Is there a family-sized Echo substitute?
November 17, 2009 7:36 PM   Subscribe

Our family has grown 50% this year. Sadly, the laws of science are a harsh mistress, and my Toyota Echo is unable to grow at the same rate. What car would you recommend to replace it?

The new car will serve two main roles: As my car-about-town (dropping off Baby at daycare, commuting to work, assorted errands) and as the Family Trip Vehicle. We became convinced of the need for a larger car after the last family trip, when Baby's various gear, plus our own luggage, threatened to overflow our larger car, a Honda Accord. The need to replace the Echo (rather than the accord) became apparent when it turned out that our rear-facing infant seat only fits in the car if you move the front passenger seat so far forward that there's no room for a front passenger. So the Echo is out, and the new car needs to provide more space than the Accord, in order to work for trips (plus the potential future addition of Baby Two).

Here's the thing: I love the Echo. It's the first and only car I've owned; it's a 2001 purchased new, so I've had lots of time to grow attached. I'm not in love with my car specifically, but its features. I'd like for the new car to have as many of the features I love about the Echo as possible. There's a lot of cars out there, so can you help me narrow down the list, based on what I like about the Echo?

- I love having the instrument console in the middle of the dashboard, instead of on the other side of the steering wheel. I find the steering wheel keeps me from seeing the speedometer when I drive the wife's Accord. (I'm not aware of anyone but Toyota doing this in the US, though, and I think only on the Prius, which may not have the space we're looking for.)
- The visibility is tremendous (I suspect due to the high ceiling) - when I've driven rentals of various makes, they've made me feel like I'm looking through a tunnel to see what's behind me. In the Echo, I always know what's around me.
- The upright seating is great. In other cars I often feel too reclined; I like how my joints can make right angles in the Echo. This, too, may be due to the unusually high roof.
- I love how efficient it is. 32 mpg city! Woo! I know a larger car means lower efficiency, but I just get depressed at the idea of buying a car half as efficient after the industry should have been advancing for eight years. So decent mileage would be nice (I recognize I may have to revise my concept of "decent," since I'm in the habit of sneering at 27 mpg)
- Lots of convenient compartments!

It's just a great little car. Basically, the only problem is the "little" part of that sentence. What should I be looking at for a replacement that will hold Baby?

Inflexible requirements for the new car are: more space than the Accord and automatic transmission. Bonus points for safety and efficiency. We're pretty much imagining something in the wagon/crossover categories, but we're flexible on style.
posted by nickmark to Travel & Transportation (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
get a mazda 6.
posted by Frasermoo at 7:43 PM on November 17, 2009

sorry, mazda 6 wagon.
posted by Frasermoo at 7:46 PM on November 17, 2009

Wait. Two adults with ONE baby makes your Echo too small?

Can you reconsider how much gear you're carrying for this superspy 007 baby?

I'm reminded of family members who had their first child and carried about six suitcases of "essentials". By the time they had their third kid, it was down to one shoulder bag.
posted by rokusan at 8:11 PM on November 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

Since you like the Echo, the current model Yaris sedan has a long wheelbase and surprisingly large amounts of boot storage (12.9 cu. ft.).
posted by cwhitfcd at 8:30 PM on November 17, 2009

Mazda 6 wagon is only going to be available as a used car, FYI.

I really like my Nissan Versa; lots of luggage space, great crash test ratings, lots of room in the back seat, surprisingly upscale for the price (price on par with a Honda Fit or Toyota Yaris.)

