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Family-Car Conundrum: Pickup Truck Versus SUV

2016 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro

CARS.COM — When a family decides it needs a rugged new vehicle, thoughts typically turn to a large SUV, but for families who are a little more unorthodox, vehicular-ly speaking, there is another consideration: a pickup truck.

Related: More Pickup Trucks News

Pickup trucks have all the capability of SUVs: They can tow toys, haul gear and carry your kids with as much verve as an SUV. But nothing is perfect when it comes to family duty: Where do pickups shine and where do they fall down for families?

2015 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro

Interior Space

In my test of the 2016 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro double cab, space was usually a big family plus. The full-size half-ton pickup is huge, allowing for lots of room between my two kids in the backseat. If three child-safety seats were needed, those seats would have plenty of room in this truck. Older kids will enjoy the generous legroom — 34.7 inches in the version I tested. If you need even more room for your teens to stretch out in the back, try a crew cab. The crew-cab Tundra offers a stunning 42.3 inches of rear legroom.

In-Cabin Storage

The downfall for the Tundra’s backseat passengers is most of the in-cabin storage is found in the front row. The driver and front passenger are treated to a ton of organizational options in the huge center console. Spaces for pens, tissues, devices and even laptops are doled out to the front occupants, making me wish all vehicles treated parents as well as the Tundra. The pickup truck falls down in treating rear-seat passengers to as many organizational amenities, though it does have in-door bottleholders.

2016 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro

Cargo Bed

Space isn’t always a plus, particularly when it’s not easily organized. While pickup trucks trump SUVs for cargo hauling, it takes a couple tweaks to make that truck bed work effectively for families (despite how great it is to have unstructured cargo area to just throw stuff into and go).

Truck beds are great for large, dirty, smelly gear like sports equipment or for larger items needed for work around the house. Obviously, they are not as great for groceries. But with a little planning and purchasing of some accessories, this negative can be worked around. A bed cover makes the space more usable when running errands, and a bedliner that can be rinsed out could tip a shopper away from buying an SUV. One minute you’re hauling all the muddy detritus from your rained-out camping trip, the next you’re toting that Costco rotisserie chicken home along with a 12-foot pre-lit Christmas tree, four boxes of copy paper, a dog bed and a treadmill. I’d also consider cargo nets and dividers to secure that double stroller or load of groceries in the bed of the truck.

Climbing In

Depending on your children’s ages, a pickup truck’s size could be a determining factor. The Tundra I tested had 10.6 inches of ground clearance and no running boards, so even my older kids needed to work to get into the truck. Most kids will probably find this fun, but parents of littler ones and/or fiercely independent kids will find this difficult. And forget about little kids reaching the door handle and opening the door until they are older and taller. Once in the truck, though, they will delight in how much fun it is to be up high.

No Third-Row Possibilities

Despite their size, trucks lack flexible seating in terms of rows. This can be worked around somewhat if you opt for a front-row bench (for teens and adults only). If you do, many crew-cab trucks can carry up to six people.

Fuel Economy

Pickup trucks aren’t known for their stellar gas mileage. My test Tundra clocked in with an EPA-estimated 13/17/15 mpg city/highway/combined. With fuel costs where they are, those numbers are can be tough on a family’s bank account.

A pickup truck can be a great alternative to an SUV if you need flexible cargo space and don’t regularly transport tons of people. With just a few tweaks and some acceptance of its low fuel-economy numbers, it can be a family hauler.

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