help me find my perfect vehicle
July 30, 2012 8:46 PM   Subscribe

I have a 4 yo and another on the way. We camp a lot. We have a VW jetta wagon, but it's getting cramped and we need something bigger. I like the Mazda 5 but my wife thinks it's "too minivan looking." ANy suggestions for maxi-wagons that have that third row of seating that can fold down into cargo space? We do not want an SUV but may have to consider something on the small end of the SUV range ... and we're hoping not to spend more than 24k. Used/new/prev lease all are options.
posted by luriete to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
We have the same problem... We have a Honda Fit, which is not great for camping. However, we don't drive much (half the yearly rated kilometers so far), so didn't want to buy another vehicle. We invested in roof racks and a large cargo shell.

However, if I was to get another car, it would be a Mazda 5 (surprisingly, less cargo space than a Honda Fit), or a Kia Rondo.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:55 PM on July 30, 2012

We loooooove our new Subaru Forester. We bought it from a family with two young kids; they have another Subaru as well. Ours is three years old; we got it just under 30,000 miles and it was a smidge under $20k via Craigslist. It'll last forever, and Subarus keep their value much better than many other cars.
posted by Madamina at 9:06 PM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

ADORE my Mazda 5. Have your wife attempt putting children in car seats with the sliding doors and then ask how she feels about its minivan-ish-ness. My husband says the Mazda 5 is worth it for the sliding doors alone, after trying to load small children in swing-open doors in our last car. SLIDING DOORS 4EVA!

Everyone I know with a Subaru Outback (seats 5, no third row, but you can put a dog divider in the back!) loves it to bits and pieces.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:09 PM on July 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

We are a family of four with one car, a Honda Fit. We camp a bunch, too. For a few years, we relied on roof racks and a large bag. We recently bought a small trailer. We can carry everything we need when we camp, and leave the trailer at home the rest of the time.

Apologies if this is not answering your question, but I do think the expensive, practical solution is a minivan.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:13 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I asked about cars and kids recently. And, in the end, I decided to stick with my small sedan and the roof carrier. I looked at the increased cost of mileage and it just didn't make sense. I have as much or more storage with my Thule roof racks than I could get in the Mazda 5. I highly recommend trying out the roof carrier before you upgrade to a new car, as it will cost you only a few hundred dollars and you could always sell it or use it on a future vehicle.

(Unless you simply must have sliding doors, which are awesome.)
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:17 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Personally I love the idea of sliding doors, especially when I'm trying to park somewhere tight and get a kid in or out, but my wife isn't sold on them. I think she thinks she'll become middle-aged instantly upon owning a minivan (note: we ARE middle-aged, but good for her, she feels a lot younger).

Was amazed to see the Mazda 5, loaded with options, for 21k at Costco. There is a pared-down Outback new for about 24k, I bet I could get a year-old previous lease with low mileage for under 21k.
posted by luriete at 9:22 PM on July 30, 2012

I've enjoyed the Ford Flex I've gotten when renting a vehicle for camping. It's sort of a minivan-stationwagon hybrid, third row folds down flat. Lots of space.
posted by furtive at 9:31 PM on July 30, 2012

If you need the 3rd row for people ever, the Mazda 5 really is the best answer. Even then, it's a bit tight to put actual people in the 3rd row if you have 2 carseats installed in the 2nd -- but it is ideal for occasional extra kids and adults. If the 3rd row is all about storage, then you have lots of other options (wagons, SUVs, etc.).

But honestly -- my kids are a little older and we held out in our old Honda Civic for a while, but the Mazda 5 was a godsend. Sliding doors -- you'll never go back. Your back will thank you. You can park in spaces only a few inches longer than a Honda Civic. It works great for camping. I even like the look -- somehow it feels OK to me and not too mini-van-like, even though it really is a mini-mini-van.

