NEWS

What's Better: 3-Row Crossover or Minivan?

traverse-minivans.jpg Cars.com photo by Evan Sears

CARS.COM — At the same time as we were conducting our Ultimate Minivan Challenge with our friends from PBS’ “MotorWeek,” we brought along a 2015 Chevrolet Traverse and asked our judges (and our test family), which is best?

Related: Does a 3-Row SUV Really Rival a Minivan for Family Hauling?

During the Challenge, they compared the Traverse to the minivan competitors. Here’s how they fared:

No. 1: 2015 Kia Sedona, 740 points

No. 2: 2015 Toyota Sienna, 736 points

No. 3: Honda Odyssey, 664 points

No. 4: Chevrolet Traverse, 582 points

No. 5: Dodge Grand Caravan, 561 points

No. 6: Chrysler Town & Country, 553 points

Clearly, the judges and family did not find the Chevrolet to be better than more than half of the minivans in our Challenge. Of course, the family-car shoppers of this country disagree: While minivan sales totaled more than 500,000 units in 2014, crossover sales numbered in the 800,000s during that same year. But are shoppers making the right choice or following the herd blindly?

Team Three-Row Crossover

We asked our judges for the advantages that crossover SUVs have over minivans. Among them:

Looks: “Crossovers have an advantage over minivans when it comes to looks,” Cars.com editor Jennifer Newman said. “It’s not a box on wheels and it doesn’t scream mom- or dad-mobile.” All the judges echoed her opinion.

Handling: “Many three-row SUVs drive, ride and handle better,” Cars.com editor Jennifer Geiger said, and given minivans’ heft and bulbous design, crossovers are often sleeker and more nimble.

Capabilities: “With all-wheel drive, crossovers go where minivans can’t,” Cars.com editor Kelsey Mays said. “And even the lone minivan that has all-wheel drive — the Toyota Sienna — has a modest 6.6 inches of ground clearance. That’s less than a Ford Escape.” And “MotorWeek” producer Brian Robinson noted that many more three-row crossovers can tow, and they can tow more weight.

Variety: There are lots of three-row SUV options; there are only six minivans in the class, so there’s more variety, Robinson said.

Team Minivan

And what are the advantages of a minivan over an SUV?

Sliding doors: They may be the cliched symbol of minivans, but they work well. Want to keep your kids from causing damage at parking lots across the country? Want to stop them from dinging your own doors on cars, walls, light poles and more? Use sliding doors. And with virtually all of them powered now, you don’t have to watch your 4-year-old take a dozen attempts at building up enough steam to close them anymore, several judges said.

Family-Friendliness: “From third rows with plentiful legroom, ample cargo areas and plenty of cubbies for storing snacks and more, minivans have crossovers beat,” Newman said. “Minivans have the most family-friendly features of any vehicle: conversation mirrors, window shades, you name it,” Mays said.

Room built for passengers: “Most minivans have better knee and footwell space, plus higher seating positions and comfier third rows,” Mays said. “In terms of cabin room, even the largest crossovers feel less efficiently packaged.”

Room built for stuff: “From seats that fold into the floor to center consoles that can fit a purse, minivans are storage kings,” Mays said.

Easy access to all rows for kids: Minivans are built with kids in mind, and they allow for movement of both kids and parents between all three rows in a way that crossovers just don’t, Geiger noted.

The Verdict

So how did our judges vote?

Jennifer Geiger, Cars.com: “My practical, if un-fun, choice is the minivan. The only way my family of five can take a road trip is in a minivan. A three-row SUV might cut it for carpools and day trips, but a minivan can haul all my passengers and gear much more comfortably.”

Kelsey Mays, Cars.com: “Utility and space trump styling for me; I’d take a minivan any day.”

Jennifer Newman, Cars.com: “Minivans may not be a parent’s first choice, but after driving them and seeing how well they handle all the daily tasks of family life — carpool, hauling kids’ gear and more — it’s easy to see why they win over three-row crossovers.”

Brian Robinson, “MotorWeek”: “For me, a minivan is a better choice for the majority of family duties (hauling kids, taking vacations, making the occasional Home Depot run); the only reason for choosing a three-row crossover is if you have a trailer to tow or need ground clearance for off-road use.”

Cars.com’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with Cars.com’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of Cars.com’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments. 

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