Vehicle shopping again: utility/commuting edition.
March 17, 2017 7:54 AM   Subscribe

My '00 Outback is succumbing to rust. At the same time, my work responsibilities are changing in ways that affect vehicle choice. What appropriate models have I not thought of?

I've been driving beaters for the last 27 years, coping with their mechanical problems and changing cars more often than average. My trusty Outback has rusted past the point of cost-effective repair, and other life circumstances dictate that I upgrade to something a bit more reliable. The budget is flexible, but I occasionally haul heavy, dirty stuff like lumber, chunks of freshly-cut tree, and small pieces of machinery, so it doesn't make sense to get a newish car because I'd soon wreck its lovely interior. A pickup isn't my first choice because of limited lockable, sheltered cargo space. I commute 8 miles each way in heavy traffic, in a city of steep hills, some of which are icy and/or paved in cobblestone. I frequently parallel-park. The front passenger seat will need to fold more-or-less flat, to accommodate cargo at least 8' long. An appropriate vehicle would also be pleasant on occasional longer road trips while carrying a 30# dog and a wheelchair in addition to typical luggage, and not too high off the ground because my wife is disabled and would find a truck with big wheels and high ground clearance more challenging to get into. I'd also like to be able to tow a small trailer.

So far my list of candidates includes the Toyota Rav 4, Honda Element and CRV, Subaru Forester and maybe a newer Outback if it has a fold-down front passenger seat. I am less familiar with the offerings from Nissan and Mazda, and I am a bit paranoid about the reliability of most of the offerings from American brands. My last experience with a VW was a nightmare.

What would you suggest?
posted by jon1270 to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I drive a Toyota Sienna minivan. The back seats are removed and I haul a lot of stuff when needed. Bonus, it's very comfortable to camp in, unlike smaller SUVs. I bought my current one 9 years ago used.
posted by mareli at 8:10 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

For our terrain and need to parallel park, my Outback is amazing (as is a Forester, though Foresters are smaller). The front passenger seat of my 2010 Outback slides up and folds down a bit, but not flush. Cargo space is generous and it's no higher of the ground than the average sedan. The turning radius on all Subarus is fantastic for parallel parking and tight turns.
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:22 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

I just bought a new Forrester, but here to suggest finding another used Outback (if you can find one).
posted by hrj at 8:29 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

Consider a Ford Escape (one of the "smaller" SUVs), with the caveat that you want an older model because the quality dropped quickly after about 2011, I think? Consumer Reports can tell you. I had one that was 100% reliable, great in snow, and could easily pull a trailer.
posted by scratch at 8:33 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]

My parents are on their second Honda Odyssey. They live in the Chicago suburbs, so they drive on ice (although it's not hilly there). They take it on road trips and load it up with things like antique stoves. It's comfortable, posh even.

The cargo area behind the front seats is at least 8' long.
posted by adamrice at 9:30 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

I recently picked up a 2015 Forester. I'm not sure whether the front seat folds flat, but it meets your other criteria. As soren_lorensen says, the turning radius is great, and the backup camera makes parallel parking even easier.
posted by brianogilvie at 11:01 AM on March 17

2nding the Toyota Sienna. Just about every seat folds down and are removeable to boot. Ours is an eight seater so very comfy for the kids and the gear, and presumably the future family dog. We used to have a Ford F150 extended cab, which held the kids and the now-passed dogs, and the ride is just so much more pleasant for everyone in the minivan.

Plus, there's like 3 cup holders for every passenger, which seems like ridiculous overkill until you go on a roadtrip and find yourself needing just one more cupholder. It has spoiled me for other cars with less cupholders.

Before buying the Sienna we tried out CRVs and RAV-4s and actually had a deposit down on a RAV-4. But once we tried out the Sienna we realized how cramped the cockpit of the other cars was, so we made the jump. I was staunchly anti-minivan until we bought it, and now we fight over who gets to drive it (the alternate vehicle being a Lexus, mind you).
posted by vignettist at 12:17 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]

You can get a locking bed cover for a pickup, though they're not cheap. Chevy used to have them as a factory option for the Avalanche, but those are huge. Likewise with the Honda Ridgeline.

At this point, the old Pontiac Azteks are probably too old. Other obvious choice is the Element, which you've already gotten there.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 1:01 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]

I ended up finding a 2005 Element, well-maintained and reasonably priced. The cargo space is enormous, especially considering that the vehicle is 18" shorter than my old Outback wagon, and the motor is zippier than expected. I drove it about 850 miles over the Easter weekend and eked out 25MPG on the highway. For my purposes, it's seeming like a big win.
posted by jon1270 at 8:41 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]

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