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Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
2/19/24 2:33 p.m.

In case it wasn't obvious, I'm in the market for a new family hauler.

My question for the class (this time) is for people in a similar boat to me, what car worked best for your needs? Sedan? SUV? Wagon? Something else entirely?

Quick facts:

  • Currently have a 3-year-old, with a foster baby (0-1) in the near future.
  • Will probably buy used, though would like something as new as possible.
  • I'm open to a minivan, but my wife isn't ready to commit to one–at least not yet.
  • I'd love to have something fun to drive, but fuel economy is more important–hybrids and plug-ins are welcome.
  • We're not ready to make the jump to an EV for our main vehicle.

Really, I just want to make sure I'm not overlooking any potentially awesome options.

j_tso
j_tso Dork
2/19/24 2:41 p.m.

i think minivan is where this is headed. Don't know about fun to drive , but y'all wrote about the Honda Odyssey being faster than classic sports cars.

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
2/19/24 2:43 p.m.

In reply to j_tso :

Valid point. If a minivan is anything like how our Ecoboost-powered company van was like to drive (empty at least), it could offer plenty of smiles all around.

classicJackets (FS)
classicJackets (FS) SuperDork
2/19/24 2:45 p.m.

I have 2 little ones, 3 and 1, and we bounce between a 2000 Expedition and a 2014 X5. We need to replace my expedition, so we recently did an 1800 mile road trip in a Pacifica. We thought it was exactly fine; up until we hit some road debris and took out some underbody lines. They would have been spared if we were in either SUV. 

 

Everyone says minivans are the perfect car for families and I kind kf get it, but my Expedition has been better/easier for us (other than MPGs) to soak up our long road trips and also not sweat the small stuff. We will look to replace it with another 3 row, in cash, and deal with the gas cost over risk of damage. 

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
2/19/24 2:46 p.m.

In reply to classicJackets (FS) :

That's really good to know. Thank you for the insight.

RonnieFnD
RonnieFnD HalfDork
2/19/24 2:50 p.m.

My best all around car has been the Kia soul.  Great on gas, doesn't drive bad (not sporty at all but drives nice), roomy enough for the three of us to go away in, cheap and easy to maintain.   Bought it new in 16 and it's up to 120k giving us no problems along the way.  It's a 1.6 that I've maintained since new so it's not a oil burner like they are known to be.

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
2/19/24 2:59 p.m.

In reply to RonnieFnD :

I've always low-key enjoyed the Soul because it really is a box on wheels. Sometimes I feel like a lot of hatches cut down on cargo space with hatches that slope too much.

Duke
Duke MegaDork
2/19/24 3:05 p.m.

We bought our first new car a month before our first daughter was born:  a 1992 SWB Dodge Caravan with tinted windows and the built-in child seats as its only options.  That was one of our dailies for 7 or 8 years, while we switched off driving that or our '95 Neon on a weekly basis.

The Caravan served us fantastically for 11 years before being killed in a rear-end collision.  By that time, DD#1 was also 11 years old and DD#2 was 8.  Although we both had daily driver sedans by that time (a brace of '95 Neons) that would carry the 4 of us, we bought another minimvan for long-trip / hauler use:  a 2000 Grand Caravan Sport.

When the kids were babies or young enough to need car seats, I wouldn't have traded my minivan for anything else.

Sedans worked fine for us once the kids were out of car seats, but definitely still backed up by a minivan.

When the Grand Caravan also got totaled in a rear-ender in 2014, our "kids" were 22 and 19... and we still bought another minivan.  Still have that one and use it regularly.

 

ProDarwin
ProDarwin MegaDork
2/19/24 3:06 p.m.

If anyone wants a 2.0 6spd Soul I would happily get rid of one.  Good utility box, but underwhelming in all possible ways.

Had an Odyssey and I hated it.

Had a 5spd 2.2L VUE and it was similar to the Soul in the "extremely underwhelming" category, but a ton of bang for the buck from a utility standpoint.

 

But honestly, the reason I even have a Soul has nothing to do with "family" bullE36 M3.  People don't take up that much space, and if you dont pack a lot of garbage all the time, you don't need a huge car.  In my case I got it to carry around periodic house/personal projects, but even that is proving to be not really worth it.  

If I were choosing a family car at this point it would be a GTI or a Mazda 3

Appleseed
Appleseed MegaDork
2/19/24 3:07 p.m.

Every pickup truck my dad ever owned. They were never toys or status symbols. Even when new, they worked from day one.

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
2/19/24 3:13 p.m.
ProDarwin said:

Had a 5spd 2.2L VUE and it was similar to the Soul in the "extremely underwhelming" category, but a ton of bang for the buck from a utility standpoint.

Can confirm as my parents bought a 5-speed Vue after having a Saturn SL for many years. Definitely underwhelming, but it made quite a few trips from Southwest Florida to Daytona Beach (when my brother was in college) and St. Augustine (when I was in college) and back with very little issue.

