Why are minivans a better alternative to SUVs?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 01, 2003

Dear Tom and Ray:

My wife and I recently took the "Do You Need an SUV?" quiz on your Web site. The results gave us some alternative suggestions, including minivans and "compact" SUVs. My wife asked: "Why are minivans any better than SUVs? They're both oversized, and they both get lousy mileage, etc." I valiantly replied that minivans ride lower to the ground, so they cause less damage to other cars in accidents. She wasn't convinced. So why is a minivan a better alternative to an SUV? My wife really digs the Subaru Forrester. -- Mark

RAY: Good question, Mark. The key is that minivans (and an increasing number of small SUVs, like the Forrester) are built on car platforms, as opposed to the old "body-on-frame" design of trucks and SUVs. And, like you say, car platforms are lower to the ground, and are the same height as what? Other cars! So, in accidents, they don't ram their bumpers into other people's throats.

TOM: Plus, the lower center of gravity means that minivans are less likely to flip over if you turn too fast or have a blowout or an accident. In general, the passenger-car platform allows for better handling, which can help you avoid accidents.

RAY: In addition, minivans generally get better gas mileage than trucks, which is good for everybody (except maybe OPEC).

TOM: There are also a couple of less "global" but equally important advantages of minivans over traditional SUVs. One is that because they're lower to the ground, they're easier to enter and exit. Some of the SUVs we drive are real pants-splitters and require a "heave-ho" to get into.

RAY: Minivans are also more comfortable to ride in, since the car platform is less harsh-riding than the truck platform of a full-sized SUV. And finally, the minivan design makes better use of interior space. So, you can comfortably fit seven people in a standard minivan, vs. five in all but the largest SUVs.

TOM: Then there's that other little problem with SUVs that minivans don't have: If you drive an SUV these days, everybody else hates you. They don't want to drive behind you because they can't see. They laugh at you when you can't fit into a parking space, or when you spend 60 bucks on a tank of gas. Even SUV drivers seem to hate other SUV drivers. So, a minivan or one of the compact (car-based) SUVs, like the RAV4, CRV or Forrester, makes a lot more sense, in my opinion.

RAY: Plus, Mark, the Forrester is what your wife wants. Have you learned nothing yet in all these years of marriage?

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