the Grand Cherokee is offered with several different engines and 4-wheel-drive combinations. Especially solid on rough roads and backwoods trails, it set a benchmark by combining ruggedness with comfort.
JEEP LIBERTY
nar.jeep.com
$17,035 to $23,355
2.4-liter I-4 or 3.7-liter V-6 CD changer; tie-down hooks for cargo; adjustable steering column; next-generation driver and front-passenger airbags; door and tunnel reinforcements. Rear seat up: 29.0 cu. ft.; rear seat folded: 69.0 cu. ft.
NAR Cargo Test:
581 reams
2 front,
3 rear/
37.2 in.
Designed to tackle everything from an interstate highway to California’s rough Rubicon Trail, Liberty is affordable, but that doesn’t mean cheap. It’s stylish, with an interior more in line with an upscale European sedan.
DODGE DURANGO
dodge.com
$25,475 to $37,070
4.7-liter
V-8 or
5.7-liter
V-8
Remote keyless entry; power windows with driver one-touch open; halogen headlamps with flash-to-pass feature; rear window defroster; next-generation driver and front-passenger air bags; speed control and tilt steering. With optional third seat: 18.8 cu. ft.; with third seat folded: 51.3 cu. ft.; with all rear seats folded: 88.0 cu. ft.
NAR Cargo Test: 741 reams
With optional third seat:
3 front,
3 second,
2 rear/ Standard 37.3 in.;
with optional third seat 35.4 in.; third seat legroom 30.7 in.
The first SUV in the Dodge lineup is “right-sized.” That means an unexpectedly roomy interior—offering third-row seating—in a slim exterior package that’s easy to park and maneuver.
FORD EXPEDITION
ford.com
2001 price was
$31,145 to $41,675;
expect price increase
4.6-liter SOHC
2-valve,
V-8; or 5.4-liter
V8
Remote keyless entry; luggage rack; power adjustable pedals; CD player; dual-stage front
air bags; fuel pump shut-off switch.
Behind second seat: 60.9 cu. ft.; behind rear seat: 20.2 cu. ft.; with all seats folded: 110.4 cu. ft.

NAR Cargo Test: 930 reams

2 front,
3 second,
2 rear/
Second seat 38.7 in.;
rear seat
36.3 in.
The Expedition, redesigned this year, is for someone who needs plenty of space and three rows of seats. A new, independent rear suspension provides better handling and even more rear-seat room and cargo space.
GMC ENVOY
gmc.com
$29,720 to $34,760
4.2-liter
6-cyl.
Remote keyless entry; adjustable steering column; luggage carrier; dual front airbags, dual side airbags for driver and front passenger; OnStar. Behind rear seat:
9.8 cu. ft.; rear seat folded: 80.1 cu. ft.

NAR Cargo Test: 675 reams

2 front,
3 rear/
37.1 in.
The GM division’s newest compact SUV is currently available in a two-row, five-seat configuration; but a third-row, extended-length model is due to market shortly. Envoy is stylish, rugged, and surprisingly easy to handle.
TOYOTA HIGHLANDER
toyota.com
$24,390 to $31,305
2.4-liter
4-cyl.
or 3.0-liter V-6
CD player; tilt steering wheel; adjustable headrests on all seats; dual front airbags; side door impact beams; whiplash lessening front seatbelts. Behind rear seat: 38.5 cu. ft.; rear seat folded: 81.4 cu. ft.
NAR Cargo Test: 686 reams
2 front,
3 rear/
36.4 in.
Toyota now offers an array of SUVs and crossovers, with the Highlander the latest in the so-called “car/truck” category. Its rugged appearance and versatile powertrain are complemented by a roomy and well-appointed interior.

For more information from any manufacturer, visit the company’s Web site. This list isn’t comprehensive; NAR doesn’t evaluate or endorse these products and isn’t responsible for changes in company information. Prices quoted cover the estimated retail for specific lower- and upper-end models throughout the range of each vehicle. Includes destination charge, but does not include optional features, which can increase the price substantially.

*REALTOR Magazine calculated the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® Cargo Test by dividing the cubic footage provided by the manufacturer (using the maximum cargo space configuration) by the cubic footage of a ream of paper (0.11868). The dimensions of the cargo area and the curvature or irregularity of the space would affect how many reams would actually fit into the space.

