Which SUV, Minivan, or Crossover Is The Most Space-Efficient?

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siennaIn the October 2014 issue of Car and Driver magazine, they have an article “Space Exploration” comparing the space-efficiency of “hatchbacked” vehicles – hatchbacks, wagons, crossovers, SUVs, vans. Their definition of space efficiency was carrying capacity compared to the amount of ground a vehicle occupies. Specifically, the maximum seats-down cargo volume divided by footprint (length times width). Trucks don’t count.

I can’t find a version of the chart online, so here is my rundown of the findings:

  • The most space-efficient vehicles were cargo vans usually bought for commercial use. Not surprising, as these are often seen as airport shuttles. Examples are the Ram Promaster, Mercedez-Benz Sprinter, and Ford Transit. The extended body, high roof versions of these vans have ratios as high as 3.69.
  • After that, the minivans rule: Toyota Sienna 1.38, Honda Odyssey 1.33, Chrysler Town & Country 1.30. (Nissan Quest was only 1.00.)
  • Huge SUVs are next: GMC Acadia 1.06, Ford Expedition 1.08, Toyota Sequoia 1.06.
  • After that, things get more interesting. The Scion xB is 0.86 is actually a bit better than the Toyota Highlander at 0.83 and the Mercedes GL at 0.79. The Honda Fit is 0.71, on par with the Jeep Grand Cherokee at 0.68 and Audi Q7 at 0.67. Relatively disappointing small cars include the Nissan Juke 0.46, Ford C-Max 0.49, and Kia Sportage 0.62.
  • Want electric? The Mitsubishi i-MiEV is 0.80 while the Nissan Leaf is 0.35 and Chevrolet Volt is a paltry 0.12. I would note the MiEV is tiny though, it looks like a golf cart driving down the road.

As you might expect, in general tall and boxy shapes make for high numbers. Space-efficiency isn’t everything, but it can be an important factor to consider if you have a growing family or certain hobbies. It would have been nice if they also used the alternative definition to be cargo volume divided by base retail price (space per dollar).

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  1. And what will be your new family car? Going to take the minivan plunge?

    • I think if somehow we end up with 3 kids, we will end up buying a minivan as we also drive around grandparents/nieces a lot and we’ll use the seating for 7 regularly. Until then, we are trying to avoid any new car purchases… even though it is tough not being able to fit a parent and two car seats in the back for longer car rides in a compact car. 🙂

  2. I cannot get the math to match what they got. 2014 Scion xB for example is 69.9 cubic feet with the back seats folded and the exterior vehicle dimensions are 168.1″ length by 69.3″ width. Can someone make sense of it? I changed the cubic feet to cubic inches and the math is still way off.

    • Mike, convert the exterior vehicle dimensions to feet, first. the Scion xB takes up 80.89 square feet.

      • That works, thank you!

        I wanted to get number on a 2015 Nissan Rouge, its 0.76.

        • Cool. And a Honda Pilot is .84, only a fraction better than the Highlander even though it looks much bigger/taller to me. The Outback (.77) and Pathfinder (.75) are still a step above the Grand Cherokee. I’d love to have access to all this data… but really, I can’t imagine that this number would drive your purchase, instead of the raw cargo capacity and perhaps mpg.

          In the CUV class
          .84 Suburu Forester
          .81 Toyota RAV4 (2014)
          .80 Honda CR-V (2014)
          .73 Mazda CX-5
          .59 Jeep Cherokee: not surprising, as it has the smallest cargo capacity of any SUV I could find. With the seats up, even the small CX-5 has 37% more cargo room.

          • For some of us who live in dense urban areas with small parking spaces (or small garages) this is actually really important. I only have one unbreakable rule, whatever car I buy has to fit in my garage….

  3. Interesting….but I don’t think most people buy minivans and SUVs in order to put all the seats down for cargo space. I’m guessing they buy them specifically for the larger passenger capacity (at least, that’s why I ended up with my Ford Flex).

  4. We own a Mazda 5 for the sheer versatility that it offers. It is in a class by itself with no true competitors yet. And it’s very affordable compared to everything else listed in this post.

  5. john wick says

    Running your vehicle’s air conditioning is no worse for your gas mileage than driving with your windows down. As your vehicle speeds up, air flow creates a drag against the vehicle, making the engine work harder and hurting gas mileage. In fact, air conditioning can be a more efficient option at higher speeds.

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