What's a car for a tall dad, with two carseats and two dogs?
October 2, 2013 11:01 AM   Subscribe

I'm the dad of a growing family - a two-year-old, a baby about to be born, and a wife. And two small dogs. We need a family car, and are looking for something that will accommodate: * Dogs in the back (a wagon or hatchback) * Two rear-facing carseats. * A tall (6'3") man in a front seat.

Our old Scion xB was great until we put in the second rear-facing carseat, and things were just too tight for me in the front. Is there any (non-minivan, non-SUV) alternative?

Would love to hear from tall folks with carseats and Mazda5s, Outbacks, Mercedes E-Class wagons, Ford Flexes, Priuses, etc. Please save me from a world tour of car dealerships carrying carseats.
posted by YoungAmerican to Travel & Transportation (34 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
How about an Acura TSX Sport Wagon?

Deeply unpopular in the US, you may be able to make hella deal on one from 2013 or even 2012 (NEW!)

You'll get plenty of room, Honda reliability and the interior finishes of an Acura.

I just got a new Civic base model and I'm insane about the backup camera! (The point is, I'm in the lowest end vehicle and it doesn't feel that way.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:07 AM on October 2, 2013

Response by poster: Oh wow, RB, didn't even know those existed. Will definitely look at them. Was wishing I could just buy an Accord wagon like the one my dad drove for 230,000 miles.
posted by YoungAmerican at 11:09 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Volvo XC70 wagon. My son is your height, his wife is 5'10", they have two kids in carseats. There is room in the way back for dogs.

However, I must say that as a visiting grandma riding in the back between the two car seats I felt claustrophobic. They, like you, have an aversion to minivans.
posted by mareli at 11:11 AM on October 2, 2013

This is MY top choice for a vehicle and I have no children nor do I have any dogs.

Also, I've owned a Mercedes E-Class. Fun to drive right up until it needed a repair. Can you say "Money Pit?"

Congrats on the expansion of your family.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:11 AM on October 2, 2013

Volvo wagon. I'm 6'3" - my 850 is the bees knees. Newer models like the XC70 are even nicer.
posted by stenseng at 11:16 AM on October 2, 2013

I had a 2012 Outback (but sold it, I thought it drove too much like an SUV and in general was just quite boring). I feel like it was just big enough for what you describe (my family is not quite so big). The Prius is going to be way too small. My Audi Allroad would actually do quite well I think, but they don't sell them here anymore (the new one for 2013 is actually smaller). You probably don't want to put two little kids and two dogs in a $60k Mercedes wagon because they will ruin it.

I have actually been looking at bigger vehicles lately, and it turns out that most options are midsize crossovers and SUVs. Some of them don't actually get that much worse milage than the bigger wagons, though, if that's your main concern. My current favorites with 5 seats are the Jeep Grand Cherokee and VW Touareg. With three rows I like the Chevy Traverse/GMC Acadia and the Ford Explorer. I know I'm looking highly American-biased here, but mostly I find the Japanese vehicles, especially in the segment, boring and the German ones expensive.

If I absolutely had to avoid a crossover/SUV, I'd be looking at the Cadillac CTS wagon and Mercedes E-class wagon, because they're the *ONLY* full-size wagons currently for sale in the US. They're also both quite pricey. You could argue that the Outback and XC70 are wagons, or that they're crossovers. They'd be worth looking at. Personally I think the XC70 is too expensive for what you get, and like I said, I thought my Outback was too SUV-y, and if I wanted that, I'd rather just get an SUV. I think you're going to find hatchbacks and midsize wagons quite a tight fit once you get both kids and both dogs in there.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 11:18 AM on October 2, 2013

Subaru Outback and Volvo XC70 seem the obvious choices. I'd also suggest you check out the Venza. It's got a touch of SUV to it that might be a turn off, but damn is it roomy and comfortable.

