We have 3 kids and are currently managing fitting them in an Accord (Mom) and a Civic (Dad). The civic is tight but most of the time it's one parent with the kids in that one.

We recently found out number 4 is on the way and the great debate over Minivan or SUV has arisen again. We have a few months to battle but I (Dad) want the Minivan and Mom wants the Pilot.

What are some obvious and not so obvious pros and cons of each?

Are there any reasoning to convince my wife that the van is preferable or am I off base?

Are there any other options for a third row seat other than van or SUV?

Ages are 12, 7, 1.5, -6 months. And no scientific possibility for anymore. :/

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    Which parent is going to be driving the vehicle most of the time? Primary driver gets an advantage in the decision making process... :) – Acire Nov 12 '14 at 19:33
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    There are lots of things to consider, but think about cargo space. I grew up in a house with 4 kids and we had a big van. We would take road trips a lot and being able to comfortably fit the whole family plus luggage plus whatever else made things much easier. – Becuzz Nov 12 '14 at 19:35
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    I have to vote to close this as opinion based; it's not properly written as a 'good subjective' question in my opinion. There cannot be "consensus" as to which is preferable because people do buy both. In order to be an acceptable question, you could ask for more specific features and such, but just asking "which should I buy" is opinion-based and not on topic. – Joe Nov 12 '14 at 20:15
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    What is mom's reasoning? In the Pilot, seated in the middle row you have to exit the vehicle to allow anyone in or out of the rear row; sometimes traffic side. A good mini will have a center isle and dual sliding doors. – Mazura Nov 13 '14 at 1:23
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    "What should I buy, X or Y" with no other restrictions are bad questions because they are opinion based, are individualized - focused on just the asker and not useful for others - and tend to not have enough details to answer the question. This question has all of those problems. You can tell from some of the answers, in fact. Is the asker in a snowy state or a warm one? Does he live in a city or a suburb or an exurb or in the country? Are any family members disabled or extremely short? – Joe Nov 13 '14 at 1:42
up vote 19 down vote accepted

Although this is somewhat opinion-based as there are both minivans and SUVs which fit the bill, the advantages of the minivan over the SUV are:

  • they are purpose built people carriers so they have features like sliding doors and removable and re-configurable seats that SUVs don't have, or at least not to the same level
  • they are generally cheaper to own, operate, and insure
  • they tend to take less space than SUVs which can take the same number of people, so are easier to park. Not that they aren't big, just not quite as big as SUVs
  • Getting small children into and out of them is going to be easier
  • Lower centre of gravity makes it easier to avoid accidents/rollovers

SUV advantages over minivans:

  • More rugged
  • 4 wheel drive allows for off-road capability and better traction in snow and ice

So which one to get depends on where you live, and whether you need the traction or off-road capabilities. If it's just because SUVs have a higher driving height then be sensible and get a minivan. You're going to have 4 kids, cool cars are out for you for the next 18 years.

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    Ok BA, drop the A-Team paint job and maybe she'll go for it then! – GdD Nov 12 '14 at 19:47
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    @iambriansreed: go with the A-team van! – A E Nov 12 '14 at 20:08
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    Toyota Sienna's (Minivan) still offer AWD. Many Crossover SUVs also offer AWD packages. Traction control systems are available in most every type of newer vehicle, which can help prevent issues on slick roads. It's debatable whether AWD is advantageous to most drivers on icy roads. Personally, the vehicles I tend to see on the ditch during winter months (here in the Midwest) are primarily AWD trucks and SUVs, followed by small, usually older vehicles (I suspect with worn/improper tires). – Web Head Nov 13 '14 at 2:36
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    AWD and 4WD can give drivers a sense of invincibility, but technology can only do so much. If you hit an icy bend with too much speed physics guarantees you're going off the road. – GdD Nov 13 '14 at 8:13
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    I like how my parents put it when I was learning to drive. 4WD helps you start, but doesn't help you stop. – Karl Bielefeldt Nov 13 '14 at 17:06

There really is no substitute for taking the entire family, including rear-facing car seat, for test drives. Go to a crowded parking lot, park with cars on both sides, then get everyone out and back in. Think about groceries. Think about vacations. Think about if a friend or relative comes with you. Try all the seats yourself, because your 12 year-old will have adult-sized legs soon, and because you might get stuck back there yourself if you're going somewhere with grandma.

