Trucks and SUVs are the top-selling vehicles in America, and the sales trends show no signs of cooling off. They’ve become the de facto family vehicles for a number of reasons, including a high ride height for better visibility, enhanced versatility thanks to roomy cargo areas, available all-wheel drive for extra wet-weather traction and the feeling of safety imparted by a larger vehicle.
But what about the go-to family vehicle from a generation ago, the minivan? Though not exactly trendy, the latest minivans offer all of the above qualities apart from the higher ride height. And they still can do things that trucks and SUVs can’t.
How does the trusty minivan stack up today in terms of practicality? Edmunds’ experts set out to determine what type of family vehicle is the most versatile. They picked a representative top-ranked vehicle for each vehicle class and evaluated them from the perspective of a shopper with a family:
• Truck: 2021 Ram 1500 Laramie Crew Cab V6 4WD
• SUV: 2021 Hyundai Palisade Limited AWD
• Minivan: 2021 Toyota Sienna Limited AWD
Power and performance
In terms of performance, the V6-powered Ram will be best among these three vehicles. It narrowly wins in horsepower (305 horsepower) and torque (269 pound-feet) compared to the Palisade (291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet).
The new Sienna’s hybrid powertrain – the sole offering for 2021 – has a combined net 245 horsepower with 199 pound-feet of torque.
Steering and handling will be best in either the Palisade or the Sienna. But when you take into consideration its off-road capability and availability of a more powerful V8, the Ram 1500 further solidifies its place.
Winner: Ram 1500
It was a close race in comfort between the Palisade and Sienna, but we gave the slight edge to the SUV due to its higher, more comfortable seating position. Minivans have always had a comfortable ride, but the latest SUVs are just as comfortable.
A higher seating position offers better visibility too. Trucks, for their part, are known to be comparatively harsher-riding. While the Ram is a comfortable truck, it still doesn’t come close to the other two.
Interior and utility
The Palisade is one of the roomiest three-row midsize SUVs you’ll find. But there’s still no beating a minivan for utility. The Sienna excels in ease of use, roominess, and ease of getting in and out. The rear doors and seats that can slide fore and aft about 25 inches are particularly great for owners with children.
The Ram 1500 has an upscale cabin for a truck, but it otherwise lags behind in this category.
All three of these vehicles have an impressive amount of modern technology, including advanced safety tech and driver aids, big touch screens, multizone climate controls, built-in navigation and smartphone integration. The Palisade and new Sienna both have adaptive cruise control standard, while the Ram offers it as an option.
Winner: Sienna and Palisade (tie)
Cargo and towing
This one depends on your usage and needs. While we’re calling it a three-way tie, here are numbers that will help you decide for yourself which vehicle is best for you. To keep things fair, we measured the cargo areas ourselves.
The Ram’s 5.7-foot bed equates to just a hair under 41 cubic feet of storage. However, you will have to purchase additional accessories to keep your items safe and protected from the elements. The Ram can tow at least 6,280 pounds.
The Palisade with the third row down equals 40.5 cubic feet of storage. It has an additional 2.1 cubic feet with an under-floor storage bin in the rear that brings the total to 42.6 cubic feet. The Palisade tows 5,000 pounds.
The Sienna, with the third row down and 6-foot-4 occupants seated in the first two rows, offers 67.8 cubic feet of storage. While it has the most cargo capacity, the Sienna can only tow 3,500 pounds.
The new Sienna, thanks to its hybrid powertrain, gets an EPA-estimated 35 mpg combined on the all-wheel-drive variant. Both the all-wheel-drive Palisade and Ram 1500 V6 4WD only get 21 mpg combined.
In our recommended configurations with the destination charge included, the 2021 Ram 1500 Laramie starts at $47,325, the Palisade Limited starts at $48,000 and, while pricing was not available when we wrote this, we estimate the Sienna will be around $49,000.
The Ram is the winner here in value, and it’s easy to see why many shoppers would choose the brawnier Ram truck over the minivan.
The Sienna wins a number of categories, proving that a minivan is still the most useful vehicle for most people. But ultimately, it comes down to your family’s needs and what you prefer to drive.
Rex Tokeshi-Torres is a vehicle testing technician at Edmunds. Twitter: @trackwrex.