The Difference Between an SUV & a Van

by Richard Rowe
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Image by, courtesy of Graham Richardson

The basic differences between SUVs and vans come down to their intended uses. Automakers design SUVs for towing, hauling, and off-road performance, whereas they build vans for transporting people or cargo.


Full-sized vans are almost mechanically identical to SUVs, in that they use nearly the same structural and drive-train parts.

Van Strengths

Vans are usually tall and boxy with a low floor and minimal ground clearance. This makes them spacious and efficient people-movers or cargo-movers.

SUV Strengths

SUVs are usually lighter than vans but have the same chassis and powertrain. This gives them a higher power-to-weight ratio, making for better towing and off-road performance.

Ground Clearance

Because they are more biased for off-road use, SUVs often have much more ground clearance than vans.


Although it is an option on many models, most vans lack the true four-wheel-drive systems commonly found on SUVs.

Gross Weight

Both SUVs and vans must have a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 8,500 lbs., but the lower mass of most SUVs means that they can often tow more weight and still remain within their rated GVWR.

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