I can pretty much guarantee that a Prius is going to be too small for a rear-facing car seat behind a 6'3" driver. I have a Mazda3, which is a tight fit in this scenario for me at 5'11". According to the interior dimensions at MotorTrend the Mazda actually has a slightly longer cabin than the Prius, despite the Prius's reputation as roomy.
posted by 256 at 11:31 AM on October 2, 2013

I have an Equinox and the leg and head room in unreal. It is the only car that I have ever been in where a 6'5" person can sit behind a 6'8" who's driving and have enough leg room (tall family). We have also had no trouble fitting 2 rear facing huge Britax car seats in the back (don't even have to move the front seats forward).
posted by saradarlin at 11:33 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Correction: I misread the numbers. The Prius actually has an extra 0.3 inches of combined front/back legroom (the relevant measure) on the Mazda3. That still pretty clearly makes it a no-go. The Venza has about an inch on the Prius, so even that might be too tight.

Still, I'd say that checking interior specs on MotorTrend might be the best timesaver.
posted by 256 at 11:38 AM on October 2, 2013

Toyota Rav-4? We recently just bought a 2006 Rav and love it. I'm 6'1, and have no issues with legroom, with 6' plus tall friends able to sit behind me when I'm driving with no issues. Can't say much about carseats, but our dogs are happy in the back with lots of cargo room to spare. I tried a couple different wagons (matrix, outback, impreza) and ultimately really liked how the rav drives, despite it being a small suv.
posted by snowysoul at 11:39 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

So I've spent a while poking around on MotorTrends for you now and, if you're willing to buy a 5-year old car, the 2008 Dodge Magnum looks like a very good fit.

2008 was the last year they made it though, before replacing it with the much more SUVesque Journey.

And if you're looking for a "sleeper," the Magnum also came in an SRT8 version that was named Best New Modern Muscle Car in 2006.
posted by 256 at 11:57 AM on October 2, 2013

Suburu Forester, since it's like an Outback but with extra headroom.
posted by w0mbat at 12:11 PM on October 2, 2013

We recently rented a Ford Flex for a weekend bachelor party. It fit seven large men comfortably, including behind the driver with the front seat all the way back. Handling was surprisingly nimble for such a boat of a car. We drove it up twisty mountain roads at night.
posted by hamsterdam at 12:29 PM on October 2, 2013

I'm a pretty tall dude (6' 2") that just purchased a Ford C-Max, and I'm very pleased with it. Lots of headroom, and induces none of the leg-awkwardness that I encounter when getting into (almost) anything smaller than an SUV. The back seat is roomier than most vehicles in its class, and fold down completely flat, extending the cargo space all the way up to the front seats if needed.

Getting 47-50 MPG on my commute is what sealed the deal for me, though.
posted by BrandonW at 12:38 PM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

My husband is 6'4", we have a Mazda 5; it worked fine with a rear-facing car seat behind the tall person. (I am 5'2" so it doesn't matter what's behind me!) Now that our older child can sit in a booster, the third row has become AWESOME because we can put him all the way back there and other adults can ride with us! But using a five-point-harness car seat in the third row every day is impractical, so that'd definitely be your dog-hauling space.

But! Everyone I know with dogs who considered your options went with the Subaru Outback with the doggie divider (a K-9-cop-style screen that divides the cargo area from the rear seats, so the dog can ride in the back and not do whatever dogs do when they can run around the car freely) and LOVES IT AND WANTS TO MARRY IT. We have close friends where the husband is 6'3" and in your double car-seat situation and he drives the Outback just fine. Most of my friends with the Outback have bigger dogs, which I think the doggie-divider feature is especially nice for; it might be overkill for smaller dogs and you might want the more-people-hauling options of the Mazda 5.

