Daddy needs a new set of wheels...
April 24, 2006 7:40 AM   Subscribe

I don't think the vehicle I want exists at the price I can pay. Or does it?

With the second child forthcoming, I need to get a family mover. However, I am a driver at heart. I love to drive and I just can't see myself in a mini-van. It's not a macho thing strictly, I just don't want to drop $40K on something I won't enjoy.

SUV? Possibly, but most are sluggish as hell to drive, and the fuel economy sucks.

Cross-over? Maybe, but most are a little small to comfortably carry the volume of crap two kids under three need, let alone if we go camping or on a road trip or something where we need to bring luggage and the like.

Wagon? Maybe, but most of the quicker wagons are expensive.

Price range. I'm somewhat flexible here, but $45K CDN is about the highest I could go. I prefer new vehicles, because I don't know how to fix a car, and I want the warranty. I also hate American cars generally.

Last. AWD. In Winnipeg, this is a godsend in winter. We do go off-road for camping occasionally as well, so it would be high on the list of priorities.

So, there are a few options I've considered, but they all have weaknesses (mostly price):

Nissan Murano/Infiniti FX45 - Good zip, fairly roomy, but costly.
Volvo XC70 - Like the Murano, good but too much cash.
Lexus RX400h - Roomy, zippy hybrid. Perfect, except the cost.
Lexus RX330 - Less than the 400h, but worse fuel economy and still about $10k too expensive.
Toyota RAV4 V6 - Fast, reasonable fuel economy, affordable even when well equipped. I'm not convinced it's large enough though.
Toyota Highlander Hybrid - Traditional sluggish SUV, larger than the RAV4 but stretches the price range.

Does anyone have experience with these vehicles that they can share, or perhaps suggestions of something I've overlooked?
posted by WinnipegDragon to Travel & Transportation (34 answers total)
I don't have any experience with those models, but if you can wait until a few months until the 2007s come out, you may be able to get an unsold 2006 at a pretty good discount.
posted by boomchicka at 7:47 AM on April 24, 2006

Notably missing from your list: Subaru Outback and Tribeca (both of which have a really fast variant, or so I'm led to believe), and Subaru Forester (not fast, though).

Tribeca is pretty much the same type of beast as a Murano or a Toureg. (Speaking of which, why no Toureg?) Should be somewhat larger than a RAV4, by the look of it.
posted by lodurr at 7:51 AM on April 24, 2006

Have you considered Subarus? They are known for building good, practical wagons and they had AWD on all their cars before anyone else. I think the Subaru Forrester should fit your needs and budget perfectly.
posted by reformedjerk at 7:51 AM on April 24, 2006

Aren't there a couple of Subarus that meet your criteria?
posted by FlamingBore at 7:54 AM on April 24, 2006

Wow, three Subaru recommendations in a row...

I hadn't looked into them. I wasn't sure what their quality record is like?
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:01 AM on April 24, 2006

Honda CRV? Definitely an AWD version available. I don't know how zippy they are, though. There's also the Element and the new Fit to look at. You could also check out the Mazda 6 series of wagons.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 8:04 AM on April 24, 2006

I agree with the Subaru recommendations. My 2000 Subaru Outback wagon (70,000 miles) is great in the snow, gets excellent gas mileage and requires very little maintenance (new brakes, tires and catalytic converters). .
posted by elvissa at 8:07 AM on April 24, 2006

lodurr - The Tribeca is interesting, though it's right at the top of the price range. As for the Touraeg, it's hugely expensive and has absolutely hideous fuel economy.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:07 AM on April 24, 2006

I drive the Lexus RX 330. Terrific vehicle. After years of minivans, the RX is so comfortable and so much nicer to drive.

Something that many don't consider is service. Lexus service is amazing. Whenever I take the vehicle in, even for an oil change, they have another RX waiting for me and have, without fail, always had the vehicle ready when they said. I've had the vehicle for 2 years now, not a single problem, and plan on keeping it for many years.

