Why CUVs and SUVs are replacing minivans as go-to family cars

The appeal of SUVs and CUVs allows millennials to transition from their active lifestyles into their child-rearing years without the hockey mom stigma.

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Not long ago, buying a minivan was a rite of passage after starting a family.

Now, the family car doesn’t have to be a boxy behemoth, with every automaker offering multiple models of sport utility vehicles and crossovers designed to appeal to a broader customer base, from suburban families to urban couples with active lifestyles.

“It’s the ‘in’ thing, but it’s not just a temporary ‘in’ thing,” says Jim Smith, a professor at the Automotive Business School of Canada at Georgian College, of the surge in popularity of CUVs and SUVs.

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“It’s been going on for seven or eight years and it seems to be the new trend. The public seems to be pushing the demand as much as the manufacturers.”

According to Desrosiers Automotive Consultants, light trucks (a category that includes minivans, SUVs and CUVs) accounted for about 45.2 per cent of auto sales in Canada in 2000. By 2015, that figure had jumped to 62.3 per cent.

Few automakers actually have a true minivan in their lineup, and they have largely ceded the market to Fiat Chrysler. But nearly all manufacturers have at least one SUV or CUV.

This allows automakers to appeal to a broader customer base, while still appealing to families, Smith says.

“(SUVs and CUVs) are more utilitarian,” Smith says. “So with lifestyles today, whether people golf or boat or Sea-Doo, or just pick up groceries and that kind of thing, they find the crossovers are more fuel efficient, they’re more stylish, but they give them all the functionality and the capacity of a van.”

And that is what consumers appear to be after. According to another Desrosiers report on January 2016 auto sales, 74,727 vehicles in the light truck category were sold, which was up 17 per cent over January 2015.

Last month, light trucks made up nearly 69 per cent of all vehicle sales, the report said.

Auto industry analyst Dennis Desrosiers says the minivan remains the “ideal family vehicle,” for its seating capacity, storage space and ample ways to keep children entertained on long rides.

“But they certainly have come out of favour in the last number of years due to the image issue rather than the practicality issue,” Desrosiers says. “They’ve developed a soccer mom image and that is interpreted by many as a negative.”

Now, consumers can essentially choose from an array of CUV or SUV models and customize it to their needs.

Beyond style and functionality, consumers will find another important feature of SUVs and crossovers: better handling.

Vans are typically two-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive provides more traction to get out of treacherous winter conditions.

“In slippery snow and in the rain, that’s another consideration,” Smith says.

But with so many SUVs and crossovers already on the market, is there room for change and growth?

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Absolutely, say both Desrosiers and Smith, who predict that the light truck category will peak at between 70 and 75 per cent market share.

The demand will be driven by millennials, for whom SUVs and CUVs can transition from their active lifestyles into their child-rearing years, as well as by their baby boomer parents involved in their grandchildren’s care, Desrosiers says.

SUVs and CUVs may soon become more appealing to yet another demographic: environmentally-conscious drivers, as Smith predicts that automakers will start offering more crossovers as hybrids.

“I think the manufacturers are going to keep going with the crossovers because that market is booming,” Smith says. “Which is a huge change in the industry, and it happened very quickly.”


Six CUVs and SUVs alternatives to the minivan

Nissan Murano SL AWD: $39,398

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This model of one of Canada’s most popular crossovers has some key standard safety features sure to appeal to parents, including a blind spot warning system and rear cross traffic alert. The front seating area is designed to allow for greater visibility of, and communication with, passengers in the back. Both front and rear USB ports allow anyone to play DJ: “The Wheels on the Bus” will be heard on an 11-speaker Bose sound system.


Mini Cooper S Clubman ALL4: $29,990

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A Mini may not seem an obvious choice for a family car, but hear us out. This five-seater has plenty of leg room, 1,250 L of cargo space and safety features including eight airbags and a crash sensor with fuel shut-off. Got your hands full? Stick a leg under the bumper and voila! The split rear doors open for you. All-wheel drive makes handling in bad weather a breeze.


Subaru Outback: $27,995

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While the popularity of family station wagons is automotive history, the Outback is an exception. It’s a safety award-winning alternative to CUVs and SUVs, especially for those who like to be closer to the ground. Among its family friendly features are a standard roof rack system for extra cargo, and optional dual-zone climate control. A rearview camera is standard, but safety upgrades include pre-collision brake assist and throttle management, as well as lane departure and sway warnings.


Honda HR-V EX: $26,790

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The HR-V is one of the smallest crossovers, but it has plenty of cargo room (1,583 L with rear seats down), a dual-zone climate control system, blind-spot display and multi-angle rearview camera. It’s also among the most fuel efficient of the bunch here, at 8.8 L/100 km in city driving and 7.2 on the highway. It’s priced right and handles well, making it a great entry point into the crossover market.


Toyota Highlander XLE AWD $41,990

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The Highlander is an SUV that can reach minivan dimensions with seven- and eight-seater models. The Limited all-wheel drive model includes fun features such as EasySpeak, a hands-free speaker system that allows for communication between the front and back rows, as well as three-zone climate control. A rear hatch window allows for access to the cargo area when you can’t (or don’t want to) open the door.


Hyundai Sonata Limited $34,099

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There will always be drivers looking for a safe, reliable sedan. This multiple-award-winner has all the safety features of its larger rivals, from parking assist sensors to rear cross traffic alert, as well dual-zone climate control and a nine-speaker stereo system. The trunk has 462 L of storage space, but the back seats give way for larger items. For emissions-conscious drivers, the Sonata is also available as a hybrid.

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