By on September 7, 2011

 

 

Chris writes:

For years, my wife and I have enjoyed the carefree enjoyment of running around without a care in the world. Then we had a baby, who is soon going to go from an only child to a big sister. The wife has owned the same car that she bought new when she graduated college: 2000 Honda Insight. Regardless of which side of the hybrid fence you are on, as a car guy, this car continues to amaze me with almost 230,000 miles and no major problems. I have on the other hand gone through a few more cars: Saab 9000, Saab SPG, Ford Bronco, VW Jetta, Nissan X-Terra. My current ride is the X-Terra chiefly bought so I could arrive on muddy construction sites and be taken a little more seriously than my European sports car driving bosses.

While not the ideal vehicle for long distance driving, the X-Terra does a perfectly fine job of carting all of us around in relative comfort as well as through the Northeast’s recent winter from Hell. We think this will also do fine when junior arrives this summer, so that car is staying. The Insight will also stay as we think it is too cool to get rid of and in a pinch will work to transport one of us and a child (we had an airbag cut-off switch installed for the passenger seat to make it baby seat safe), or both of us on the rare night out. But we know we will need two cars which will seat four people and their stuff. We tend to make fairly regular 3 – 5 hour road trips to visit family, so something a little less truck like would be nice for the highway and we have capped our car spending budget at about $20k.

Before being baby bound, the requirements for my next car were that it had to have a manual transmission and a sunroof, pretty simple. But now that we are leaning towards a station wagon (don’t want another SUV), it seems the choices are quite limited, particularly new cars, and has us looking in the used market. VWs are out of the question, new or used, as my experience with the Jetta was one I don’t care to remember. I think I am one of the few that like the look of Saab 9-5 wagons, but I know their reliability under GM is crap, so that is also off the list. The BMW 3-series wagons are a little two small and the 5-series are a little too ugly. An S4 Avant would be great, but other than also being a little small, they don’t come around too often and that choice might be getting a little too close to VW for my comfort. A Subaru wagon would be fine also, but I hate the Outback models and honestly can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a Subaru in the town we live.

All that being said, we seem to be leaning in the direction of one of two cars: a Volvo V70R or a Mercedes E320, which are almost polar opposites. Volvos under Ford ownership scare me a little, but it seems Volvo owners are pretty hard-core and love their cars. It meets both requirements and everyone might be happy, especially the driver. While in the Mercedes, I would be sacrificing my manual transmission, which I can learn to be OK with, but I would be gaining a car with rock solid history on the reliability side as well as once of the safest cars on the road (which you can see is important by the two top choices). As different as both cars are from each other, they do have good similarities like lots of room and all wheel drive.

Steve answers:

Most of what you said is based on perception instead of reality.

“Volvos under Ford ownership scare me a little…”

As a long-time Volvo enthusiast, I can tell you that this is a myth par excellence. Volvo BEFORE Ford had horrific reliability issues with the Volvo S80 and Volvo 960/V90. These vehicles were maintenance nightmares that would almost make a late-90’s Jetta blush.

Then you had the Electronic Throttle Module issue debacle which Ford inherited and paid for over the years. Along with the lackluster S40/V50 and transmission hungry V70/XC70 and XC60/XC90.

Ford pretty much cleaned up some of the mess they inherited, mis-marketed the brand as a Lexus/BMW wanna be, and sold the rest.

“I think I am one of the few that like the look of Saab 9-5 wagons, but I know their reliability under GM is crap, so that is also off the list.”

One of my favorite buys for the money if you want a stick for the family. Given that your throwaway budget is $20k (more on that later), I would buy a late model 9-5 and just have it covered under a CPO warranty if you’re that concerned.

The Mercedes E320 I wouldn’t touch with a 47 foot pole. There is zero sport within that model, abysmal reliability, and the cost of maintaining the beast goes far beyond your other two cars. For all that money and hassle you may as well keep the Xterra and enjoy the savings.

Which just happens to be exactly what I recommend. You already have a vehicle that can handle the travels along with the gas sipper (great choice by the way!). I would just upgrade the Xterra instead of dumping a trailer load of cash in a crappy used car market. Leather seats. Better stereo. A bit more noise insulation. For about a thousand or fifteen hundred you can both be perfectly happy for many years to come.

Sajeev Answers:

While I understand everyone’s love for wagons,  agreeing with everyone and giving the standard answer must be getting trite for some folks: every wagon on the market is generally ham-stringed by their manufacturer’s quirks, mostly the European ones that everyone loves. No way in hell would I consider a Mercedes wagon in your price range: complicated diagnostics, questionable electro-hydro brakes, and other electro-mechanical “quirks” that will drive you mad. And while a great wagon for wagon-ly duties, some Subies aren’t a good long term value: depends on the year, motor and service records. Especially that last part.

My next standard response: look at the Acura TSX sport wagon if you are looking for new, or a last-gen Mazda 6 wagon on the used side. So yes, the “6” should be on your short list.

So yeah, that’s the current crop of wagons out there in the market. It could be worse, but while I know you want a wagon, I question your resolve. If I’m wrong, get the Volvo or Mazda 6 of your dreams. If not, drive the plethora of family sedans from Japan and the US that offer more content, more value and far less stress in the long term. Or CUVs, that offer cool stuff like panoramic roofs, electronic gadgets to keep kids quiet (DVD player FTW) and still have some amount of wagon utility.

