Do You Really Need an SUV? or Should You Get a Wagon or Minivan Instead?

SUVs are enormously popular. Although the passenger car isn’t quite dead yet, SUVs have overtaken cars in the used market. And of the top 5 least-depreciating vehicles in the US, 3 are SUVs. But SUVs aren’t perfect. And they’re not always the best vehicle for the job. For one, minivans are actually driven more than SUVs. And wagons can also be used for towing and hauling. So, if you’re considering buying a vehicle, do you really need an SUV, or would a wagon or minivan be better?

When an SUV makes more sense than a wagon or minivan

2020 Toyota Sequoia Platinum
2020 Toyota Sequoia Platinum | Toyota

If you really do regularly tow, an SUV, especially a body-on-frame one, is better than a minivan or wagon. For example, Road and Track reported the Volvo V60 can tow a maximum of 4,409 pounds, while the Chrysler Pacifica can tow up to 3,600. Meanwhile, the Toyota Sequoia TRD Pro, even hampered by off-road shocks, can tow up to 7100 pounds, according to Motor Trend.

And speaking of off-road, the SUV is better at it than a wagon or minivan. SUVs are taller and offer more ground clearance. The Buick Regal TourX, for example, has 5.8” of ground clearance, according to Car and Driver. The Mercedes G-Class, meanwhile, has 9.5”. Even something like the Volvo V60 Cross Country, which is essentially the V60 with more ground clearance, doesn’t have as much as an SUV.

2020 Jeep Wrangler
2020 Jeep Wrangler | Jeep

And it’s that height which is perhaps the biggest selling point of the SUV. For those carrying stuff—groceries, children’s toys, bags of dirt—an SUV’s higher floor can be easier to work with. More importantly, as Cars Guide explained, SUVs’ height, tall doors, and low sills make it easier for older people to get in and out. Perhaps the high-up seating position explains why SUVs are considered status symbols in so many countries.

But the wagon and minivan have the SUV beat in other areas.

When a wagon or minivan is better than an SUV

2019 Buick TourX | GM
2019 Buick TourX | GM

The biggest benefit is fuel efficiency. That Sequoia may be a blast off-road, but it’s heavy and has a 5.7-liter V8. Toyota rates it at 13 mpg city and 17 mpg highway. Meanwhile, Buick’s now-departed TourX was rated at 21 mpg city and 29 mpg highway. The Toyota Sienna, one of the most reliable minivans available, is rated at 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway.

2019 Chevrolet Traverse High Country
2019 Chevrolet Traverse High Country | Chevrolet

And, while SUVs may be spacious, minivans actually have them beat. According to Jalopnik, a 3-row, 8-passenger Chevy Traverse has 23 cubic feet of storage with all seats filled. But a Chrysler Pacifica offers 32.3 cubic feet while carrying 9 people.

2019 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
2019 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid | Chrysler

Folding all the rows down, the Traverse has 98.2 cubic feet of storage, but the Pacifica has 140.5. That’s almost 50% more. And, as Motor Trend and Motor1 describe, if you need easy access to the second or third rows, minivans are the vehicle of choice.

Audi RS6 Avant
Audi RS6 Avant | Audi

True, SUVs have more ground clearance, but that has its own risks. Part of the reason the Jeep Wrangler can be a safety risk is because its height raises the risk of rollover. That height, along with the suspension, means SUVs also don’t handle all that well. Minivans and wagons, meanwhile, behave much more like a car. Or, in the case of the Audi RS6 Avant, a very fast car.

IIHS developing new crash test
IIHS developing new crash test | IIHS

SUVs’ height also causes other safety issues. The IIHS is actually having to increase the severity of its crash tests because SUVs have gotten so heavy and so tall. If you want to keep not just your family safe, but other people safe, a minivan or wagon is arguably the safer bet.

How you should pick which one to get

If you’re buying an SUV as a status symbol, you may want to think again. According to the automotive YouTube channel ISSIMI (video warning: occasionally saucy language), Mercedes’ wealthiest customers didn’t buy G-Classes, but rather E-Class wagons.

With all that being said, choosing between an SUV, wagon, or minivan does require a careful look at your real needs and driving habits.

2020 Toyota Sequoia
2020 Toyota Sequoia | Toyota

If you do honestly spend a lot of time going off-roading or towing a relatively heavy trailer, an SUV is the better pick.

2020 Honda Odyssey
2020 Honda Odyssey | Honda

But if you’re going to be mostly sticking to paved roads, a minivan offers more utility with lower fuel costs. Not to mention, it’s highly possible you’re overestimating how much weight you actually tow. A bigger number isn’t always necessary.

And if you’re really looking for high-class style, wagons have more street-cred than SUVs. Plus, Mercedes built an E-Class wagon with the G550 4×4 Squared’s portal axles and 4WD. And the automaker is reportedly making a production version.

So, ask yourself, do you really need an SUV? Or would a wagon or minivan suit you better?

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