Family SUV vs. Family Minivan: Which Is Right for You?

Get help choosing the best type of car for your family—minivan or SUV—and then check out the our top picks in each category.

Best Family Cars Illustration
Photo: James Yang

When mom of two Linzy Cotaya went car shopping a few years ago, she wanted a model that would comfortably get her to school, work, and “8,000 kid activities,” she says. But there was one line she wouldn’t cross. “I have friends who love their minivan, but I couldn’t do it,” says Cotaya, who lives in New Orleans. “Getting an SUV instead allowed me to hang on to a piece of my prekids self.”

Well, that’s one opinion. Another: “Why did I ever resist the minivan?” says Genevieve Howland, a mom of three in Destin, Florida, who drives a Chrysler Pacifica. “In what other vehicle can a mom switch seats, soothe a baby, and rummage through the trunk all while watching a movie?” (Note from Parents editors: Maybe don’t try this at home.)

Whether you’ve maxed out the number of car seats (not to mention adults) you can squeeze into your sedan, you’ve hit your head on its ceiling one too many times while pulling a kid out of the back, or you’re in need of more trunk space for your stroller and groceries, it’s probably time for an upgrade. One thing SUV and minivan owners do agree on: Once you gain all that extra space, you won’t ever want to go back.

Pros of a Family Minivan

Sliding Doors

This feature sold Alexandra Fung, who’d wanted a minivan ever since she rented one on a family vacation. “I don’t have to worry about my three kids banging the door of our Toyota Sienna into a neighboring car,” says Fung, of Arlington Heights, Illinois. A minivan’s power doors open and close with the push of a button from the driver’s seat so you don’t have to get up during your carpool.

Lower to the Ground

Most little kids need to be lifted into an SUV, but they can climb into a minivan by themselves. “When my kids were small, it was so easy for them to get into our Toyota Sienna and for me to move around inside to fasten them into their car seats,” says Elizabeth Girouard, a New Jersey mom of three. “Now it’s fantastic for friends in our carpools to hop in and out.”

So. Much. Space.

Other moms started their families with an SUV but moved on to a minivan as their tribe expanded. “With three kids, we can comfortably spread them out in their car seats among the two rows in the back,” says Thao Tran-Nasser, a mom of three in Westfield, New Jersey, who drives a Honda Odyssey. Dori Shwirtz, a mom of four in Miami Beach, Florida, adds: “It fits everything I could possibly need, and there’s enough space that my kids don’t kill each other!”

Cool Bells and Whistles

Both minivans and SUVs have a lot of the same creature comforts, but minivans offer a few extra family-centric perks. “After my husband showed me there was a vacuum in the Chrysler Pacifica, I was sold on getting a minivan,” says Randee Braham, a mom of two in Los Angeles.

Gas Mileage

Minivans give you 25 to 28 miles per gallon (mpg) on the highway and 18-ish mpg in the city. Some three-row SUVs such as the Volkswagen Atlas are in that ballpark, but others get as little as 22 mpg highway and 15 mpg city. “I drove SUVs that got progressively bigger as my family grew, and my last one was a gas-guzzling monster,” says Amy Schmidt, a mom of four in Kings Mills, Ohio, who now owns a minivan. Bottom line: Don’t assume that an SUV is better on gas than a minivan; compare the numbers.

Pros of a Family SUV

The Look

It can’t be denied: SUVs offer more choices to suit your style. “My three-row SUV can fit the same number of people as a minivan and is as comfortable, but it’s way more sleek,” says Rachel Pierre, of Houston. SUVs also don’t say “mom car” the way minivans do. “My SUV doesn’t have the ‘I used to be cool’ stigma of a minivan,” says Jo Trizila, of Dallas.

A Higher Seat

For many SUV buyers, an eagle-eyed view of the road and plenty of legroom is a big draw. Sitting taller can be safer too.

Several Sizes

“When I test-drove a minivan, I felt like I was behind the wheel of a bus,” says Tajinder Rehal, a mom of three in Gilroy, California. “We ended up getting a Honda Pilot, which has three rows of seats.” For Ashley Chambrello, a mom in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, her two-row Ford Edge offers ample space. “My SUV fits everything from my stroller to my portable high chair,” she says.

Better in Bad Weather

If you live in a rainy or snowy area (or enjoy road trips to the mountains!), you need a car that won’t slip and slide in bad weather. SUVs offer more choices than minivans for transmission systems, like all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive, that send power to your front and back wheels, giving you more traction. “I feel very safe having the all-wheel drive in my Chevy Traverse,” says Kristen Parent, a mom of two in Madison, Wisconsin.

Ready to start car shopping? Check out Parents' 10 Best Family Cars of 2019 for expert picks in both the minivan and SUV categories.

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