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SUV vs Minivan: What's the difference?

SUV vs minivan in Iceland's Highlands

You’ve made the big leap and decided on your next travel destination: Iceland. Lots of exciting adventures await you, from glacier hikes and ice caves to hot pots and geothermal pools. But before we get to planning your itinerary, we need to take care of some logistics!

What kind of vehicle will you rent? There are several possibilities, and many travelers opt for an SUV, van, or something in between. So minivan vs SUV, what’s the difference? Is a minivan better than an SUV?

In the van versus SUV debate, there’s something important to keep in mind. It’s not as simple as vehicle A compared to vehicle B. There are actually several categories that encompass the range of automobiles available. Standard SUVs, larger SUVs, luxury SUVs, and minivans are all possibilities to consider. So if you’re wondering about renting a minivan vs SUV for your next road trip, don’t worry. This article is here to clear up all of your questions.

What is an SUV?

If we’re just looking at the standard definition, an SUV is a sports utility vehicle. While there’s no universally agreed upon criteria, most people think of a car like the Toyota RAV4 or the Kia Sportage as typical models. They are regular passenger vehicles that have elements of off-road automobiles like four-wheel drive and a raised body. Crossovers are also considered a type of SUV.

Some people say trucks can also fall under this classification, but I would say that when talking about SUV vs truck, these are definitely two very different types of vehicles. The same thing happens with van vs SUV. I’ll get into vans and minivans later. It’s understandable that the categories of vehicles and classifications can be a bit confusing as there is overlap.

Popular SUV models in Iceland are the Suzuki Jimny 4x4, Dacia Duster 4x4, and the Suzuki Vitara 4x4. These fit what I define as SUVs, and they are perfect for navigating the country’s streets, highways, and trails. A standard SUV usually seats four to five passengers comfortably with space in the trunk for suitcases and luggage.

Woman with an SUV van in Iceland

What are some larger SUV models?

While standard SUVs are great, what if your family vacation or group of friends includes more than just a few people? You’re going to want the SUV that has the most room, which means you’ll need to opt for a bigger model. Large SUVs like the Nissan X-Trail 4x4 7-seater or the Kia Sorento 4x4 7-seater have plenty of space for multiple riders in the backseat. It’s important to have lots of legroom for those days spent taking day trips to the Golden Circle or Snaefellsnes peninsula.

What about luxury SUVs?

Yet another option that falls under this varied category are luxury SUVs like the BMW X1 4x4. For those looking to travel in comfort and style, a luxury SUV rental could be right up your alley. This model is technically considered a subcompact SUV, so it doesn’t have quite the same capacity as the larger models. It still has a spacious interior and those extra little touches that give it a refined feeling.

SUVs and F-roads

Something to keep in mind is that most SUVs available for rent in Iceland have a 4WD. The aforementioned models are no exception as all of them do. This is important because, by law, you have to have a 4x4 vehicle to drive on the F-roads of Iceland’s Highlands. If you had been hoping to traverse the island’s wild backcountry in a regular sedan, it’s not possible. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

But the good news is that with an SUV rental in Iceland, you will be able to take in the stunning landscapes and unbelievable waterfalls like Sigoldufoss or Gýgjarfoss that await you in the Highlands.

What is a Minivan?

Vans and minivans are large, multi-passenger vehicles, often with multiple rows of seats in the back. If you’re curious about the difference a van vs. a minivan, let’s start with similarities. Both are box-shaped high-capacity automobiles, and despite the name, vans and minivans are roughly the same size. Minivans are a little bit smaller than vans, but the size difference is not significant.

Vans can be used to transport either people or goods. Minivans, also known as passenger vans, were made specifically with people in mind. There is always seating for passengers, and these vehicles have carried many a family or travel group to their destination. Kids love riding in minivans, as it can feel like a field trip or another type of adventure. So hopefully that clears up the difference concerning minivan vs van.