This car has done well by us for twins, so it should do well for you.
posted by davejay at 9:16 PM on November 17, 2009

Matix? Corolla?
posted by defcom1 at 9:27 PM on November 17, 2009

D'oh. Matrix
posted by defcom1 at 9:27 PM on November 17, 2009

I have a baby and a VW Bug. Strollers and gear fit fine.
posted by k8t at 9:28 PM on November 17, 2009

We had the same situation with a Corolla. No matter where we put the baby seat in back, the front passenger seat became completely unusable. We ended up going with a Honda CRV, which we love, but it does take a hit with mileage. If you're interested in the Prius, take a test drive. We were pleasantly surprised at how much space there is in the back seat. Good luck!
posted by sapere aude at 9:57 PM on November 17, 2009

The prius has tons of space in the back. Don't rule it out without a test drive. We fit 3 kids in the back of ours. One in a rear-facing seat, one forward-facing, and one with a booster. There is plenty of trunk space too, it fits a stroller and a pack'n'play.
posted by hariya at 10:41 PM on November 17, 2009

The wife and I rented a Mazda 5 last weekend. I was impressed. It is a sort of mini-mini van with two bucket seats in front, two bucket seats in back, and a jump seat in the large cargo area. Big head room and fun to drive. Go give one a test drive.
posted by LarryC at 11:37 PM on November 17, 2009

Try the original Scion xB. It's efficient, roomy, has lots of visibility, and upright seating. 6-ft adults have lots of leg room even in the back seat. All seats fold flat for more storage room, and the gauge cluster is in the center. I would recommend the manual over the auto, though, but it's always been my opinion that small cars with small engines should be manual.
posted by TrialByMedia at 1:22 AM on November 18, 2009

Seconding Scion xB.
posted by dzaz at 3:27 AM on November 18, 2009

The Matrix would be a good choice, though it does not have the instrument panel in the center. Front visibility is great, without that tunnel-like feeling (I know what you mean from driving other cars as rentals). When we first got it, it took a little while to get accustomed to the visibility pattern in the back, but now I'm used to it--I think that's the case for me with any unfamiliar car, thought. My husband and I are both tall (6'2" and 5'10" respectively) and the headroom is fine, so I'll bet it'll be good for you too. On a related note this means we both need the front seats as far back as possible, and that impacts the space for the kids in the back.

We got a 2009 Matrix this summer, which replaced a 1995 Corolla. We have two elementary-aged kids, still using car seats/boosters. The Corolla was always OK for the baby seats, et all, but it was getting mighty tight in the back seatas the kids are getting taller. The Matrix's interior is substantially more roomy and the kids aren't smushed in as they used to be in the Corolla.

Both the Corolla and the Matrix get good mileage, but I'd say if you're planning for the long term, get the latter. We also like the flexibility of the hatchback with the fold-down back seats--the Corollas always have limited trunk space.

This is always a big decision--good luck finding the right car for you.
posted by Sublimity at 4:39 AM on November 18, 2009

I have three children, one in an infant seat, one school-aged, one pre-teen and a jogging stroller (I am a medium size amazon and my husband is built like a brick shithouse). We go camping and take extended trips in our Yaris hatchback. Pack lighter and more efficiently. YMMV.
posted by saucysault at 5:04 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I adored our Pontiac Vibe until it got totaled in an accident.. We replaced it with a Scion xD and I like that a lot too.
posted by Lucinda at 5:06 AM on November 18, 2009

No suggestions on the car, but I agree that it might be possible for you to cut down on what you take with you when you travel. For a long time we rented various cars from various manufacturers with varying amounts of room, but never larger than an economy size unless we upgraded because there weren't any economy cars available. It took some thinking and my husband's awesome packing skills but we were able to fit all of the following in all of the economy sized cars we rented:

Carseat with baby
Backpack carrier complete with diapers and other necessary baby supplies
My husband's backpack
Two pet carriers with bunnies (1 with 2, one with one) -- one carrier strapped in the front passenger seat, the other strapped behind the driver's seat. I would sit behind the front passenger seat in the back with the baby.
My purse
Bag of hay (the remains of a 9 lb bag, so maybe 5 lbs or 4 lbs or wheverer we were)
Bunny cage
Bag of pellets
Shit-ton of laundry to do at my parents (like three weeks worth of clothes for the two of us and the baby)
Appropriate baby toys (just a couple to keep him entertained on the ride)
Appropriate bunny toys

We now own a 92 (I think, maybe 93) Toyota Camry, and when went away for Columbus Day, we got all of this into our car, too. What takes up most of the room is the stuff for the rabbits --- if we're taking a daytrip, it's a couple of toys and the backpack carrier.