When we were trying to pick what family car to buy, we rented the Mazda 5 for a weekend trip to grandma's so we could try it out over a longer period of time than a dealer drive and see how it worked with the carseats and luggage and all. I don't think I'll ever buy a car again without renting it first to give it a test run, we felt a lot more confident in the decision. (I also ended up buying it through hertz rent-2-buy, where you rent a rental car in the program in the normal fashion, and if you like it, you just keep that specific car and they start sending you paperwork to buy the car, and knock the rental price off your purchase price. If you don't like it or aren't sure, you just return it and pay normal rental. It worked out well for us and I'd recommend the program, with a few caveats, you can memail me if you like.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:41 PM on October 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

We have that same situation; we previously had an Outback and a Rav4. The Outback was uncomfortably small; the Rav was just about right. We recently traded the Rav for a Chevy Equinox and we LOVE it. LOVE. It has just the right amount of room, is very comfortable, drives like a dream, and we are averaging 26/32 MPG. We can fit a third person in the back seat when necessary. The GMC Terrain is basically the same vehcile. I know you said no SUV, but, really, check it out. The back seat slides forward and backward, depending on if you want the dog in the backseat or the way way back, or if you need the cargo room. There's a roof rack for if you're traveling with dogs AND a ton of luggage. It's just been so so great.

Before buying we also took it for a long ride - not the weekend, but we had it from the dealer for several hours with both kids. The dealer was great about it.

I drove a lot of cars - Mazdas, Acuras, Fords, Volvos. The only other car we even considered was the new Impala. Beautiful and roomy - but probably not enough with the dogs.
posted by dpx.mfx at 1:06 PM on October 2, 2013

I have a 2011 Subaru Outback and a 2014 Subaru Forester, both of which should easily fit your criteria. We just replaced a Mazda5 with the Forester. I'm only 5'10" but was uncomfortable in the Mazda with a rear-facing car seat behind me.

The Forester has more headroom and sits a little higher than the Outback and the Subaru AWD is unparalleled.
posted by Jacob G at 1:35 PM on October 2, 2013

I would also suggest the Subaru Forester. Having owned one for about 18 months now, it doesn't drive like an SUV at all. Lots of room and wonderfully flexible; we fit an entire entertainment center in (at something like 6' long) and closed the back hatch.

Really, you can't go wrong with a Subaru. As famous Subaru owner Jeff Tweedy says (on a Jeff Garlin podcast), "I can't help it if Subaru makes a fantastic automobile."
posted by Madamina at 2:05 PM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

came in to suggest the Mazda 5 9(it is the least minivan minivan out there), but eyebrows already did it, and then suggest the Honda element. It is more breadvan than SUV, and it has INSANE amounts of space and is super easy to clean out. It became such an iconic dog person vehicle that Honda actually made a dog special option package.
posted by bartonlong at 2:17 PM on October 2, 2013

Also came to suggest the Subaru Forester. My parents have had one of the very first 90s ones(i think it's a 99?) since i was a kid.

Tons of head/leg/everything room, decent gas mileage, dog divider pops in, big back seat. It's a pretty small car, drives like a car(and is incredibly comfortable/easy to drive, i learned to drive on it and an 80s tercel. It drives nicer than most cars i've driven) and most importantly has been cheap to maintain and incredibly reliable. The forester is a lot taller and roomier inside than the legacy since the entire car is just... a different shape. Don't let a bad experience with the space inside of one deter you from the other.

Like the guy above i'm 6'2, and i can jump right in to the thing like speed racer. Other than my enormous, boat like 60s plymouth i often get horribly wedged getting in to any other car. I love driving the forester. I can just completely lounge back and everything is in the right place. The only other car i've experienced that with is a volvo, and those both aren't what they used to be and are in a completely different price bracket.

My parents forester has something like 210k miles on it and everything is still tight and works great. One of the speakers came a bit loose and rattles and a couple other bits make an odd noise here or there(which the mechanic has assured is normal for it's age and not an issue), that's pretty much it. Rock solid and still gets north of 30mpg. Pulls hard and smooth, shifts gears smoothly, AWD/the diffs are still strong, seats haven't ripped ANYWHERE and are still comfortable as hell. And they survived my ball of energy corgi, my stupid teenage years, and many other things. The only thing to ever actually fully break was the clock above the mirror, and the alarm system quit once.