Toyman!
Toyman! MegaDork
2/19/24 3:14 p.m.

During kids, we had a Dodge Caravan or a Chevy Venture for the wife and an E150 Conversion van for me. 

Perfect vehicles. 

 

DeadSkunk  (Warren)
DeadSkunk (Warren) UltimaDork
2/19/24 3:15 p.m.

My son and his wife have two boys, 7 and 4. They have a Chrysler minivan and a Kia Niro hybrid. The minivan has more storage for extended trips, but the Niro offers really good mileage and enough storage for shorter duration trips, like a long weekend. Back when I was raising my family, we had a couple of Taurus wagons and a Chev Astro. I'm biased, but the Astro was the best family hauler ever invented. Too bad there isn't a more modern equivalent.

Chris Tropea
Chris Tropea Associate Editor
2/19/24 3:16 p.m.

My cousin has had a Honda Pilot for his family hauler and loves it. They have made the drive from NY to FL multiple times with their 5 kids with no issues. 

AngryCorvair (Forum Supporter)
AngryCorvair (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
2/19/24 3:18 p.m.

minivan with powered sliding doors is the answer here.  other vehicles will work, but none will be as convenient.  embrace the minivan.

Boost_Crazy
Boost_Crazy Dork
2/19/24 3:59 p.m.

I think I've tried every flavor of family truckster with 3 kids. 

Wagon- 2005 Subaru Legacy GT wagon. By far the best to drive. It's a turbo, AWD, manual transmission car with a really big trunk. Back seat was tight with car seats/boosters.  Could fit 2 car seats with one booster. Cargo area big enough for strollers, port a cribs and such. Could mount a roof box and not need a step stool to reach it if needed. Gas mileage in the low to mid 20's
 

Full size crew cab truck- 2004 Nissan Titan. Plenty of room in the cab for 3 car seats, and could seat 3 adults up front in a pinch. Lack of secure cargo area a drawback, but never bothered with a topper or cover. Mounted a cargo box over the bed a couple times. Could tow a lot. No sports sedan, but fun to drive for such a large vehicle. Gas mileage around 12-14 average, 18-20 on trips. 
 

Small Minivan- 2002 Mazda MPV. The most car like of the non car vehicles. Great utility to size ratio, was let down by poor seating layout. 7 passenger, but only 2 in the middle and 3 in the non split folding rear. With three kids, that made packing for long trips more challenging than it needed to be. Had to use a roof mounted cargo box. Power sliding doors are awesome. Don't remember the mileage- low 20's? 

Large minivan.- 2014 Toyota Sienna. Similar utility to size ratio of the MPV, but in a bigger box. Better utility due to 3 wide middle row and split folding rear. Not as car like to drive as the MPV, but better than SUV's. Much more luggage space, never needed to put the cargo box on the roof. Very roomy and comfortable for everyone on board. Gas mileage 18-20 average. 

Midsize 8 passenger SUV- 2020 Kia Telluride. Significant trade off from the Sienna to lose the Mommy Mobile look. No sliding doors, less cargo area (depth,) not as car like to drive, but still drove very well. Plenty of people space inside and very comfortable. The highest quality vehicle of the bunch. Can tow more than a minivan, but we kept the truck for towing. Better gas mileage than the Sienna, despite being AWD. Averaged around 23-24. 

Large 8 passenger SUV- 2019 Ford Expedition Max. Max at everything- People room, comfort, cargo, towing. Drives like a truck, which was a plus for my wife. I prefer more car-like for my daily drivers. Real world gas mileage is less than expected. 15 overall average with a best hwy at just over 20. If you need to carry lots of people and their stuff, and tow- this is it. Cameras and parking sensors make this much easier to live with when parking is tight. 
 

My pick-

 

If I didn't need to haul or tow stuff and could get by with just enough- Wagon

If towing wasn't a concern and cargo/people flexibility was top- Large Minivan

If make my life easier do almost everything except fun to drive- Large SUV

If I could only have one vehicle- Crew can truck.

Note, I have not tried what might be the best option- full sized van. I was really interested in the Nissan NV passenger van, but my wife vetoed due to too much ugly. 

 

Tyler H
Tyler H UberDork
2/19/24 4:01 p.m.

Minivans are a public service to the rest of the car enthusiast community:  sliding doors are so your kids don't beat the hell out of whatever you're parked beside.

We bought a 2017 Sienna in Dec 2017, got it for $8k off MSRP.  It now has 133k on it and it has required nothing but regular maintenance.

And when the parents do get a night out on the town, you can throw 6 rowdy friends in the back.

dculberson
dculberson MegaDork
2/19/24 4:05 p.m.

I can't imagine daily driving an Excursion; compared to a Grand Caravan that's $4,000+/year in additional fuel costs. And a minivan isn't exactly a gas sipper.