Think about what you'd do if the baby won't stop crying and you can't stop the car. Think where you'd put diaper bags and purses and back packs. Try to hold a conversation with the kids in the back seat. Try getting all the kids out on one side, like you'd do when parked on the side of a busy road. Think about getting in and out when you're not feeling your best, like say, if you're 9 months pregnant.

Those are the types of things that are going to annoy you about a vehicle after a while. If all those factors come out the same, then make a decision based on aesthetics, with the tie going to the main driver. Most likely it won't come down to that.

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    Good points, but conversely, you really shouldn't overweight "how good you feel" after a test drive. "That drive really nice" does not mean "this is less likely to kill my family from rolling over"; you don't fill up gas for a good week so you don't feel that burn, etc. But I do agree a test drive gives you a critical cross-section of information you might miss otherwise. – djechlin Nov 13 '14 at 18:04
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    I guess I'm trying to stress that people are really, really bad at suppressing the "how good they feel" instinct after something like a test drive. It's far more to the advantage of the car dealer than it is to you. That's why it should be more like a few sentences in a decision than the holier-than-all "instinct" or "have a good feeling about that one." So I feel my comments here aren't just pedantry. – djechlin Nov 13 '14 at 18:06

We had both an Odyssey and a Pilot at the same time. I have to say, the Pilot was my dream car, but the back seat was only functional, i.e. not comfortable for long trips. Also, less room for said long trips. But the 4WD in the winter, the towing capacity, the visibility, etc., are a lovely memory.

The Odyssey was a much more comfortable car to travel distances in, and the extra length made roominess a wow factor with four kids on a trip. I loved the Odyssey's versatility, cargo room, etc.

In our house, the driver got to choose. My first choice was the Odyssey. When my husband's car needed to be replaced, he took the Odyssey and I picked a Pilot (his decision, not mine.) Limiting factor with four kids is the uncomfortable rear seat.

Since your kids are young, still, and you only have one choice, I presume you'll be travelling in the vehicle you pick. We always used the Odyssey for trips - that was the preference of the entire family.

We're paying back for our extravagant cars now - both husband and I drive civics, as do all the kids.

  • I love my Honda Odyssey! The fold-down seats in the back are awesome when you need to load up a lot of stuff. I moved across the country with it, and I use it to haul airplanes around. Airplanes just won't fit in any SUV I looked at. The load space of the Odyssey is not be sneezed at. I don't find the rear seats uncomfortable? – Jasmine Nov 13 '14 at 16:27
  • @Jasmine - I agree with all you've said. The rear seat is comfy, too. Much more so than the Pilot. – anongoodnurse Nov 13 '14 at 20:01

The minivan, in my opinion (Joe), is the way to go. I agree it is not the sporty vehicle we aspire to drive but when it comes to hauling (four) kids around, it is the easiest, most convenient, comfortable way to go. I recommend the Toyota Sienna with seating for 8. It has three removable seats in the middle so you can remove any of them for the ease of travel you desire. Carseats can easily be installed in any of 6 seats and the remaining passengers are still comfortable. The SUV's typically require flipping a seat forward to allow rear seat passenger in/out. Believe me, this is annoying, difficult, and downright dangerous in some situations. The sliding doors of the minivan allow for kids to enter and exit the vehicle without the door slamming into a parked car, garage wall, or whatever else is around. I have 5 kids and 25 years of carseats, booster seats, football gear, large school project, muddy cleats, dance costumes, and more. This van also can haul a bed, dresser, desk, small refrigerator - all at the same time. Good gas mileage as well. Test drive one and you will see. Good luck.

Family is in same dilemma we have a Traverse which is nice but with 4 kids cargo space is tight in the car and hard to have friends ride with kids. We are now looking at the Odyssey and Siena due to 8 passenger configuration, wish the T&C had 8 seats. Wife is now coming around that the mini-van might be more practical due to extra space and room for cargo due to recess in back. Also easier to get into and out of the car due to base. So if you can get over stigma of mini-van that would be the wayto go and save $$$ due to better gas mileage and just cheaper for the room. We did have a Pilot as well and the tightness in the rear row also was not fun for the kids stuck there on trips.

Pros for minivan over SUV that others have not pointed out: Low clearance - easy to get on and off, Sliding doors - will not ding the car next to you

Personally for us a van worked much better for our family. It is more roomy and was great to go on vacation. My kids were able to have plenty of space so their wasn't as much fighting.

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