It's absolutely stomped many newer cars i've seen in reliability. Pretty much anything you can think of. My parents will probably still be driving that car in 10 years.

Oh! And to directly address the car seat behind the driver thing: I've had my friend who is also 6'2 with long legs directly behind me while i was driving. I actually had the seat further back than i even needed to. I also at one point had his dad behind me, who is a similar height and a pretty big guy. Still no issues. Getting 3 people into the back also isn't a problem. It's not 7 series/S class no ones elbows are hitting material but it's a lot better than any other car that size. Also unlike a lot of cars that size, the back seats are actually adjustable. Not just up/down, you can lean them. So you can ease the back a bit so the foot of the car seat can go a couple inches towards the back of the car. This should give you even more room.
posted by emptythought at 2:57 PM on October 2, 2013

Someone mentioned a VW Touareg and I'm going to go ahead and cross that off your list for you. I have the 2011 TDI and at 5'8" it felt OK with a rear facing Britax behind me. Any taller and I would've been kissing the dash. It IS an awesome vehicle, but for after your 2yr old is forward facing.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 3:13 PM on October 2, 2013

I was in your spot a year ago, I got a 2011 Ford Escape (the newer 2013 ones look smaller) Works great for the kids the trunk works for two small dogs. Really like the drive. It is nice and tall for head room (I'm 6'2") but is also wide so I feel like I have lots of room. My wife has RAV4 2010 that also works for us but I really feel like I'm in a cockpit with how narrow the driver seat is.
posted by dstopps at 5:39 PM on October 2, 2013

I also came in to say the Volvo XC70 -- it is extremely comfortable, but most critically for your requirements (in a couple of years), you can get one with built in booster seats and that was an astonishing life upgrade for me with just one kid (the kid, of course, thinks it's fabulous) and I think if I had more than one I would drive pretty much anything so long as it had built-in booster seats.

Things the XC70 can fit with one child in the back: a tandem kayak that comes apart into three pieces, a massive dresser with three rows of drawers (the three back seats all fold up and down individually, a plus), multiple pairs of cross-country skis. I a smaller-type person but I have ferried friends your size and a bit more so quite comfortably.

When you go to lift up the part where you think the spare tire would be, you don't immediately get to the spare. There's a little pneumatic lift for a compartmentalised storage tray. This, like the boosters, is a fabulous thing if you are a parent. (The tray lifts up easily and there is the spare, which came with a cloth bag for the old tire and a little pair of gloves.) A little light goes on near the side mirrors when somebody is in my blind spot. It is not fabulously sporty or great on gas but it is a dream family car, all safety and good handling and extra space.
posted by kmennie at 6:56 PM on October 2, 2013

I am looking for a XC70 for much of the same reasons. I think the only options are really that or the Subaru Outback. Kmennie- what year is your Volvo?
posted by sulaine at 7:04 PM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

2nd'ing the Toyota Venza. We bought a 2010 V6 AWD with NAV about six months ago and we love it. I'm not all that tall (5'10") but I still have a lot of extra headroom. My dad drove it back from Tennessee for us and he's 6'4" and said he had plenty of room. It's a crossover but it's still more like 80% car and 20% SUV. Our large, 80 Lbs Akita fits in the back really well so I think you'd have room for two small dogs and two kid's worth of kid paraphernalia in the back. Their target market for the car is actually older, socially active adults so it's designed to fit four adults. I'm sure will fit two adults and two car seats with plenty of extra space.

