A family is shown riding bikes near a silver 2022 Honda Odyssey Elite in a desert area.

Minivan vs SUV: Which Body Style Is Best for New Parents on a Budget?

It’s an age-old debate for parents: should we buy a minivan or an SUV? One generally receives more style points, while the other wins on practicality – at least, that’s the traditional thinking. But for new parents looking for the best used cars, small details matter more than ever. Is the back seat easy to access? What about safety ratings? Perhaps the biggest question of all is, do I have to abandon style for practicality?

Thanks to minivans like the Honda Odyssey, the answer is a resounding no. Among the myriad of lifestyle changes, new parents almost universally struggle with the transition from fun and carefree to practical. We want what we drive to reflect our unique personality and style, but once the baby arrives, more pressing issues rise to the top of the list. Let’s face it: all parents would benefit from the utility of a minivan, so why aren’t they all driving one?

The answer lies with the stubborn lingering stereotype assigned to minivans. The minivan body style represents a caving in of sorts: a vehicular resignation to the suburban vanilla sameness that is met with derision by parents who opt for a more rugged SUV. The social stigma associated with minivans just won’t go away, but automakers like Honda refuse to give up.

A silver 2021 Honda Odyssey Elite is shown driving on a road after looking at the best used cars.

Minivans: Still a Styleless Surrender?

Shaking a bad reputation isn’t easy. Just ask any celebrity who’s ever been embroiled in a controversy, and they’ll tell you that the public has a stubbornly long memory. Overcoming social stigmas often requires nothing short of an image transformation. The poor minivan can relate, and some automakers are doing everything in their power to make it happen.

Minivans are usually associated with harried moms and crushed Cheerios. They’re the poster children for dull suburban parents in a repetitive loop of carpools, grocery store runs, and soccer tournament shuttles. Poky acceleration and ham-handed attempts at style fall flat for image-conscious parents who usually abandon the category without ever taking a test drive. With such a stark absence of pride-of-ownership, the minivan seems destined for the history books.

Why is it, then, that companies like Honda are doubling down on the minivan body style? Currently in its fifth generation after a complete redesign in 2018, the Honda Odyssey is still the grand dame of minivans. In its newest form, the Odyssey looks more like an SUV than ever before while still maintaining signature parent-friendly features, like a low entry point and automatic sliding side doors. If minivans are going away, Honda definitely didn’t get the memo.

The Odyssey is loaded with advanced safety and infotainment technology and offers driver-centric features like all-wheel drive and impressive acceleration. Yet, despite these advancements, buyers continue hanging onto a narrow perception of the minivan, dismissing it as ‘not cool’ or ‘boring.’ Honda is on a mission to change those perceptions once and for all.

It’s Time to Reconsider the Minivan

As with any successful image makeover, the goal is to earn back trust and reframe limiting beliefs. Honda recognized this when engineers and designers sat down to reimagine the Odyssey. Instead of a bulky, uniform exterior, the Odyssey received sculpted body panels and a slanted nose complete with futuristic LED headlights.

In fact, the only exterior styling cue that identifies the Odyssey as a true minivan is its low ground clearance. The tailgate resembles that of a boxy SUV, and inside, the Odyssey feels like a luxury car, especially inside the higher-end trims. Honda asserts that minivans are still the optimal choice for busy families, even for those that put a high premium on style.

America seems to agree since sales of minivans have skyrocketed in recent years. Industry watchdog Just Auto reports an 84% increase in minivan sales in the second quarter of 2021, an increase that’s equal to the decrease in market share reported in the SUV category. The underlying message is, minivans are back in style, and parents everywhere are experiencing SUV fatigue.

As for Honda, the company believes that Odyssey buyers remain loyal to Honda for life, citing the minivan’s high quality and excellent safety record as a key reason for their loyalty. Given historical anti-minivan sentiment, the fact that the Odyssey acts as a flagship model for the entire Honda lineup is evidence that Honda is chipping away at any lingering category stigma.

Why the Odyssey Is Great News for Used Minivan Buyers

Not only are minivans making a comeback, but for some manufacturers, the change in consumer tastes represents a big opportunity to loosen the SUV’s stranglehold on the family demographic. It’s especially good news for used vehicle buyers since SUVs traditionally retain a high percentage of their value, making them an expensive option for budget-minded families.

The minivan renaissance ushers in two big benefits for used family car shoppers. First, there’s more quality inventory flooding the market in the form of off-lease vehicles, and second, judging by the increase in inventory, the stigma associated with opting in on a minivan is slowly disappearing. For buyers that balk at high used SUV prices but for whom a sedan won’t provide enough utility, focusing on the minivan category makes good sense.

Honda redesigned the Odyssey for the 2018 model year, which means that fresh off-lease inventory is just hitting dealerships now. Used buyers have the option of selecting a low mileage certified pre-owned (CPO) Odyssey, which comes with additional buyer protections and perks, including longer factory warranty coverage. CPO minivans undergo an extensive 182 point inspection, filtering out all but the highest quality prospects.

Buying a CPO vehicle makes great sense for families looking to hedge their bet against potential used car issues, but it’s also smart for those who want new car benefits without having to take on the first year’s depreciation in value. Honda’s CPO program is especially generous, with free roadside assistance, two free oil changes, and even a complimentary three-month SiriusXM satellite radio subscription.

Children in baseball uniforms are getting out of a silver 2021 Honda Odyssey Elite next to a baseball field.

Minivan Moms Are Cool

Just when we thought minivans might fade into the sunset, they’re making a big comeback. No one really knows why, except that parents are among the most practical vehicle buyers valuing affordability, safety, and utility above all else. The minivan exemplifies that set of characteristics. Now it seems the last objection – the cool factor – is now irrelevant.

It seems the plethora of minivan-exclusive features, like in-vehicle vacuum systems and cabin intercoms, are winning buyers over from the SUV category. These modern conveniences, coupled with classic minivan equipment like sliding doors, combine to offer harried parents an easy button for repetitive, labor-intensive tasks, like getting babies in and out of car seats or refereeing sibling squabbles.

It may be that minivans are part of the retro trend, but instead of hipster charm, they beckon buyers for their sheer practicality. Owning a minivan means always having space to spread out without the heft and expense of a large gas-guzzling SUV. In the case of the Odyssey, feel free to outfit your minivan with everything from ventilated leather seating to rear seat entertainment systems for the kids.

The bottom line is, parenting is tough. There’s certainly no shortage of sanity-saving mommy life hacks to make the job a little easier, but the greatest one of all was under our noses all the time, patiently warming the bench until the parenting game required a relief pitcher. Minivans make life easier – they make parenting easier. Who wouldn’t want that?