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Minivan vs. SUV: Both have pros, cons, but which one offers best fit for your family?

Marisa Solberg and her kids, from left, Luci, Will, Lauren and Lola now travel in a Chevy Suburban after spending years riding in minivans. David Samson / The Forum

Minivans are marketing themselves as hip and edgy. Sports utility vehicles laud their family-friendly attributes. But which is the better vehicle for today's parents?

Minivans offer sliding doors for easy access, better fuel-economy than most full-size SUVs, more maneuverability and seating for seven or eight with usable space leftover for cargo, says automotive information site And AAA's driving costs booklet rates minivans cheaper in terms of operating and ownership costs.

Full-size SUVs have towing capacity and all-wheel or four-wheel drive. But their real advantage? They're not a minivan.

"The reason you see a lot of families not buying them is because they don't want the stigma of owning a van," says Aaron Berg, general sales manager at Ward Muscatell Automotive in Moorhead. "I think when you buy a minivan, it's like throwing in the towel."

Plenty of families are ready to wave the white flag, though. "I think most families, if they don't live in the rural area where they need four-wheel drive and they're not pulling snowmobiles and boats, they're leaning toward the van," Berg says, describing minivans as more comfortable and affordable.

"You see a lot of interest generated off the SUV market, but when people look at fuel consumption, driving, roominess and utility, the minivan is still the hole-in-one," says Casey Lindgren, general sales manager of Corwin Chrysler Dodge Jeep in Fargo. "People love their minivans."

So does his dealership. He says Chrysler has always controlled the minivan segment and sells a higher ratio than other manufacturers. "We're pro-minivans over here. We sell a lot of them," he says.

Lindgren, 30, says he sees a lot of people his age who said they would never own a minivan coming in to buy one. But minivans just make too much sense, especially when you factor in price.

"You can get a leather, loaded minivan for sometimes half the price of a leather, loaded sport utility," Lindgren says.

The people he's seen buy SUVs are baby boomers whose kids have left home. They no longer need seating for seven and want all-wheel drive or to be able to tow boats or other toys.

They're able to look at mid-size SUVs, or sometimes the newer generation of crossovers, which have blurred the line between minivans and SUVs.

Jason Gette, sales manager at Gateway Chevrolet in Fargo, says Chevy's Traverse has become the "ultimate replacement for the minivan." Chevy doesn't currently make a minivan.

Gette says these smaller SUVs provide better gas mileage and ground clearance with seven-passenger seating.

Marisa Solberg, a Fargo mom, would love to drive a crossover or smaller SUV, like a GMC Acadia or Honda Pilot or Dodge Durango. But she wouldn't be able to fit her family, which includes a 6-year-old son and triplet 5-year-old daughters.

"There's just no room for our family of six," she says, and especially not if they decide to have another kid down the road.

Solberg and her husband, Tim, bought their first minivan, a Dodge Grand Caravan, when they found out Marisa was pregnant with triplets.

The minivan was great at first, she says, easy to get car seats in and out.

But then the kids got bigger. This Christmas, the family needed to take two vehicles to haul the kids, luggage and gifts to see family in Grand Forks.

A trip to Mount Rushmore a couple years ago was cramped. It really hindered family trips, she says.

Earlier this month, the Solbergs bought a 2007 Suburban, which seats eight adults comfortably. Now grandparents can fit, too.

"It does look sporty, and that's sort of what sold us on it," she says.

She's also excited for her first blizzard driving the Suburban. "We did really feel trapped with the minivan" because it was so low to the ground and not very powerful, she says.

The large SUV is not without its disadvantages, though, such as the price of filling it up.

"On the second day of owning it, I did get in a car accident because it is a lot wider," Solberg says about running into a pole outside her bank. "I can understand if people can't handle it. It is a huge adjustment."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556