There was an article on USA Today, um, today that noted the declining market share and sales of minivans as SUV sales have climbed. The article suggested a declining birth rate as one reason, but the real main reason seems to be that people are choosing SUVs over minivans. This certainly seems to be the case, and points to one crucial fact that’s often overlooked in these sorts of articles: we’re a pack of fools.
Here’s why I’m calling a nation of SUV-buyers a pack of fools: because for the vast majority of the uses an SUV will be employed for, a minivan is almost invariably better in every way. Somehow us American fools have bought into this idiotic marketing lie that SUVs are inexplicably cooler than minivans, which is objectively absurd.
We’ve been over this before. The idea that a minivan is saddled with a “soccer mom” stigma and SUVs somehow aren’t is ridiculous, since now far more soccer moms are buying SUVs. And, even so, why are we so ashamed of being parents?
People reproduce, and that’s fine. In fact, it’s one of the best ways to keep having people around. So why should we be manipulated into thinking that having offspring is somehow something we should hide? As a parent, I say fuck that.
I know this may sound like subjective opinion-slinging, so that’s why I’m going to provide you with a head-to-head comparison of a minivan and an SUV: the Chrysler Pacifica vs. the Chevy Traverse.
I picked these two because they have nearly identical exterior dimensions: the Pacifica is 204 inches long by 80 inches wide and 70 inches tall; the Traverse is 204 inches long, 79 inches wide, and 71 inches tall. They’re almost the exact same size on the outside, but one is a minivan design and one is an SUV.
With both vehicles taking up effectively the same amount of exterior space, we can get a good sense of the compromises that come from the SUV-type design decisions. And also keep in mind that if I compare both of these at about the same price (the Pacifica starts around $26,000, the Traverse around $29,000) they’re both just FWD vehicles. So don’t fool yourself into thinking that SUVs all have all- or four-wheel drive.
Let’s look at cargo space, a major reason why people say they need SUVs or minivans in the first place. With all but the front row seats folded, the Traverse has 98.2 cubic feet of cargo room; with two rows up, it has 57.8 cubic feet, and with all three rows, to seat a maximum of eight people, there’s 23 cubic feet left for cargo.
On the Pacifica, with all seats but the front row folded, you have 140.5 cubic feet of space— over 40 cubic feet more, which is more than the entire trunk volume of a Toyota RAV4 with the rear seat up. With two rows up, the Pacifica gives you 87.5 cubic feet—30 more than the Traverse—and with all three rows up, which allow nine people to sit, one more than the Traverse, you get 32.3 cubic feet, almost 10 more cubic feet than the Traverse.
That’s a hell of a lot more usable interior space. And, think about it—why wouldn’t you want as much interior space as possible on a vehicle like this, especially if you plan to use all three rows of seats, or haul big stuff? You know that frustrating feeling when you’re trying to fit something in a volume that’s just too small? Why put yourself through that?
Also, on a minivan, all that extra space is far easier to use and access. Sure, SUVs have higher ride height, but they also have plenty of delicate plastic body panels that aren’t going to fare well off-road even if you tried to use that extra ground clearance off-road, which no Traverse or RAV4 or Rogue owner ever really does. It just means you have to lift your crap higher to get it inside.
And, minivans have expansive sliding doors that makes getting into them, even the third row, a snap. Have you climbed into the third row of an SUV recently? It’s not a process that allows most people to escape with their dignity intact.
You may think you want to tow, so that means you need an SUV. Really? The Pacifica here will tow 3600 pounds, while the Traverse, an SUV, is only rated for 1500.
So, why, exactly, would anyone want an SUV over a minivan?
Look, I get that buying cars is not even remotely rational. Absolutely, I get it—look at the ridiculous things I drive. But if there’s some emotional reason why you’re picking one of the mainstream, best-selling SUVs over a minivan, I have no idea what the hell you think you’re seeing there.
It’s not like any of them actually look so amazing and cool that it’s worth the compromises. It’s not like anyone is actually using these things for rugged off-road use—sure, some people do, but the majority of these things ply smooth, paved roads 90% of the time.
Are there actually any status advantages to buying an SUV? Do people really believe this is a thing? Are there people who actually feel that the fact that they drive a bloated wagon on big tires makes them tough? Has anyone ever been told that someone drives a Chevy Traverse and then asked “Wow, so what’s it like being a Navy SEAL?”
No. Fuck no.
It’d be one thing if there was actually some actual, real benefit to a mass-market SUV over a minivan. I’m sure there’s places where a harder-core Land Rover or Jeep makes actual sense, but that’s not the outlier cases I’m talking about—I’m talking about the vast majority of SUVs and how they’re used.
I’m still as baffled by America’s infatuation with SUVs as I ever was, and I’m bitter about it because carmakers are reluctant to make anything else, which is why cool station wagons and hatchbacks and vans, mini or otherwise, are becoming more and more niche vehicles.
If most SUVs were somehow worthy of this mantle, it would be different. But let’s face it—they’re not, and mainstream American consumers have been deluded into thinking these are their only real options, despite all the actual evidence to the contrary.
I’ve talked to many people looking for cars, and they all seem to want SUVs, even if absolutely every aspect of their lives would be better served with a minivan. When I ask why, I always get vague answers that revolve around a fear of the stigma of minivans: they don’t want to look like parents even though they are fucking parents and if they think a fucking RAV4 isn’t going to make them look like parents, they’re delusional.
That’s why we’re fools. We’re fools who have been brainwashed into thinking that vehicles that are less capable for how they’re actually used in real life are somehow preferable to more capable, more useful vehicles, for no good reason.
So, if minivans end up dying out because of SUVs, then I guess we get what we deserve: a car market painfully absent of one of the most flexible and useful vehicle designs possible, just because we’re, well, a pack of fools.