Thu, 06 August 2020
It sure is deal time if you’re one of the lucky folks who are in the market for a new car at the moment. Car dealerships are rife with unsold stock that they desperately need to move and they’re at your service now more than ever. So, you’re a family man and the kids have their school runs, friends, sports clubs, activities, the grocery run and last but not least - you need something that’s half-way decent to show up at
A crossover / SUV is the most popular and de-facto choice today - what with the alarming number of choices from small to the full-size behemoths to choose from. But is an SUV the most sensible choice? Have you looked at how comfortable, convenient, safe and versatile a minivan can be? Today’s minivans are packed chock-full of tech as well, and just because it looks like a van doesn’t mean it performs like a dog. Most minivans have powertrains that are quite overpowered - you’d be surprised at just how quick these vans can actually be.
But don’t get me wrong - this isn’t an endorsement of the minivan over the SUV - I’m simply here to give you the facts so that you can make an informed decision at the showroom.
So, to start off, let’s look briefly at some history:
Back in 1974 Jeep launched a mid-size four-wheel drive truck called the Cherokee. It wasn’t too small and it didn’t take up space like full-size trucks either. It had proportions that were «just right» for many families who wanted something that could comfortably seat four, have a decent amount of luggage room and have some character left over when all was said and done. In many ways it was like a Chevrolet Caprice station wagon on stilts - all the space with added utility. The Cherokee was a runaway success and ushered in the era of the Sport Utility Vehicle as the cornerstone family car.
But the story doesn’t end there; once again in the 1970s, Chrysler began working on a «hot new concept for the urban family”. That concept was eventually launched in 1984 as the Plymouth Voyager. It was a front wheel drive van with sliding rear doors and a flat floor which meant tons of space, but it handled and drove like a sedan. The Voyager was a roaring success, and with other manufacturers such as Chevrolet’s Astro and Ford’s Aerostar, the age of the minivan as the quintessential suburban family car had arrived. This trend continued through the nineties and into the early oughts’ when SUVs began to take over in terms of popularity.
The minivan and the SUV eventually killed off the large family estate or station wagon from main stream showrooms entirely. Interestingly, to this day, near every minivan comes with the front wheel drive, flat floor, sliding doors formula – so you have Chrysler to thank for that.
Now that you›ve got some context, here are some deciding factors that will ultimately determine whether you›re a minivan or an SUV family:
1. Budget: As with every big purchase decision, the budget plays a key deciding role. Considering the fact that the cheapest minivan in the Kingdom starts upwards of BHD 10,000, if your budget is on the south side of that number, there is a decent selection of small and mid-size SUVs available.
2. Space: Does your family already have five members? Do you have frequent road trips along with extended family and friends? A minivan may be your only plausible choice (at this point it›s either a minivan or a Suburban!). Since minivans have low floors, they allow extreme ease of access, and can seat eight adults in spacious comfort - as opposed to an SUV which can get claustrophobic during long trips or even when stuck in traffic.
3. Is it the only car: If you›re a one-car-one-family type of person, then picking the right car is crucial. In many ways, the raised ground clearance and (available) all-wheel-drive on many SUVs make it a great all-rounder by virtue of being easier to see out of, park, and even tackle some rough roads every now and then.
4. Resale value: Depending on the make and model, an SUV can be a relatively easy sell when it comes time to move on, whereas (in Bahrain at least) minivans are more of a niche vehicle. With that being said however, a well-kept minivan can command a decent premium in the used car market for the right buyer.
Spaciousness: Front wheel drive layout means there’s no power transmission hardware under the floor, which equates to more space. Also, since minivans are lower to the ground, kids can climb in and out with ease and you can load stuff in the trunk without breaking your back. A flat floor also means that seating configurations can be changed (have you seen the Pacifica’s Stow-and-Go system?)
Safety: Minivans are big – a far sight bigger than any mid-size SUV, and if you’ve ever been in a minivan, you’d know that passengers generally sit a few inches away from the bodywork.
