Starting early in the 80s, the world belonged to minivans, or multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs), with the Dodge Caravan starting a craze in the USA that would last decades. The 2021 Toyota Sienna van is a typical example of a modern-day minivan with all the latest features and tech, starting at an MSRP of only $34,460. But none of that matters, because it’s doomed and done for. Not just the Sienna, mind, but all minivans. People are giving them the cold shoulder for being stuffy, school-run boxes on wheels. They have been ousted by an imposter.
All manufacturers followed the MPV fashion and once, the market was awash with minivans. GM, Honda, and Toyota models have always been popular, among many others. It made sense: a mono-volume box on wheels, with seats in multiple rows that could accommodate seven people or more while taking up no more space on the road than a larger sedan. Kid-toting parents, airport-shuttle companies, and carpool warriors loved them. But then the SUV gained ground. Now you could transport multiple passengers in a stylish, rugged, lifestyle vehicle that screamed adventure.
Stemming the blood flow
There are two ways in which automakers are trying to save the minivan. The Toyota Sienna, redesigned for the 2021 model year, is one example. Toyota threw a whole gamut of tech in its direction. All new Sienna models are now hybrid-only, offer excellent fuel economy, pack all the safety features, are huge inside, and provide tons of passenger and cargo space. But it still looks like a box on wheels, Toyota’s valiant styling efforts notwithstanding, and getting decent miles per gallon no longer diverts people’s longing gaze away from a Highlander.
Kia has a different plan and it involves some deception, a sleight of hand that might just work. They changed the name of the Kia Sedona to the Carnival at the launch of the 2022 model and they now call it a GUV – a “Grand Utility Vehicle” in Kia parlance. All this to distance itself from the Sedona MPV. Driving the point home is the rugged, SUV-like styling cues and aggressive stance on chunky wheels. If you didn’t know better… Underneath, it’s the same practical, car-based box, suitably updated with the best new tech. Will it work? Time will tell.
A taste of SUV life
Once people have tried an SUV, they rarely go back. With low gas prices and with EVs taking over, some of the usual SUV shortcomings have been mitigated and even fuel economy is not longer such a massive disadvantage; the case for “going SUV” is stronger than ever.
Advantages of SUV ownership
It’s obvious why people would make the switch, considering all the pros of driving an SUV in comparison to an MPV/minivan:
- They take lots of stuff. Whether it’s people or cargo, there’s an SUV size out there to suit you, accommodating anything from five to nine people with luggage. And it’s pretty much the same size as a minivan. Verdict: draw.
- They can go off the beaten track. Even the simpler, crossover SUVs with 2WD are higher off the ground and more rugged than a minivan and can traverse dirt rods with ease. If you need it, hardcore off-roaders are available. The rare minivan with AWD has some added adverse-weather benefits, but not enough to truly face rough terrain. Verdict: SUV wins.
- Appearance and image. Thanks to their plastic cladding, big wheels, imposing height, and other lifestyle styling features, SUVs are just a lot cooler in the eyes of the public. A minivan says you’ve given up on adventure and live a life of routine. An SUV says you’re going camping. Verdict: SUV wins.
- Endless configurations are available. SUVs come with configurable seating, like minivans. But you can also choose your SUV from a huge selection of sizes, such as the compact, five-seater crossover Ford Escape to the enormous three-row continent crusher that is the Cadillac Escalade. There are 2WD, AWD, and 4WD on the menu, as well as a huge array of engine choices, whether it’s the sedate Mitsubishi Outlander with 166 horsepower or the Tesla Model X Plaid with 1,020 hp and blistering performance. It’s simply dependent on how much you are willing to pay. Verdict: SUV wins.
The SUV is here to stay
The EV era has come just in time. Soon, nobody will be concerned about the miles per gallon they get out of their SUV anymore. Once battery tech has improved further and we’re all filling up with electrons and not gas, MPG figures will be forgotten and the last remaining SUV disadvantages will be wiped off the table.