SUVs, Crossovers and Cargo Room

In addition to wanting a commanding view of the road, a capable four-wheel-drive system and the ability to carry a lot of people, many people buy big SUVs to haul lots of stuff. But which ones are better at that than others, and are they better than other types of vehicles, like minivans?

Truck-Based vs. Car-based SUVs

Full-size SUVs like the Ford Expedition and Chevrolet Tahoe are some of the biggest consumer vehicles on the road today. Descended from pickup trucks, traditional full-size SUVs feature a frame that's joined to the body during assembly. Automakers have done a good job minimizing the trucklike tendencies of these SUVs, but there's no denying where they come from.

Long used in the small and midsize SUV segment, automakers have turned to car-based designs for their larger SUVs as well, thanks in part to buyers' rising interest in ride, handling and gas mileage. The Chevrolet Traverse is one of the newer full-size car-based SUVs on the market.

While truck-based SUVs have some advantages when it comes to towing a trailer, if you're looking to haul cargo inside the cabin, a similarly sized car-based SUV may have more space for your stuff.

Let's look at two of GM's full-size SUVs — the truck-based Tahoe and car-based Traverse — to see how they compare in terms of exterior size, seating capacity and cargo room. Note that automakers tend to measure cargo room in terms of cubic feet; to get a sense of how big a cubic foot is, try picturing a cube about the size of a basketball.

Dimensions and Capacity
Here we compare the cargo area and seating of a full-size truck-based SUV, a Chevrolet Tahoe, with a car-based Traverse.
2010 Chevrolet Tahoe2010 Chevrolet Traverse
Length 202 in.205 in.
Height 77 in. 69.7 in.*
Width 79 in. 78.4 in.
Max. seats98
Cargo room
Behind 3rd row

16.9 cu. ft.

24.4 cu. ft.
Behind 2nd row60.3 cu. ft.68.8 cu. ft.
Behind 1st row 108.9 cu. ft.116.4 cu. ft.

Source: Manufacturer
without roof rails

While the 2010 Chevrolet Tahoe's third row can fold, to get the maximum cargo room you have to remove the seats.

While the 2010 Chevrolet Tahoe's third row can fold, to get the maximum cargo room you have to remove the seats.

Even though the Traverse is similar in size to the Tahoe, it manages to have more interior cargo room behind the third, second and first rows of seats. What's more, unlike the Tahoe's third row, the Traverse's doesn't have to be removed and stored in order to get the maximum cargo room — you just fold it down.

The Minivan Factor

While you can see that some SUVs are better at carrying goods than others, how does one like the Traverse stack up against a minivan? Let's compare the Traverse against the Toyota Sienna and see how it fares.

Dimensions and Capacity
Here, we compare the cargo and seating of the Traverse to the Toyota Sienna minivan.
2010 Chevrolet Traverse2009 Toyota Sienna
Length205 in.201 in.
Height 69.7 in.*68.9 in.
Width 78.4 in.77.4 in.
Maximum seat count88
Cargo room
Behind 3rd

24.4 cu. ft.

43.6 cu. ft.
Behind 2nd row68.8 cu. ft.94.5 cu. ft.
Behind 1st row 116.4 cu. ft.148.9 cu. ft.

Source: Manufacturer
without roof rails

In this comparison, the Traverse is the bigger vehicle in all three dimensions. On the inside, however, the Traverse falls well short of the Sienna in terms of cargo room. While cumbersome to store, the Sienna's removable second-row seats contribute to the model's ample storage space; the Traverse's folding second- and third-row seats don't create nearly as much room.

Which Type of SUV is Right for You?

One way to determine what kind of SUV makes the most sense for your lifestyle is to look at the type of activities you're involved in that your new car will need to support, in addition to any other criteria you may have. If you're going to be pulling a heavy boat trailer, for example, you may want to think of a truck-based model. If all you'll be pulling is a small camper, you might be able to get away with a car-based crossover.

© 12/1/09