Minivans as Moving Vans

Minivans are known for hauling lots of kids and the family dog, but they're also adept at moving cargo. Ask any parent who has moved a son or daughter off to college — it's amazing how much stuff you can cram in a minivan when you have to.

Interestingly, it's the SUV that is often seen as the ultimate cargo carrier. In reality, that's not always the case, as the table below shows. Though similar in exterior size, the Toyota Sienna minivan's cargo capacities are significantly greater than the midsize Suzuki XL7's.

Dimensions and Capacity: Suzuki XL7 vs. Toyota Sienna
2008 Suzuki XL7 (w/third row)2008 Toyota Sienna
Overall length (in.)197.2201
Overall height (in.)68.968.9
Overall width (in.)72.277.4
Maximum seat count78
Cargo room
(cu. ft.)
Behind 3rd row1443.6
Behind 2nd row49.494.5
Behind 1st row95.2148.9

Source: Manufacturers

Even when the Sienna is compared with one of the largest SUVs on sale in the U.S., the Chevrolet Suburban, it still bests it in total cargo room and space behind the second row, and it does so with a much smaller footprint than the Suburban.

Dimensions and Capacity: Chevrolet Suburban vs. Toyota Sienna
2008 Chevrolet Suburban2008 Toyota Sienna
Overall length (in.)222.4201
Overall height (in.)76.868.9
Overall width (in.)79.177.4
Maximum seat count98
Cargo room
(cu. ft.)
Behind 3rd row45.843.6
Behind 2nd row9094.5
Behind 1st row137.4148.9

Source: Manufacturers

The flat folding seats on the 2007 Dodge Grand Caravan give the minivan a great deal of cargo room.

The flat folding seats on the 2007 Dodge Grand Caravan give the minivan a great deal of cargo room.

What makes minivans so space-efficient? There are a few key things, a number of which center around the fact that minivans aren't designed to go off-road, as SUVs are.

The Suburban and other traditional SUVs don't have as much cabin room because their truck-based designs sacrifice it in favor of ground clearance for tackling tough terrain, as well as room for heavy-duty four-wheel-drive systems. Minivans, in contrast, ride low to the ground, which makes for a lower cabin floor and thus a larger interior, ideal for hauling bulky items.

Besides the additional space that comes from minivans' car-based design, the fact that they ride lower to the ground makes them better for loading and unloading cargo. An SUV's higher ground clearance typically also means an increased liftover height to the cargo area, which becomes significant when you're loading something heavy. Another trick that helps give minivans an edge in the cargo-carrying department is their removable second-row seats. The minivan's advantage here is that it lets you temporarily remove something — the seats — that would otherwise take up valuable cargo space. SUVs typically have folding second-row seats, which sacrifice some cargo room.

Removable seats do have their downsides, though. They're usually quite heavy and awkward, and once removed you need a place to store them. Chrysler attempts to offer the best of both worlds with its Stow 'n Go system, which includes second-row seats that fold flat into wells in the floor, just like many minivans' third rows.

A classic minivan characteristic is sliding side doors, and these can be beneficial when loading cargo in tight quarters because they don't require space to swing open. Power-sliding side doors offered on most minivans can make loading cargo even easier; if you have the key fob in your hand, you don't have to set down what you're carrying when approaching the van — a push of a button will make the door slide out of the way.

Updated on 1/2/08