On the other hand, if you have small children and lots of gear, you really should consider some of the minivans. Lots of hauling capabilities, great for kids, and part of the "paying your dues".
posted by cptnrandy at 8:12 AM on April 24, 2006

Oh, and a quick check show that after 2 years and almost 30,000 miles, the RX holds more than 70% of it's original value. Some of the big SUVs like the Escalade are at less than 50% at the 2 year mark.
posted by cptnrandy at 8:17 AM on April 24, 2006

Sounds like a Subaru will be right for you...

If you dont necessarily need all the bulk but want to keep AWD, Audis do admirably in the snow (check out the A4 Avant).
posted by stratastar at 8:24 AM on April 24, 2006

Y'know, my parents didn't seem to have any trouble hauling two kids around in a regular ol' 4-door sedan (and a small one for the time, I might add, a '71 Chevy Nova -- okay, so it's still way bigger than a Civic, but still, it's no van or truck). I'm not sure what it is about today's kids that makes them require a vehicle so much larger. For kids under three you certainly don't have to worry too much about hedroom or legroom in the back seat. You might, in other words, be able to get by with rather less space than you think you need, in which case you can get an even smaller vehicle than you're looking at, with the lower price and better driving experience that implies.
posted by kindall at 8:27 AM on April 24, 2006

You say you're a driver at heart, I have a 2002 Suabru WRX that I enjoy the hell out of, and they make a wagon version that is just as fun to drive. It corners, it's AWD, and it's fast off the line. If you want a fast wagon, check out the WRX.
posted by revgeorge at 8:30 AM on April 24, 2006

kindall - My experience with one kid in my current vehicle tells me I want something bigger for both trunk space and back seat. I also will be using this vehicle for work, wherein I regularly haul two other adult males around.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:39 AM on April 24, 2006

Extending kindall's thoughts... What about a cheaper station wagon? Since you're in Canada the Chevrolet Optra 5 Wagon is available. You didn't mention any "must-have" amenities, but you can fully load an Optra Wagon for just over $20K CAD.

My wife and I purchased an Optra5 (hatchback version) last year and it's helluva fun to drive. The 4-cyl engine is made in Australia by Holden and is known for being very reliable and bulletproof. Don't know how it'll stack up to your performance requirements though. FYI, Optras are built by GM Daewoo in Korea, and IMHO the build quality is better than the Vibe, which is a N.American manufactured.

Another good family sedan option would be the Malibu Maxx.
posted by chuma at 8:39 AM on April 24, 2006

chuma - Something to consider, but I have had terrible experiences with my American cars. My '95 Mustang had a block heater short that literally burned it to the ground in my driveway. My '97 Stratus rusted to hell within 4 years.

If I can afford an import, I'll pay the premium.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:43 AM on April 24, 2006

I was in your shoes 14 months ago. I bought a 4WD Honda Element and love it.

The Good:
Perfect troop transport for my troops (Aged 6 and 1). All plastic interior; who wants ice cream? Vacuum and swiffer it out once every couple of months and you're good to go. Having no carpeting amplifies noise in the car, but this a good thing to me, as it forces me to keep crap from piling up and rattling around. Great fuel economy. 4WD version has iPod jack. Militaristic fit and finish very appealing to me and my guys, but thats me. Top of the line, loaded version with stick shift costs 24,503.71 CAD.

The Bad:
Suicide doors, while very safe with awesome Honda-engineered B Pillar integration, can be a pain to get in and out of if you're in a tight parking space. Boxy shape means getting buffeted around a bit on highway when it's windy. Only seats 4.

The Ugly:
It's a Honda Element. You either love its looks or wouldn't be caught dead in one, apparently.

Congrats on new baby!
posted by Scoo at 8:44 AM on April 24, 2006

scoo - Hadn't considered it, but now I will. That's much less expensive than I was expecting.

