The Difference Between an SUV & a Van

by Richard Rowe

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.

About the Author

Richard Rowe has been writing professionally since 2007, specializing in automotive topics. He has worked as a tractor-trailer driver and mechanic, a rigger at a fire engine factory and as a race-car driver and builder. Rowe studied engineering, philosophy and American literature at Central Florida Community College.

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Photo Credits

  • Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Graham Richardson