Cargo Van vs. SUV, a Full Comparison

An SUV has for a long time been popular. More recently however, cargo vans are also gaining in popularity. In this article I will show you which one to choose.

A cargo van is designed for carrying cargo such as parcels and tools, but an SUV is for carrying people. However if you intend to use the vehicle off-road, then there is only one choice as most SUVs have 4WD or AWD. They both offer equal driver comfort and similar MPG, Obviously there are varying sizes of SUVs, just as there are varying sizes of cargo vans, but on average the middle range for both offer similar comfort and fuel efficiency.


Definition of an SUV

Prior to the 1980s the term SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle) was not used but instead similar vehicles were considered to be either a station wagon, jeep or 4×4. Since then though, all these different types of vehicle have be lumped together and classed as SUVs. This means that, in the US at least, there is no one all-encompassing definition for an SUV, just a general terminology.

There are however two main types of SUV, those that have a two-part frame similar to a truck and those that have a single frame, similar to a passenger vehicle. The latter however is often referred to as a ‘crossover SUV.’


Definition of a Cargo Van

The true definition of a cargo van is a van that provides a seat for a driver plus one passenger at the front. To the rear of these seats is a cargo area that has no windows.

Most cargo vans are designed so more seats can be fitted into the cargo area and easily removed.

A cargo van can also have a multitude of other modifications or customizations made. However, if any of these modifications, including extra seats, are deemed permanent, then the van may be reclassified as a commercial vehicle or passenger carrying vehicle.


Comparing an SUV and Cargo Van as a Family Vehicle

Advantages of an SUV

The best advantage of an SUV is its ability to be driven almost anywhere with its 4WD. While this certainly is an advantage for the more adventurous drivers, often a family vehicle is for more sedate driving, and so 4WD is not needed.

Advantages of a Cargo Van

A cargo van may not have 4WD, but it does offer more space for both family members and cargo. Its cargo area is also accessible from the front of the van, which is something an SUV does not offer.

One of the biggest advantages of a cargo van is that it is easy to adapt and can be customized for a specific use. That use could be accommodating a family with all their baggage plus camping equipment. A cargo van can also be customized to become a camper.  


Comparing an SUV and Cargo Van for Small Businesses

Advantages of an SUV for Business

Once again, 4WD can be an advantage if in the course of business the vehicle will need to go off road. While an SUV does allow space for tools and minor equipment, they will usually have to be accessed from the rear.

An SUV offers the driver all-round vision and is relatively easy to park in small spaces.

Advantages of a Cargo Van for Business

A cargo van can hold more passengers or cargo than an average SUV. A cargo van is also very adaptable, allowing it to be customized to any business’s unique needs.

A cargo van is considered as easy and as comfortable to drive as a large SUV, but its’ slightly larger size and limited driver’s vision can make it a little harder to park in small areas.

The fact that a cargo van does not usually have windows on the cargo area means the sides are ideal for advertising purposes.

A small business can customize its cargo van to accommodate several workers and their equipment while at the same time still offering easy access to that equipment.

The fact that a cargo van has side doors as well as a rear door, makes stowing equipment easier because of this simpler access. Plus of course, the driver can access the cargo without them having to exit the van. This can be a huge benefit during times of inclement weather conditions.


Comparing an SUV to a Cargo Van for Access to Highways and Parkways

Although the public highways in the United States comprise a total of 4.1 million miles of road only a small percentage is actually governed by the Federal Government. This means the majority of the public highways are under the jurisdiction of the relevant States they are located in.

It is therefore a State’s responsibility to determine what types of vehicles may use those highways, what speed limits are in place and other regulatory matters, including the price of tolls.

Both SUVs and cargo vans are allowed to use State Highways and Parkways in most States; however there are exceptions.

Some states may class a cargo van as a commercial vehicle if it has been customized as such or displays a business name on its side, such as U-Haul. New York is one of those States, and so a customized cargo van may be restricted on its use of the highways in that State.

Some States classify an SUV as a truck, and in those States, any restrictions applied to trucks will equally apply to an SUV.

If you are therefore planning a lot of interstate travel, you should perhaps check on each State’s highway restrictions before deciding which type of vehicle to buy.


SUV Popularity

The popularity of SUVs was perhaps only in part due to their off road capabilities. While many people would buy them for that reason alone, many others would buy them for their impressive look and ability to be used for an assortment of different uses.


Cargo Van Popularity

A cargo van may not look as impressive as an SUV or be able to be used off road, but they are gaining in popularity against SUVs and other types of vehicle.

It is businesses though, especially small businesses which account for much of this growth in popularity. However, a cargo van’s versatility and multiple customization options are also making it become increasingly popular as a personal family vehicle.

A cargo van is a popular choice for small business owners as it can easily be adapted to become a work vehicle during the week as well as a family vehicle at weekends and holidays.  However any permanent customizations for either purpose may result in the cargo van being classed as more than just a personal private vehicle.



When buying any vehicle, you will have your own unique uses for that vehicle and so will have to decide which one to buy based on those uses.

If you have decided a larger box type van is too big and cumbersome for your needs and a pick-up would not offer the security you seek for your cargo. Also, a sedan will not offer enough space, and while a minibus may be an option for a larger family, they are not versatile and provide problems stowing baggage. You will then be left with a choice of either an SUV or cargo van.

If you want a vehicle for commercial use linked to your business, many business owners find a cargo van ideal if it is not required to carry particularly heavy loads. The cargo van can be customized to the business’s specific needs and at the same time offer better fuel efficiency than larger vans plus more comfort for the driver.

An SUV can also offer a business better fuel efficiency than a large van as well as off-road capabilities. While an SUV can also carry tools and equipment, the area available to do so is much smaller and less versatile than that offered by a cargo van.

If you want a vehicle for family use, an SUV can offer you comfort and space for family and their baggage. However, if you have a large family or plan to carry additional baggage such as camping equipment, a cargo van will more easily accommodate that extra baggage than an SUV.

Personal preference and looks also play a role in a person’s choice of vehicle. As mentioned, an SUV can look impressive to some, while practicality to others plays a bigger role than looks alone.

If a business owner does not need the added advertising the sides of a cargo van can offer, they may prefer the looks of an SUV to represent their business. A ‘soccer mum’ may prefer to have the access to the sporting gear without leaving the vehicle, something a cargo van can offer.

Author: Kenneth Graham

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