We have loved our Grand Caravan despite Dodge issues. I've replaced the thermostat, rear brakes, and two (of three) HVAC motors, along with scheduled maintenance. But it's been comfortable and extremely practical. Ours is a 2016 and just hit 106k. While the repairs haven't been terrible, they're a lot more than I'm used to coming from Toyota/Lexus. The power doors are amazing with the kids, and as i've mentioned here before I use the stow and go feature at least every other week.

We also have a 2014 Volt that we love. Those two make a perfect "reliable daily driver car stable" for a family of four. Then we have two fun cars. The ergonomics on the Volt are not exactly great (the combination of touch screen and two dozen touch-sensitive "buttons" and GM's poor design skills means settings are always a hunt instead of just knowing how to do things) and I'd prefer if the hatch was more of a wagon rear end (this definitely has the over-sloped hatch problem you mentioned), but it was inexpensive and has been super practical and comfortable for us. 100mpg lifetime average and nowadays 90% of our driving is off the plug in electric motor. At 72k miles it's needed nothing in terms of repairs just scheduled maintenance. If we do a road trip in it, it still gets ~40mpg running all gas with no plugin.

XLR99 (Forum Supporter)
XLR99 (Forum Supporter) SuperDork
2/19/24 4:32 p.m.

+1 on van with power doors. We rotated thru several Odysseys and Caravans duing the kid years.  We could either get two kids, two greyhounds and a week's worth of stuff, or the 4 us us plus my parents

Another benefit - when you're doing football taxi, the miniature gorillas are less likely to destroy your door handles and doors if you control them.  (However, I did once get about 1000lb of 7th graders into a GTI). One of my daughter's friends ripped a door handle off my wife's Sorento once.

Funny about the Souls-my son and a bunch of friends just got back from AZ, and he had a Soul rental car.  He started the week complaining, but actually loved it after 1500mi.

ShinnyGroove (Forum Supporter)
ShinnyGroove (Forum Supporter) Dork
2/19/24 4:44 p.m.

We probably drove our Odyssey and Sienna a combined 400k miles.  Absolutely stellar family vehicles, never had a complaint about either of them.  If I didn't have teenagers that were in the process of leaving the nest I might still (happily) be driving one.

Ranger50
Ranger50 MegaDork
2/19/24 5:00 p.m.

Lowered Tahoe/Suburban. DoD delete and cam swap. 83# injectors. Turbo. Tune. 

ProDarwin
ProDarwin MegaDork
2/19/24 5:14 p.m.
Colin Wood said:
ProDarwin said:

Had a 5spd 2.2L VUE and it was similar to the Soul in the "extremely underwhelming" category, but a ton of bang for the buck from a utility standpoint.

Can confirm as my parents bought a 5-speed Vue after having a Saturn SL for many years. Definitely underwhelming, but it made quite a few trips from Southwest Florida to Daytona Beach (when my brother was in college) and St. Augustine (when I was in college) and back with very little issue.

One thing they have  that I really miss (wish the Soul had this) is a fold-flat passenger seat.

1988RedT2
1988RedT2 MegaDork
2/19/24 5:14 p.m.

Was lucky to buy the last of the line 2005 Mazda MPV ES--the ultimate evolution of the minivan concept.  Perfect size, adequate driving dynamics, low-mid 20's MPG--a well-executed compromise.  And it is all about compromise.  The MPV gave us 14 years of faithful service. 

The Sienna is a nice bus, but drives like one.

I wouldn't advise anyone with a growing family to buy anything else, unless you can afford to feed a full-size like the Suburban.

Peabody
Peabody MegaDork
2/19/24 5:19 p.m.
ProDarwin said:


If I were choosing a family car at this point it would be a GTI or a Mazda 3

Thatt'll never work

I was pretty sure that, because of our economic situation, and my penchant for practicality, when our kids were small we had a series of 2dr hatchbacks. But I must be mistaken because every time I mention it I'm told how that would never work, and I'm pretty sure it worked rather well. Sadly, that's not really an option these days, so I'd recommend some sort of full size truck, preferably something with 2500, Ranch or HD in the name.

John Welsh
John Welsh Mod Squad
2/19/24 5:22 p.m.

If price were no object...Recent Toyota Sienna Hybrid Minivan.  For something that big, 36 mpg is amazing!  

For me, in 2020, the answer was 2019 Dodge Grand Caravan.  I have written about it in this thread.  It was bought during "the great rental car offload" when people stopped flying/traveling during the early days of covid.  So, "value" had a big impact on my decision.  Paid $15k w/40k miles.  Today, 4 years later and now near 80k it is still worth pretty much the same $15k.  

If you do consider a Mopar Minivan, look at this thread where I highlight some of the package differences such as what they strip from the price leader package know as The American Value Package.  

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