Performance: Minivans wouldn’t sell if they couldn’t get out of their own way when fully loaded with passengers, luggage and a tank full of fuel. Manufacturers know this all too well and overcompensate – often times ending with a minivan that’s comically fast.
Tech: Even entry-level minivans are loaded with a decent amount of tech to keep you and the family entertained. Reverse cameras, parking sensors, navigation, Bluetooth, entertainment screens, blind spot monitoring and even radar cruise control are becoming standard fare on minivans.
Comfort: Since minivans are built with a singular purpose – to be a family hauler full stop, manufacturers pay special attention to the way it rides and handles. If you like cushy suspension with that “floaty feeling”, a minivan can be hard to beat.
Looks: Today’s minivans look cool inside and out - what our mid-nineties selves imagined cars would look like in the future.
Starting prices: Minivans have a price point – generally in the range or above BHD 10,000, so the budget is certainly a priority.
Looks: Let’s face it – you either think a minivan is cool or you think it’s boring. There is no in-between. Me? I think minivans are the ultimate party cars.
Great Second car: If you must have just one car in the household, a minivan may not always be the best choice – especially given variables such as parking spaces.
Resale value: Depending on how fast you want to sell your car and how much emphasis you place on getting the most residuals, a minivan won’t score top marks here. That’s something you will have to live with.
Variety: Honda, Toyota, Chrysler and Kia are the predominant players in the minivan segment, and between them, they some incredibly cool cars. But you have to admit, that’s a pretty narrow line-up.
Looks: Not being constrained by certain model-parameters mean designers can go crazy with the looks, and todays SUVs are mighty good-looking.
Ergonomics: That “raised seating position” is a deal-maker for most folks, as is the higher ground clearance that makes traversing rough roads or even hopping a kerb for parking a piece of cake.
All-rounder: A properly equipped mid or full-size SUV can double as a decent daily-driver and still function as the grocery-getter and school bus with aplomb.
Resale value: Depending on the make and model, SUVs are always an easy sell in the used car market. Getting fairly decent residuals and quick turnovers are common.
Capability: SUVs can be had with all-wheel-drive or even proper four-wheel-drive. This turns it into a properly capable off-road machine and can even tow your boat.
Fuel economy: With a variety of engine options available on the same platform (like the Dodge Durango for example), SUVs can work even when saving at the pump is one of your top car buying priorities.
Variety: Goes without saying that there is a metric ton of SUVs on sale today. As a matter of fact, some manufacturers like Ford are dropping everything but SUVs from their line-up.
Space: Whichever way you cut it; SUVs tend to have a space crunch – especially when packed to capacity. The larger ones are fairly decent – but then again we’re talking about a behemoth the size of a Suburban. If max space is your primary concern, a minivan will meet those needs way before any mid-size SUV can.
Performance: Unless you’re looking at an SUV with a V8 or a high-performance V6 under the hood, SUVs are – let’s be kind here – not too brisk. Generally taking a car-based platform and putting larger wheels, bodywork, weight and increasing the ride height while keeping the base powertrain does not do favors for power-to-weight ratio.
Capability: Yes, capability – or the lack thereof – can be a negative as well. Unless equipped with expensive four-wheel-drive, an SUV is basically a sedan with raised suspension. It’s about time people learned that. Raised suspension and bigger wheels have an adverse effect on handling, and fuel economy. Even the bigger non-crossover SUVs (the ones that are based on pickup truck platforms like the Tahoe and Yukon) do not come with standard four-wheel-drive. This, to me at least, makes no sense – a giant, lumbering truck with no added capability is not my cup of tea. I’d rather have a Crown Vic.
Versatility: Without all or four-wheel-drive, a small or mid-size SUV simply isn’t more versatile than a minivan.
So, there you have it – your opportunity to make an informed decision when it comes time to shop for that new family car. And if you’re wondering what yours truly would get however, the answer has always been quite simple - family planning and a Porsche 911.
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Features: SUVs come in a wide variety of grades, and generally the entry-level trims don’t get you much in the way of toys or gadgets. It’s mostly about the “look” than substance.