Minivan VS SUV cargo space

A Look at the 2009 Mazda CX-9 - Now Available at Wholesale Inc

As fuel prices soar, many consumers are reevaluating their choice of family hauler. Sure, we hear stories about people trading a Chevy Suburban for a Toyota Prius, but if they can manage that, they didn't really need the large SUV in the first place. What about those of us with growing families who really need three rows of seating? What are we to do?

Minivans became an instant hit with families when they were invented by Chrysler in the '80s. At some point they began a slow decline as cheap gas, the promise of go-anywhere adventure and perceived safety gave rise to the large, truck-based sport-utility vehicle (SUV.)

But a steady rise in gas prices and swirling doubts about the rollover stability of SUVs has given birth to a likely successor: the "crossover"-utility vehicle or CUV. Built on a carlike unibody chassis and usually employing front-drive mechanicals, a CUV is lower, lighter and more economical than an SUV.

Until recently, CUVs have been too small for full-fledged family hauler status, but new larger entries from General Motors and Mazda make us wonder: Are crossovers worthy of being the Next Big Thing in family hauling?

We aim to find out by analyzing the most important family-oriented characteristics of the above three vehicle types.

Three Rows and Garage Compatibility Assumed

Two criteria must be met to be part of our analysis: There must be three rows of seats capable of handling adults and the overall length must be less than 210 inches to be compatible with most suburban garages.

You might wonder about the three-row stipulation. Many families have two kids, right? We're assuming you still need the space for several reasons: mandatory car seats, carpooling with other families and visiting relatives. Small children spend a few years in car seats, which become a near-permanent fixture in the middle row. When grandparents or other "big people" ride along, they need third-row room and access — without having to remove those car seats.

This eliminates small and medium CUVs and midsize SUVs from our exercise because, with very few exceptions, their third rows can't handle full-size adults. On the other end of the scale, full-size extended-length SUVs like the Chevrolet Suburban and Ford Expedition EL don't make the cut because they are simply too long for most garages. The Chevrolet Tahoe became wildly successful precisely because it wasn't seen as "too big" at the time.

The entire population of the vehicles we considered in all three groups fell in a tight bunch between 199 and 207.7 inches long.

Factor #1: Passenger Room

The capacity of most three-row vehicles is seven or eight persons, depending on whether the middle row is a bench or separate "captain's chairs." Shoulder and headroom aren't usually a concern in any of them, so we've focused on legroom by looking at the sum total of all three rows.

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