Of course, I'm not sure I like the styling yet...
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:55 AM on April 24, 2006

I should mention that at the time I posted this, I was leaning towards the RAV4. Does anyone here have experience with how large the 2006 models are? I've heard they are 14 inches longer than 2005 and previous models, but they still just feel cramped to me.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:57 AM on April 24, 2006

Just a personal note on the WRX wagon; make sure your car seats for the kids fit. I tried this once for a friend of mine and the car seat only fit with front seat in it's most forward position. On the other hand, it is a blast to drive.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:09 AM on April 24, 2006

I've got a WRX wagon; I like it, but I can see how it would get a little awkward dealing with multiple child seats.

I was going to recommend the Subary Legacy GT wagon; apparently in Canada, they only offer the Legacy GT as a sedan. I wonder how feasible it would be to bring a US-spec model across the border.

The Tribeca, from what I've read, is a notorious sow.
posted by adamrice at 9:19 AM on April 24, 2006

My sister has a Highlander. You really should test-drive one. They don't drive at ALL like a big SUV.

They're fairly heavy, and you can feel it a little bit when accelerating fast, cornering, or stopping really quickly. But if you get the V6, it's zippy, VERY comfortable, handles surprisingly well for a vehicle of that size, and will move a whole family very easily. Mileage isn't too awful.. something like 22/28.

For a utility vehicle, it's almost sybaritic, particularly in the leather version. It's not a "driver's" car exactly, but I think you'll be surprised at how nice it is. You trade away a lot less performance for the size than you'd think.
posted by Malor at 9:27 AM on April 24, 2006

I'm seriously considering trading in my 1.5 year old Element for a Honda Ridgeline. I really wanted one when I saw the concept versions but didn't want to wait until 2005 when they came out.

Here's my comparison between my element and the larger, more expensive ridgeline:

element pros:
- small, but really useful and roomy inside
- 24mpg is my average in city and freeway driving
- handles ok, and 165hp is enough for a small car
- I got a top of the line one with all the options for $20k out the door, so it's a cheap car.

element cons:
- it is insanely loud inside. with the baby and my wife in the back, I can barely have a conversation at 60mph on a freeway or road
- it's super handy for runs to home depot and I can fit up to 8 feet of 2x4s in it, but I can't buy stuff like soil and compost in large amounts -- I need a truck bed for that
- it is only four passenger and a friend said he could not get two side-by-side car seats to fit for his older kids (mine isn't quite 1 year old yet, so this isn't a problem yet)

ridgeline pros:
- truck of the year, I hear it drives like a car
- tons of room inside and out, ingenious things like a trunk in the bed
- five passenger, might be able to fit 2 adults plus a car seat in the back (haven't checked though, as I've yet to test drive it).
- you can't beat a truck bed for storage of everything you might need
- it's rated as a 6,000 lb truck, meaning you might be able to use that stupid suv business expense tax writeoff thing.

ridgeline cons:
- only gets 16-21mpg, which sucks IMO
- cost is more around $30k instead of the 18-22k elements go for
posted by mathowie at 10:23 AM on April 24, 2006

Nissan Maxima.
We've gone through two of them as family cars. Tons of legroom in the back for teens. Roomy trunk for hauling gear.
And the SE model with a 6-speed is fun as hell.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:48 AM on April 24, 2006

As our family expanded, I found myself in the same boat. Didn't want an SUV, didn't want a minivan.

We LOVE our 2004 Mazda 6 Wagon. Sporty handling, good pace from a 3-litre V6, generous space, looks cool, and we were able to negotiate almost $6K off the list price of $24K. That both my wife and I commute via bike/train means our annual mileage is low enough to blunt the less than spectacular fuel efficiency, though it's comparable to its rivals.

Interior fit and finish aren't quite up to Germanic standards, and the lack of a 4-wheel drive option might be an issue, but I (with tongue only slighty in-cheek) refer to it as my sub-$20K BMW 5-series wagon.
posted by jalexei at 10:48 AM on April 24, 2006

I've got a AWD CRV and I love it, and while it's a pretty good family coach with a well thought-out interior, I think it's too sluggish and inefficient to be right for you. You might like it, but I suspect you won't.

