If you're looking for a new vehicle that can haul the whole family (and everyone's gear), chances are you've had the debate: minivan or SUV? We know it can be hard to pick between the two -- especially since they're so different. Which is best for your family? Which is more practical? Which is more appealing?

While we can't make the decision for you, we can do our best to help. We've listed pros and cons to both options to assist shoppers who are on the fence about their next family vehicle.

Minivans: Benefits and Drawbacks

The minivan offers many benefits, and on a practical level, it probably has more notches in the "pro" column than an SUV. The biggest benefits relate to ease of use. For instance, because of their low ground clearance, minivans are easy to get in and out of -- a big deal when you're trying to transport toddlers and all their gear.

To that end, sliding doors are also a huge help, since they open wider than traditional doors. Most minivans also offer fold-flat seating, a standard third row and child-friendly convenience features such as tri-zone climate control and rear-seat entertainment -- items you won't find on all SUVs. And to top things off, minivans tend to get better gas mileage than similar-sized SUVs thanks to their carlike chassis and engine. For that same reason, minivans are a little easier to drive in urban areas, too.

Minivans may seem perfect, but they do have flaws. The biggest, of course, is image. Many families understand that minivans are better than SUVs, but they buy an SUV anyway because they just hate the idea of having a minivan. Another big drawback is for drivers in the Snow Belt: Except for the Toyota Sienna, no other minivans offer all-wheel drive.

SUVs: Benefits and Drawbacks

The minivan certainly has its ups, but so does the SUV. Capability is one SUV benefit that immediately springs to mind. Nearly all SUVs offer or come standard with all-wheel or 4-wheel drive, making them an easy choice for northern families. And go-anywhere styling solves the image problem created by minivans.

Most important, drivers have more choices with SUVs. While there are only a few vans on the market, SUV shoppers can choose among dozens of SUVs -- big or small, gasoline, hybrid or diesel. SUV drivers also can choose among many upscale models, a segment lacking in the minivan realm.

Of course, the SUV has drawbacks. They aren't as easy for loading up the kids or their goods. They can be more expensive. They're almost always less efficient. And the drivability can mean lumbering around corners with excessive body roll. But some drivers would prefer the choices of the SUV market -- coupled with the availability of all- or 4-wheel drive -- over the practicality of the minivan. And the SUV's better image certainly doesn't hurt.

author photo

Doug DeMuro has a wide range of automotive industry experience, from work at a Ferrari dealership to a manager for Porsche North America. A lifelong car enthusiast, Doug's eclectic vehicle purchases include a Porsche 911 Turbo, an E63 AMG wagon, an old Range Rover and a Mercedes Benz G-wagen.

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