The most popular minivan to rent in Iceland is probably the Renault Traffic 9-seater or a similar vehicle. These types of minis are perfect for larger groups and families that don’t quite fit into the 7-seater large SUVs.  It’s one of the most popular minivans for a road trip in Iceland because it’s easy for everyone to hop in and hop out at those Ring Road stops at Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon or the Diamond Beach. It also gets great gas mileage.

Minivan or SUV for Icelandic road conditions?

Minivans and F-roads

One of the drawbacks of renting a minivan in Iceland is that you’ll be hard-pressed to find one that comes with a four-wheel drive. 4x4 minivans just aren’t that common, unfortunately. So if you’re looking to drive on the unpaved, gravel roads of the Highlands and you have a large party, I recommend hiring a larger SUV model. The Nissan X-Trail 4x4 7-seater or Kia Sorento 4x4 7-seater both fit lots of passengers along with their luggage and can navigate F-roads.

When looking to combine the best of both worlds, getting a full-size SUV vs a minivan is probably your best bet.

SUV vs Minivan

With the above information, I think it’s pretty clear that minivans and SUVs are quite different categories of cars you can rent. SUVs have a smaller capacity but can go more places. They’re more versatile in terms of planning your itinerary, but you are limited to four to five passengers with standard or luxury SUVs. This number goes up to seven riders with a large SUV.

Minivans, on the other hand, carry more people but unfortunately can’t drive on those unpaved, gravel roads of Iceland’s Highlands. If you’re looking to traverse F-roads, then opt for a 4x4 SUV rental in Iceland.

Are SUVs safer than minivans?

This is a question on the mind of many contemplating a trip to Iceland. With unpredictable weather and constantly changing road conditions, it’s natural to want to drive the safest vehicle possible. So, are SUVs safer than minivans, or is the opposite true? A recent study showed that children and adult passenger are less likely to be injured in a crash when riding in a minivan. We can draw the conclusion from this research that minivans appear to be safer.

Family in minivan rental in Iceland

It might have something to do with the shape and construction of both types of vehicles. SUVs have a classic body-on-frame style or a car-type construction used in crossovers. Safety experts theorize that the minivan’s structure absorbs energy better than SUVs, thus protecting the passengers inside.

Having more interior room in a minivan is also a factor. In the event of a crash, those who are inside can move around more without hitting each other or parts of the vehicle. And due to the propensity to rollovers, SUVs are up 30% more likely to cause injury. The high center of gravity could also be a cause for accidents to happen.

So it looks like according to safety research, SUVs are slightly more dangerous than minivans. But don’t let all of these numbers and statistics scare you. What I’m talking about are extreme cases where people weren’t smart, cautious drivers. You already know the basic rules of obeying the speed limit and paying attention while driving. Driving safety in Iceland is paramount, and with common sense, you’ll be just fine.

Is an SUV better than a minivan?

This question is a little tricky to answer. It’s like trying to decide if pizza is better than ice cream. Everyone has their preference. When it comes to choosing a vehicle, the answer is going to be different because situations and circumstances are different. I personally prefer the look and feel of SUVs, but I’m usually only traveling with my partner and our dog. But if we added a bunch of our friends and their children into the mix, it would be a completely different story.

I’ve also traveled around plenty of places by minivan, usually as part of a group or small tour and found it to be perfectly suitable. Regardless of the type of vehicle you rent, the important this is that everyone has space and is comfy. Feeling cramped is not a great feeling on a road trip.

Minivan vs SUV: What's the difference?

I hope this post has given you some useful information when deciding between a minivan or SUV for your trip. These are definitely two very different classes of vehicles, each with its own advantages and drawbacks. It’s important to note the differences and think about how they apply to your particular situation.

Whether you choose an SUV or minivan for your vacation, it’s imperative that both the driver and their travel companions are comfortable and happy. So, once you know what type of vehicle fits your needs best, check our guide to the best car models to travel through Iceland and find your perfect match.


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