MINIVANS

MANUFACTURER/MODEL/MSRP POWER- TRAIN COMFORT & SAFETY FEATURES CARGO CAPACITY* SEATING/ BACKSEAT LEGROOM DESCRIPTION
DODGE CARAVAN and GRAND CARAVAN
dodge.com
Caravan:
$16,095 to $24,060;
Grand Caravan:
$22,440 to $33,975
2.4-liter I-4 (Caravan only) 3.3-liter V-6 (both models) 3.8-liter V-6 (Grand only) Available power-adjustable pedals in all models except EX; driver and passenger side sliding doors; lockable storage drawer under front passenger seat; next-generation front airbags; sliding door child protection. Caravan: behind
second seat: 45.6 cu. ft.; behind rear seat:
15.3 cu. ft.; without rear seats: 146.7 cu. ft. Grand: behind second seat: 51.3 cu. ft.; behind rear seat: 17.6 cu. ft.; without rear seats: 167.9 cu. ft.
NAR Cargo Test:
Caravan: 1,236; Grand: 1,415
2 front, 2 second, 3 rear/
Caravan: second seat 36.5 in.; rear seat 33.8 in.
Grand:
second seat 39.0 in.; rear seat 38.9 in.
This is the original minivan and
it remains a benchmark other manufacturers struggle to keep up with. The Caravan is roomy, offers tremendous cargo capacity and exceptional visibility. Grand Caravan is the line’s extended wheelbase model.
CHRYSLER VOYAGER
nar.chrysler.com
$16,095 to $24,060
2.4-liter I-4
or 3.3-liter
V-6
Driver and passenger side rear sliding doors; lockable storage drawer under front passenger seat; next-generation front airbags; child seat anchorage system. Behind second seat: 44.2 cu. ft.; behind rear seat: 15.1 cu. ft.; seats removed: 142.3 cu. ft.
NAR Cargo Test: 1,199 reams
2 front,
2 second,
3 rear/
Second seat 36.6 in.;
rear seat
33.6 in.
Like the Caravan, this is an original, though the name has been changed to reflect the disappearance of Chrysler’s old Plymouth division. Voyager is the most affordable minivan in this automaker’s lineup.
CHRYSLER TOWN & COUNTRY\
nar.chrysler.com
$24,330 to $38,315
and up
3.3-liter V-6
or 3.8-liter V-6
Rear seat audio/CD with remote and dual wireless headphones (all models except base LX and EX); rear defroster; cruise control; tilt steering; time delay headlamps; next-generation front airbags. Behind second seat: 51.3 cu. ft.; behind rear seat: 17.8 cu. ft.; seats removed: 167.9 cu. ft.
NAR Cargo Test: 1,415 reams
2 front,
2 second,
3 rear/
Second seat 37.5 in.;
rear seat
37.3 in.
Town & Country is the ultimate
in upscale minivans, and with its many amenities, T&C is especially popular with professionals and empty-nesters who like to travel
in style and comfort.
HONDA ODYSSEY
honda.com
$24,690 to $30,690
3.5-liter V-6 Adjustable steering column; remote fuel door release; rear seat heater ducts; dual-stage front airbags; driver’s and front passenger’s side airbags. Behind rear seat: 38.1 cu. ft.; rear seats removed: 146.1 cu. ft.
NAR Cargo Test: 1,231 reams
2 front,
2 second,
3 rear/
Second seat 40.0 in.;
rear seat
38.1 in.
Odyssey has quickly become the most popular import minivan. It has plenty of selling points, starting with Honda’s reputation for bullet-proof reliability. It’s offered in only one wheelbase, but its fold-away rear seat provides great flexibility.
FORD WINDSTAR
ford.com
$22,995 to $34,580
3.8-liter V-6 Rear window defroster; automatic locks; air conditioning; dual-stage front airbags; energy absorbing steering column. 136.4 cu. ft. with rear seats removed
NAR Cargo Test: 1,149 reams
2 front,
2 second,
3 rear/
Second seat 36.8 in.;
rear seat
35.6 in.
One of the big selling points for Ford’s popular minivan is its emphasis on safety. It consistently ranks at the top in the federal government’s crash tests. Windstar is roomy, powerful, and well appointed.

For more information from any manufacturer, visit the company’s Web site. This list isn’t comprehensive; NAR doesn’t evaluate or endorse these products and isn’t responsible for changes in company information. Prices quoted cover the estimated retail for specific lower- and upper-end models throughout the range of each vehicle. Includes destination charge, but does not include optional features, which can increase the price substantially.

*REALTOR® Magazine calculated the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® Cargo Test by dividing the cubic footage provided by the manufacturer (using the maximum cargo space configuration) by the cubic footage of a ream of paper (0.11868). The dimensions of the cargo area and the curvature or irregularity of the space would affect how many reams would actually fit into the space.


This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of the products in this category. NAR doesn’t evaluate or endorse these products and isn’t responsible for changes in product info. Prices are the vendors’ suggested retail prices and are subject to change.

Paul A. Eisenstein is publisher of The Detroit Bureau. He has more than 30 years of experience covering the auto industry for a broad range of print, broadcast, and electronic media.

Notice: The information on this page may not be current. The archive is a collection of content previously published on one or more NAR web properties. Archive pages are not updated and may no longer be accurate. Users must independently verify the accuracy and currency of the information found here. The National Association of REALTORS® disclaims all liability for any loss or injury resulting from the use of the information or data found on this page.

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