former hipster seeks family car with function
May 12, 2012 4:56 PM   Subscribe

Does this car exist (USA)? 4 wheel drive, third row seating, manual transmission? No sliding doors; I don't want a minivan. Help me maintain my dignity while driving kids around, please.

We are a die-hard Subaru family in need of a third row, but the Tribeca only comes with a slushbox. Feeling overwhelmed by the crossover/small SUV market, just trying to figure out whether ANYTHING meets our three basic requirements, or if we should suck it up and go automatic.
posted by iscatter to Shopping (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Mazda5. Okay, it is basically a minivan, but not a terribly dull one, and no sliding doors.
posted by Tomorrowful at 5:00 PM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had the same wish list a couple of years ago when my last beloved Subaru died, and finally compromised with a Kia Rondo. Can hold kids & stuff, but also comfortable for four adults & lots of stuff. We're still happy with it.
Too bad they stopped making them in 2009, but a gently used one would be a great family car, with real doors, hatchback, and lots of other good features.
posted by Atelerix at 5:11 PM on May 12, 2012

When we were looking at cars, the only thing we saw with third row seating that was not a van was the Mazda CX-9. We rejected it because (1) the mileage stunk (2) the car had recalls wherein the butt warmers became overzealous and were ass roasters instead (as well as some other nasty recall things).

The Mazda 5 was OK. I liked it as being a tiny minivan, but it's uncomfortable and crampt for the other adult passenger in the front. The third row seat seemed like it would work in a pinch, but was an afterthought at best. I didn't drive the manual version of it. The automatic was just as crappy as I expected a budget automatic to be.

Nissan seems to have gotten the automatic transmission 'right' in that it isn't syrupy and gets mileage that is equivalent to the stick version (!!). I don't recall any models with 3rd row seating except their minivan, but it is *very* expensive and hard to get (they don't make many of them).
posted by plinth at 5:46 PM on May 12, 2012

We have a Toyota RAV4 with third row seating. The third row is pretty much kids-only, as anyone over four feet tall will have their knees up at their ears, but it is a third row. I don't know if it's available in Manual transmission, but otherwise ticks all your boxes.
posted by ambrosia at 5:52 PM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

We are debating the Honda Pilot. We too are a Subaru family and were sad to find that the third row option without minivan was real difficult. Lexus was crap, Toyota Highlander was not enough space and the Tribeca was just so damn sad.
posted by jadepearl at 6:14 PM on May 12, 2012

As the owner of a Mazda5 (which I don't think is crappy, by the way, we actually quite like it), I can say it does have sliding doors, although in my opinion the sliding doors don't really have a huge THIS IS A MINIVAN look to them. But that 3rd row really is kind of cramped - I've sat back there and I was somewhat comfortable because I'm only 5'4". I suppose it depends on how many kids you have and how many carseats you need to have in there.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 6:14 PM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

According to Edmunds, there is one Manual AWD and the manual 4WDs are all trucklike or SUVs.
posted by rhizome at 6:36 PM on May 12, 2012

We LOVE our Honda Pilot, but I don't think it's available with manual transmission.
posted by Boogiechild at 6:37 PM on May 12, 2012

Yes, the Mazda 5 does have sliding doors, though it looks wagon-y, not minivan-y, from the outside. People are usually surprised the doors are sliding. (also, if you haven't loaded children with sliding doors, DON'T HATE. It's so much easier than with swing doors!)

The third row will fit children (in boosters or not in car seats at all) pretty comfortably. We have a baby seat and a toddler seat in the second row, and occasionally put adults in the third row for a short jaunt to a restaurant or something so everyone can go in one car, and it's fine for that, especially if you move the second row forward. But it wouldn't be comfortable for an adult in the third row to, like, drive across Iowa. Mostly I leave the third row folded flat for cargo.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:38 PM on May 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Mercedes GL 450/550 though the transmission is auto though it has a manual mode.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 6:48 PM on May 12, 2012

How about a Ford Flex? Looks like it has manual trans and AWD as options.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:04 PM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I also have a Mazda5, the GT version. Manual transmission, fun to drive, and I've done road trips with 3 adults and 3 kids.

The only downside is there isn't much trunk space at all.
posted by MiG at 7:36 PM on May 12, 2012

I have the Rav4 with a third row and a V6 engine. It drives like a dream, like a sports car. The third row does work, more or less, for an extra kid. Two back there would be hard because it's not easy to climb in/out with both third row seats up. Sometimes we stash an adult back there, but it's not really comfortable for them; and there's no handle on the inside of that back door, so someone has to close the door after them and come get them out.