My only complaint is that it lacks a bit of pep -- it's not terrible, but you will likely notice a difference coming from a Jetta. Otherwise it's the perfect all-around family car.
posted by feckless at 9:37 PM on July 30, 2012

I have a 2001 Outback, and I love it. I've spent several nights in it during road trips - the bottom backseat cushion flips up, the seatbacks fold down, and you have a flat sleeping area with a good bit of room. It's got good cargo space, and there's tons of roof rack accessories available for it.
posted by azpenguin at 9:40 PM on July 30, 2012

Has she seen the 5 in person, or just in photos? Because I think it looks a lot less van-like in the steel.

Also, the Mazda 5 is probably the most fun to drive "mini van" on the market. It handles really well, it's basically a Mazda 3 with an extended body package.
posted by hwyengr at 10:05 PM on July 30, 2012

We have both an '07 Mazda 5 and an '05 Forester. They are both fabulous cars and I recommend them without hesitation. If you think you might ever need to drive an additional kid, the Forester won't seat more than 2 kids if they at in carseats.
posted by purenitrous at 10:34 PM on July 30, 2012

We've got a Forester and love it. If you're looking for something bigger I have a few friends who are driving the Chevrolet Traverse (3 rows of seating) and can be had for not a lot more money than a Forester
posted by Beacon Inbound at 12:03 AM on July 31, 2012

We recently replaced our aging BMW 3-series wagon, about the same size as your car, with a Subaru Outback. It's enough bigger that we were able to do our winter relocation drive (to snow country) without either using a ski rack or putting stuff in a rooftop bladder. Even then, the kitty had more headroom from his various perches atop the load than he had enjoyed with the BMW. It's a nice car, despite its reduced pick-up, but if you want a manual transmission, be aware that the top trim package (the only one with leather seats) only comes with paddle shifters, for some stupid reason. The manual versions of the other two trim packages have sticks.
posted by carmicha at 4:36 AM on July 31, 2012

Honda Pilot or CRV?
posted by Thorzdad at 4:41 AM on July 31, 2012

We went outback for our very similar needs, but we had no desire for the third row seating. Still, it's the best large wagon you're going to find. I know the rav4 and Kia sorento both have third row seats, I think that's about as small as you're going to get with third row options.
posted by smalls at 5:44 AM on July 31, 2012

For a camping family, I'd heartily recommend the Honda Element.
posted by browse at 5:48 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just spent a couple of weeks with my son and his family. They have a 3 yr. old and a newborn. Their car is a newer Volvo wagon, probably bigger than most of the cars mentioned above. Two carseats take up most of the back seat, leaving barely enough room for a slender adult between them. If you ever have grandparents or others flying in for a visit, or ever need to drive an extra kid around you're better off with a minivan. Test drive a couple, your wife might be pleasantly surprised. Forget about image, think about convenience. I'm partial to Toyota Siennas. I know quite a few artists and skilled craftsfolk who drive minivans because they drive like cars but double as pickup trucks for hauling stuff around.
posted by mareli at 7:31 AM on July 31, 2012

As a couple in our 40's with no kids, owning two Dodge Caravans has only had a positive effect on our lives. :-)

I hope to someday replace those with a Honda Element or Pilot.
posted by humboldt32 at 8:48 AM on July 31, 2012

I have a 2010 Mazda5 and a 2011 Subaru Outback and love them both.

I would take your wife to test-drive the Mazda5 and see if she changes her mind. Offer to get her flame decals or something to make it less minivan-ish.
posted by Jacob G at 10:05 AM on July 31, 2012

honda fit = no third row
c-rv= no third row

pilot = third row
mazda = third row
posted by couchdive at 10:11 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm with your wife, the Mazda 5 looks atrocious. Sorry.

I also camp a good amount and we used to have a Mazda 3 until we recently had our #2, at which point we got a Subaru Outback due to space issues. We love this car.
    * We can fit two car seats next to each other in the backseat and get a third person back there. * The trunk space has more than enough room for all our stuff. * MPG is upper 20s --> 30s * biggest con you will read about is "not enough power" but I can say with certainty that with the 4-cyl 2.5 engine you have a great amount of power

posted by zombieApoc at 11:40 AM on July 31, 2012

freakin love my 2008 mazda5. took it camping last week with 3 kids
posted by tiburon at 2:10 PM on August 1, 2012

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