It rides well and handles competently (like more Toyotas) and the interior is really nice. Its lifted from the Lexus side of the company. We average 20mpg but that's because almost all of the driving is my wife's four mile commute. My dad got closer to 25mpg (maybe 27) on the Trip to Minnesota from Tennessee.
posted by VTX at 7:16 PM on October 2, 2013

My dad is 6'3", and he loves his Subaru Outback. My brother is 6'5" and folds himself into an Accord (I think) from some years back. I am 6' and drive a Camry from a decade ago.

Are you going on the reputation of imports as small cars, or have you actually sat in them and felt the head liner stretch (as happened to my family's cars as long as I can remember)? :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 7:40 PM on October 2, 2013

Response by poster: If anyone specifically has experience with a rear-facing childseat + a tall person in the front, that's the key issue. I can comfortably drive lots of cars, and the family xB was wonderful for leg (and head) room until we faced two rear-facing child seats.
posted by YoungAmerican at 7:54 PM on October 2, 2013

I have to vote against the Mazda 5 in your scenario. I am 5'11" and was a bit cramped in the driver's seat. The rear facing car seat isn't the dealbreaker - the seat just doesn't slide back far enough for comfort. Maybe things have changed since the 2006 model year but I doubt it. The thing is strapped on to a lengthened compact platform.

I was impressed by the legroom in my aunt's BMW. I would consider looking at the 3- or 5-series touring models if you are up in that price range and firmly against the SUV.
posted by crazycanuck at 5:17 AM on October 3, 2013

I actually drive a 2005 Ford Focus Wagon, which works well with one large rear facing car seat (one of the Britax seats). I have also had a infant bucket rear-facing which did take more space, but not so much that it was uncomfortable in the front. I have also had two seats installed together in the back (one in middle, one side) and had room for a passenger in the back too. I am tall (not 6'3" but 5'10" and I prefer the seat back and have really struggled with car seats and having enough space). As far as fit for the car seats, me, dog and other stuff, the Focus Wagon is great. I want a car with more comfortable seats and a bit more oomph- which is why I am looking at Volvo XC70.
posted by sulaine at 5:27 AM on October 3, 2013

Another vote for the Ford C-Max Hybrid. It's simply much larger than it looks in pictures. It also performs remarkably well for a hybrid - I was quite impressed with the room and styling, and I'm about your size.

I liked the Dodge Magnum I rented once. Tons and tons of room. Felt like a MAN'S station wagon. But, Dodge cars ain't exactly the most fuel-efficient. And I've not found the quality to be particularly high.

But definitely fun to drive.
posted by Thistledown at 5:28 AM on October 3, 2013

Mazda CX5 .good space, mazda driveability and good gas mileage.
posted by radsqd at 7:08 AM on October 3, 2013

Why not bring a car seat with you and go check out some cars to see if it fits? That way you can see if it fits with the seats in the position that you personally like to have it in.

I can tell you as a former car salesman that it would not be at all unusual.
posted by VTX at 7:40 AM on October 3, 2013

we have a rear facing britax (boulevard maybe?) and a graco infant seat. my husband is six feet. he had to sit uncomfortably close to the wheel with the car seats behind him in his outback, my rav, and the mazdas we drove (we did not drive the 5, only the cx5, cx9 and 6). In the equinox, with either seat behind him, he could still back up the driver's seat few inches if he wanted. his parents have a prius; it is uncomfortable for him to drive with the seats behind him; was ok with one in the middle, and is okay with a forward one behind him. The new impala was ok with seats but again, not with the dogs.
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:04 AM on October 3, 2013

sulaine -- 2008

Funny enough my previous car was a 2005 Focus wagon. Which I also liked a lot, sturdy and reliable. You would definitely get "more comfortable seats" (like WOW more comfortable) and plenty more oomph out of an XC70. It's quite a bit bigger and more gas-guzzly, also a much smoother, quieter, safer ride.
posted by kmennie at 9:31 AM on October 3, 2013

« Older Sync Outlook with iPhone/Gmail/iCloud. Difficulty...   |   Rocket fuel from dirt... Let's cook! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.