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The Safest Minivans and SUVs Shootout

Minivans and SUVs are great family-hauling vehicles, and according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, they’re also the safest. This wasn’t always the case for top-heavy SUVs, which the IIHS says had an overall driver death rate of 65 per million registered vehicles in 2007. Thanks to electronic stability control, a feature that helps prevent vehicles from rolling over, the death rate has dropped to 28 per million for SUVs from the 2005 to 2008 model years. The minivan has the fewest deaths, but not by much. Its overall death rate is 25 per million.

To get these figures, the IIHS used real-world crash test data for 150 models with a minimum of 100,000 registered vehicles, and factored in driver gender and age, calendar year, vehicle age and vehicle density in garages. Information on driver death counts, age and gender came from the federal Fatality Analysis Reporting System and the Highway Data Loss Institute.

This data is a great springboard if you’re searching for a safe family vehicle. We’ve picked two minivans and two SUVs with the lowest driver death rates and run through their prices, options and features to help you find an ideal family hauler.

Minivans: Toyota Sienna vs. Kia Sedona

With a driver death rate of zero, the Sienna seems like the obvious choice when compared to the Sedona’s driver death rate of 16. But when you look at cargo space, price, fuel economy and available safety features, the picture becomes a bit more complex.

The 2011 Kia Sedona starts at $24,595 and comes standard with satellite radio and auxiliary and USB input jacks. The 2011 base $25,060 Sienna only comes with an auxiliary jack. Add features like navigation, Bluetooth, dual-view DVD entertainment system, backup camera, USB port, push-button start and all-wheel drive and the Sienna’s price goes to $42,350. With comparable options, the Sedona is $34,695.

Despite a higher price, the Sienna has its perks. The Sienna is an IIHS Top Safety Pick because it received the highest score of “Good” in front, rear, roof and rear crash tests and has standard electronic stability control. The Sedona isn’t a Top Safety Pick, but it did receive a “Good” rating in front, side and rear rests and comes with ESC. Its roof strength scores are unavailable. The Sienna also comes standard with a driver’s knee airbag, and its side curtain airbags have a rollover sensor, two features the Sedona doesn’t offer.  

The Sienna, which has optional seating for eight, has more cargo space than the Sedona. With all the seats occupied, there’s 39.1 cubic feet available, compared to 32.2 in the Sedona. And, with the power split and stow third row that’s available on Limited models, the Sienna is even more utilitarian.

Excluding price, the Toyota Sienna excels in nearly every category, but for a family-friendly vehicle that’s one of the safest on the market and affordable, the Sedona is a great pick.

SUVs: Ford Edge vs. Jeep Grand Cherokee

The Ford Edge and the Jeep Grand Cherokee earn bragging rights as midsize SUVs with the lowest driver death rates that are also IIHS Top Safety Picks.   

Between these two SUVs, the Edge is the most family-ready, least expensive and has a driver death rate of zero. The Edge starts at $2,575 less than the $30,215 Grand Cherokee. You’ll save cash in the long run too, because the Edge’s fuel economy ratings of 19/27 mpg city/highway with two-wheel drive top the Grand Cherokee’s 16/23 mpg two-wheel drive ratings.

The Edge has features that simplify family life. A center console bin, eight cup holders, an overhead console, MyKey, which limits speed and stereo volume, and rollover-sensing side curtain airbags are all standard on the Edge. The SEL trim adds a feature that’s comparable to the Sienna’s power third-row seat: an electric folding rear seat that increases the Edge cargo capacity from 32.2 cubic feet to 68.9.  

The Grand Cherokee doesn’t offer a system like MyKey, lacks rollover sensing airbags and an electric folding rear seat and only trumps the Edge’s minimum cargo capacity by 2.9 cubic feet. This Top Safety Pick has a low driver death rate of 11, but with a lower base price, better fuel economy and fewer family features, the Edge easily outshines the Grand Cherokee.

Minivan or SUV?

Minivans and SUVs haul people and their stuff efficiently, but a family’s stage in life can determine what they buy. Minivans have rear-seat DVD systems that may appeal to families with young kids, and more seats, which appeals to larger families. While they are more expensive, the Edge and Grand Cherokee are stylish alternatives to the minivan. They also have available all-wheel drive and, in the case of the Grand Cherokee, can head off-road.

Even if you don’t want a Sedona, Sienna, Edge or Grand Cherokee, use this IIHS study, which also covers cars and pickup trucks, to find a safe vehicle for your family.