It’s a decades long debate for moms and dads.  Accept the minivan stigma?  Or, opt for the “rugged” 3-row crossover or even a monster truck-based SUV with a third row of seating.  Comparisons with advantages and disadvantages are frequent, even at our car safety discussion forum.  In short, by accepting the minivan image, you get a vehicle that generally costs less, offers better interior space, more flexible seating options and improved fuel economy.  On the other hand, SUVs tend to have more readily available options for all-wheel drive and increased towing limit packages.  Let’s take a look at some upscale choices (details provided by manufacturers’ websites and cars.com) including two minivans, two crossovers and three full-size truck based SUVs, ranked in order of overall EPA fuel economy:

2012 Honda Odyssey Touring 2WD:  19mpg city, 28 mpg highway, 22 mpg overall.  148.5 cu. ft. max cargo volume.  3500 lb. towing limit.  $41,330 MSRP

2012 Toyota Sienna AWD Limited: 17mpg city, 23mpg highway, 19mpg overall.  150 cu. ft. cargo volume.  3500 lb. towing limit.  $40,570 MSRP

2012 Dodge Durango R/T AWD 13mpg city

2012 Buick Enclave 2WD Premium: 17mpg city, 24 mpg highway, 19mpg overall.  115 cu. ft. cargo volume.  2000 lb. towing limit.  $43,165 MSRP

2102 Dodge Durango Citadel AWD V6: 16 mpg city, 23mpg highway, 19 mpg overall, 84.5 cu. ft. cargo volume, 6200+ lb. towing limit, $43, 195

2012 Chevrolet Suburban 2WD LT 1500: 15 mpg city, 21 mpg highway, 17mpg overall.  137.4 cu ft cargo volume, 5000+ lb towing limit .  $45,980 MSRP

2012 Ford Expedition 2WD XLT Limited : 14 mpg city, 20 mpg highway, 16mpg overall.   108.3 cu. ft cargo volume.  6000+ lb. towing limit. $45,265 MSRP

2012 Nissan Armada SL 2WD: 13 mpg city, 19 mpg highway, 15 mpg overall., 97.1 cu ft. cargo volume, 8200 lb towing limit.  $45,320 MSRP.

 

Notice the minivans tend to dominate in terms of maximum cargo space.  Also, even the AWD minivan option has better fuel economy and a lower price tag than most midsize or full-size models with AWD and even many with 2WD!  Yes, there are a few 3-row SUVs with better fuel economy than minivans, but they tend to be much smaller than minivans and even somewhat smaller than the typical midsize SUVs.  They also generally have limited towing capabilities when equipped with the more fuel-efficient 4-cylinder engine.  Even so, most of us in the city or suburbs never go offroad, never tow anything more than a compact trailer and rarely need to tackle stretches of deep, unplowed snow.  Opting not to equip your family-hauling SUV with AWD and the larger engine not only saves money at purchase, but also in fuel and maintenance costs.

Below are some of the most fuel efficient choices for vehicles with a third row seat, ranked in order of MSRP, with a popular minivan added for comparison.  For families on a budget, the Dodge Grand Caravan AVP and Mazda5 Sport are hard to beat in many regards.

2012 Mazda 5 Sport 4-cylinder 2WD: 21 city, 28 highway, 24 overall. $19,625 MSRP (max cargo volume and towing limit not listed)

2012 Dodge Grand Caravan AVP:  17city, 25 highway, 20mpg overall.  3600 lb. towing limit.  143.8 cu. ft cargo volume.  $20,995.

2012 Toyota Highlander Hybrid, >28mpg city

2012 Mitsubishi Outlander SE 4-cylinder 2WD: 23 city, 28 highway, 25 overall, 72.6 cu ft. cargo volume. 1500lb. towing limit.  $24,155 MSRP.

2012 Kia Sorento EX 2WD: 4-cylinder 2WD: 22 city, 32 highway, 25 overall.  72.5 cu.ft cargo volume.  1650lb. towing limit. $25,950 MSRP

2012 Toyota Highlander Hybrid 6-cylinder AWD : 28 city, 28 highway, 28 overall, 94.1 cu. ft. cargo volume. 3500lb towing limit, $38,715

I confess, after over 10 years driving a Honda Odyssey, I opted out of the minivan mostly for image.  Heather and I are former minivan drivers who switched to an SUV once our kids got a little older.  Jennie has younger kids and drives a minivan and Kecia still has her minivan as well.

So, what did you choose and why?