It is NOWHERE near as convenient or comfortable for transporting lots of people as a minivan, but it is a joy to drive and it is cute.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:15 PM on May 12, 2012

I have access to a database of car information, and I can pretty definitively tell you that the combination of 4WD/AWD and (traditional) manual doesn't existing in a vehicle with 3rd row seating, in any vehicles made today (I only considered vehicles within a two year window around the 2012 model year). If you can live with standard transmission, your options (including minivans) for 2012 models are:

Acura MDX
Audi Q7
Buick Enclave
Cadillac Escalade
Chevy Traverse
Dodge Durango
Ford Expedition, Flex
GMC Acadia, Yukon
Hyundai Veracruz
Infiniti QX
Lincoln MKT, Navigator
Mazda CX-9
Mercedes Benz GL-Class, R-Class
Mitsubishi Outlander
Nissan Armada, Pathfinder
Subaru Tribeca
Toyota Highlander, Sequoia, Sienna

Someone upthread suggested the Flex has a manual transmission available, which is sort of true; both the Flex and the Expedition offer SelectShift transmissions with the Limited versions of their vehicles.
posted by axiom at 8:33 PM on May 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm 99% certain you're out of luck. If you want a manual vehicle with 3 rows, you're going to have to settle for sliding doors and get the 5. But in the end, compromising on the doors beats compromising on the drive, IMO.
posted by ftm at 9:35 PM on May 12, 2012

Minivans have sliding doors because they're they're awesome. IMHO it's much easier to be dignified loading kids I to a car with sliding doors than having to always worry about dinging other cars with swinging doors.

The Mazda5 is great, and comes in manual, but not AWD.
posted by zsazsa at 9:45 PM on May 12, 2012

Seriously, I suggest you get over your minivan prejudice. No one cares if you drive one. My wife said she'd never get a minivan, but as soon as she drove a Mazda5 she wanted it (not that it fits your criteria of AWD). At least take out minivans for test drives.
posted by ShooBoo at 10:35 PM on May 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

The reason we got a Mazda5 was that it has approximately the same wheel base as our Honda Civic, so it fit kid carpools without driving (and parking) like a minivan. When we want to drive extra adults around, we just move the carseats to the third row.
posted by instamatic at 5:05 AM on May 13, 2012

You need to get over yourself. I have four kids, and a Mazda MPV and Mazda5. My dignity has not suffered. I'd rather have a flat load floor of a minivan or wagon and my kids comfortable than giving a shit about what somebody else thinks of what I drive. If you don't work on your own vehicle, and would like to offer your opinion on another vehicle, it means nothing. To me, an SUV is undignified. Who wants to climb over, or fold down the second row to get to the third?

If you weren't going new, a first gen MPV would meet all but one of your requirements, as is it a minivan. The ones you'd find with a manual would only have one rear door, the later four door MPVs weren't available with a manual.

I'm 6', and sat for long periods of time in the third-row of my Mazda5. I wouldn't force my kids back there if I couldn't be comfortable. The manual is great, although Mazda treats you as if your a cheapskate, you can't get anything but the base radio or anything with the manual. The lack of space when full is easier remedied, I have a roof rack with a cargo carrier and hitch with a cargo carrier. Even with the cargo carrier on the roof, the fuel mileage (28MPG) doesn't suffer.
posted by narcoleptic at 5:51 AM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

We swore we would never drive a minivan and actually bought an Isuzu Rodeo when kid #2 came along. (This is a few years ago, obviously). Two years of lifting two kids up into an SUV was enough for us, and we traded the Rodeo for a Mazda MPV, the minivan with the soul of a sports car; zoom zoom. Actually, the reason we like the Mazda was the 3rd row seat folded under flat like the Honda minivan, but the Mazda was significantly less expensive. We loved that minivan, and would likely still be driving one if we didn't need to tow a horse trailer around these days.

You are apparently the parent of 3 kids, or soon will be. Buy the minivan and start dreaming of the mid life crisis car when the kids are of the college :)
posted by COD at 6:45 AM on May 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

You might look into the Honda Element. Mine is manual and has some kind of 4w drive that kicks in when the car thinks it needs it or something like that. I drove it up to the mountains and around Denver in snowy Colorado and it always handled great. Plus the interior is easy to clean, and you can fold the back seats against the side of the car for more room. It's ugly, but a super functional.
posted by meows at 7:31 AM on May 13, 2012

I am here to nth the minivan.

You are not what you drive. You can get minivans less expensively than a crossover SUV, especially if you get them used from a rental car company.

We rented a Town and Country last month for a drive from Atlanta to Dallas. Let me say this about that. There were 4 adults and 1 child, and we were all in love with the damn thing by the end of the trip. And we're all very hip and happening people.

What is not to love about a DVD entertainment system? The sliding doors are awesome, especially when you can operate them with a remote. Also, kids like slamming stuff around, and with an SUV you might be that jerk who dented my car in the parking lot.

Talk about comfort, 4 captain's chars and a divan in the back, plus, the seats were all stow and go, so they folded away for hauling stuff. Storage was amazing, the 11 year-old we were traveling with brought everything she ever owned plus all of her school stuff.

Milage was pretty decent and with the V6 it was pretty peppy. Loved the nav, satellite and back up camera. Stuff I hadn't even thought of.

So, rent one for a weekend and give it a try with your everyday life. If you still hate it, keep looking, but once you wrap your head around the idea, you might just LOVE it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:26 AM on May 13, 2012

Volvo XC90?
posted by the noob at 5:25 AM on May 14, 2012

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