Of course, if you just want to get a new car, then that's a different story. But based on the reasoning for the new car, I don't think you need to get one if you pack differently.
posted by zizzle at 6:26 AM on November 18, 2009

We are considering a replacement for my Saturn, and I recently drove the new GMC Terrain. I liked it because of the visibility and the right angles you mention, plus it has plenty of room (we also have the rear-facing pumpkin seat causes us to put the passenger seat in the windshield issue; that was fixed in the Terrain). We are also toting a dog around with us, so we liked the bigger vehicle for that. Gets good gas mileage, comfy drive, interesting instrument panel (I can't remember if it's in the middle, but the door locks were).

Also, our other car is a subaru hatchback and we love it.
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:27 AM on November 18, 2009

The Subaru Outback or Impreza Wagons are super safe, super roomy and fun little (Well, newer Outbacks aren't so little anymore) cars. I've had Subarus for the last 9 years and they are the best cars I've ever driven.
posted by getawaysticks at 6:29 AM on November 18, 2009

I think the Prius has more room than the Echo, give that a look. If you need even more room, consider the Ford Escape Hybrid. moderate gas usage and it's like a freakin' cathedral inside.
posted by jrishel at 6:40 AM on November 18, 2009

Lexus RX 450

It also has HUD so you will have no speedo issues.
posted by Zambrano at 7:57 AM on November 18, 2009

We had a Prius and it was surprisingly roomy-more room in the back than our '05 Forester. I'd recommend it. Ours was totalled in a nasty collision, but we all walked away fine, so that's a plus, too. I miss it.
posted by purenitrous at 8:56 AM on November 18, 2009

Does the infant seat not fit in the middle of the back row? Also, you may be able to gain a few inches by using the seat belt to install it without the base.

I thought for sure you were going from a family of four to six when I saw the title of this question. One baby should fit in pretty much any car. (I'm sorry if I sound unsympathetic, my first "baby" was triplets, so we really did have to get rid of the Corolla.)
posted by pyjammy at 10:38 AM on November 18, 2009

They stopped making the Mazda6 Sport Wagon in 2008. We have the 2005 model and love it to death (except for the low-profile tires/rims which hate pot-holes with a passion).

Mazda makes two small crossovers, the CX-7 and the CX-9, both of which would be great choices for your growing family.

If you want a wagon as opposed to a crossover, take a look at the Subaru Outback and possibly the new Subaru Forester. Both are solid-as-rock cars that will go forever and survive the chaos that is growing children and the insane amounts of gear and bags you find yourself carting around.

The Toyota Matrix and the Pontiac Vibe are the exact same car with different names. It's another small car with a lot of room that gets decent MPG.
posted by camworld at 11:48 AM on November 18, 2009

I have a 2005 Scion xB and it fits most of your requirements (especially the dashboard and visibility, both of which I love). But its safety record isn't what I'd like, and the wayback is small. We're outgrowing it with our family of four, now that the kids need the footwells for their own legs -- it's fine for around town, but too small when on vacation or camping.

Here's a great place to compare cars side by side, so you can see how much they hold compared to your current car. (It looks like the xB is a wee bit bigger than the Echo, but not by much.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:56 PM on November 18, 2009

I'm eying the Subaru Forester (love it), the Ford Escape hybrid (eh), the VW Jetta sportswagen diesel (haven't tried one yet), and the Toyota Highlander hybrid (expensive but I really like it). None of them have the visibility of the Scion, but the Forester probably comes closest.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:02 AM on November 19, 2009

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