I've yet to see the appeal of the Element (besides being ugly, the seating arrangement is really limiting), but it sounds like it's closer to what you want than a CRV and it's relatively affordable.

Based on your criteria, it's pretty likely there's a Subaru that suits you well. You might also want to reconsider buying new. Buying a car a year or two old -- carefully selected -- can save you a few bucks, doesn't doom you to becoming a backyard mechanic any more than a new car does, and warranties are pretty commonly available.
posted by majick at 11:23 AM on April 24, 2006

Matt, you do know that Motor Trend's [vehicle type] of The Year award is a steaming pile of crap, right? The Ridgeline may be a swell truck, but motor trend's opinion of it is completely irrelevant to that.

The Hugemobile tax writeoff is now limited to 25K; read about it here.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:24 AM on April 24, 2006

element cons:
- it is insanely loud inside. with the baby and my wife in the back, I can barely have a conversation at 60mph on a freeway or road

Perhaps this is the result of the aforementioned all plastic interior? I wonder if getting the floor mats would help. It is definitely louder inside than our Odyssey.

- it's super handy for runs to home depot and I can fit up to 8 feet of 2x4s in it, but I can't buy stuff like soil and compost in large amounts -- I need a truck bed for that

The most I've hauled away at Home Depot was 10 bags of mulch, with one of the rear seats folded flat up on the wall (cool!). If you do a lot of Home Depoting then yes, a pick up is the way to go. The Ridgeline is teh sexy!

- it is only four passenger and a friend said he could not get two side-by-side car seats to fit for his older kids (mine isn't quite 1 year old yet, so this isn't a problem yet)

I have two child seats in my Element, and have had no problems there. The LATCH system is a breeze to pop the kid seats in and out of. We'll see how it goes when I trade up to bigger seats for my growing minions next week. I have a buddy with two bigger kids and two Elements, I'll have to ring him for advice on seating.

Sorry you're not having as much fun as I am with the Element Mathowie, it doesn't seem like as good a fit for you.
posted by Scoo at 12:11 PM on April 24, 2006

Great answers everyone. I'm marking vehicle suggestions that I am considering as best answers, even though this is all good advice.

The Ridgeline is tempting (and dead sexy) but I'm just not sure that I want a pickup. I'm too much of an eco-hippy to drive one with a clear conscience.

I'll test drive one though.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 12:41 PM on April 24, 2006

Ditto on the Subaru Outback.
posted by radioamy at 1:54 PM on April 24, 2006

Something else to take a look at might be the Ford Freestyle. It's more of a "bigger than a wagon, smaller than a full-size SUV" type vehicle.

We didn't give it much attention, as it was a bit out of our price range (and the styling kind of put us to sleep) but it does feature 3rd row seating and is available in AWD. I'm also getting the sense, from all the incentives, it's not selling too well, so perhaps there's a bargain to be had.

And the newly-facelifted VW Passat wagons look really handsome, though they quickly get expensive once you start kitting them out...
posted by jalexei at 3:06 PM on April 24, 2006

The 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe looks promising. They are adding a third row of seats and giving it a more refined appearance.

I have a 2003 Santa Fe and I love it. Mine has heated leather seats, 4wd, V6, climate control, 6 disc CD and nifty sound system. I got it used, so it only came with a 60,000 mile warranty, but the new ones have 100k mile warranty.

Might be worth checking out if you can wait until fall. I think that Hyundais are a great value for the money. They seem to have conquered the reliability problems that they have had in the past.

I have no problems getting carseats in to mine, either.
posted by Ostara at 3:16 PM on April 24, 2006

I'm pretty sure BMW makes a AWD 3-series wagon - which would be a natural comparison to the Audi a4 suggested above.
posted by kickingtheground at 3:38 PM on April 24, 2006

Let us know what you end up with. :)
posted by Malor at 10:16 AM on April 25, 2006

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