Just more food for thought, especially since you’ll have kids, car seats and the resulting bad back or two in your household after it all.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.
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114 Comments on “New or Used: Perception vs. Reality, Wagon Lament...”


  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Amazingly Sajeev didn’t say the “P” word when discussing the OPs choices. (Just a gentle ribbing, love ya man.)

    What about a Magnum wagon? I know they’ve been out of production since 2008 but go for a 3.5V6. Mazda wagon though is likely your best bet though given your parameters.

  • avatar

    Gotta go with Sajeev on this one. The crossover market is full of interesting options and most come with AWD which is always nice. The issue is finding a manual transmission, but when it comes to reliability and practicality, a crossover gets the win. On the other hand…a Saab 9-5 wagon is awfully enticing because you don’t see ‘em around very often and you can find them with a stick.

    It would be interesting to see what Chris ends up with.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 on the 9-5 Sportcombi w/ stick. Get the 06 and up with the redesign, as this ditched the last of the old SAAB electronic gremlins (dead pixels, etc. etc. etc.).

      Also, +1 on the Mazda 6 wagon. If you want wagon, some luxuries (both could be had with stick, leather, sunroof, xenons, climate control, etc.), those are your two options, all things considered.

  • avatar
    salhany

    Volvo’s ETM issues affected the 99-00 Cross Country cars. The ’98s had a didn’t have an ETM.

    Only the 2001-02 model years of the V70/XC70 suffered from transmission issues. Later years of those models did not suffer from those problems. Volvo did stupidly say that the transmission fluid was “lifetime” but that’s a lie; be sure to have the transmission fluid of any pre-owned candidates inspected, and if it’s fine and you buy it, change it between 80-100K miles.

    Finally, I wouldn’t recommend the R model of the V70. TrueDelta’s site and Volvo forums indicate that that model has many, many more problems than the standard XC70/V70 models. If you want the AWD get the XC70. If AWD isn’t crucial (and if you can actually find one) get the V70.

    • 0 avatar

      +1, just finished doing all of this research myself and I ended up with a lightly used ’04 XC70 for $12k. Talked to the local Volvo mechanic and (pay attention, this is important) had an inspection done prior to purchase. The later P2 XC70’s are pretty dog gone reliable according to my mech.

      No, it doesn’t have a manual gearbox. Yes, the ride is a LOT softer than the V70R. But it will get my wife and the boys (both under 3 yrs) around in safety and comfort for many years to come. Bonus: Without the bike racks on, it gets darn near 30mpg on the highway at 75mph.

  • avatar
    rwb

    Surprising to me that anyone would consider an E320 from the past 10 years to be more reliable than a Ford/Volvo. If that’s borne of personal experience then it certainly proves YMMV.

  • avatar
    MZ3AUTOXR

    We had a Mazda6 wagon and it works fine for two kids (the arrival of our third meant trading it for an Odyssey.) A bit thirsty (we got about 24 mpg combined)and short on power, but handling was above average for a 3500# car. The did have some issues with shift shock with tranny which should be addressed by a re-flash under a TSB.

  • avatar
    slance66

    Let me suggest one thing right now, the Volvo wagon integrated booster seats are among the greatest inventions ever. Soon you will be very glad you have them. Add to that front seats that are more comfortable on long drives than anything else you could sit in.
    I’d avoid the R (tires and ride on NE potholes) and I’d avoid the newer wagons with the 3.2L six. The styling is nice, but the mileage will be scarcely better than the Xterra and the legroom is worse than in 2007 and back. Get the light pressure turbo 5. It’s a solid engine, and appeared in various forms in nearly every car they made for over a decade. You can work on it, and there are loads of indi Volvo mechanics in the northeast. Stainless exhaust system stands up to Northeast winters. These cars can last.

    If new, then nothing meets the 20k budget. I’d second the TSX sportwagon as an excellent family option. Good mileage with the 4, fun to drive, and enough room for 4.

  • avatar
    RickM

    Two suggestions:
    Ford Taurus Wagon/Mercury Sable Wagon (last model year of production: 2006). available w/ Leather interior, sunroof. Even with all that it will be 8k or less even with these crazy high used prices right now. Tons of cargo room. 7-8 seatbelts if you need to carry extra people in a pinch. drives like a midsized sedan, because it is one. Reliable. AND cheap/easy to fix. No manual transmission though. It doesn’t look like much but otherwise would be a good fit. The mercury version it slightly better looking.
    It should still be possible to find a relatively low mileage used one in good condition, but that won’t be true for much longer.

    2] Another choice would be the HHR, SS trim. Available w/ manual and a sunroof. plenty of cargo room. You should be able to find an SS model 2-3 years old in your price range. IDK the stats but it is probably reliable enough. And should be relatively cheap to maintain.

    • 0 avatar

      Not sure a guy who is looking at Mercedes and SAAB wagons is going to want a Taurus or Sable wagon. Though practical, they are oh-so-hard on the eyes.

      • 0 avatar
        Japanese Buick

        Or an HHR. That one makes no sense. Besides the fact that it’s ugly, cheap, and has no visibility, it’s a much smaller car than the other choices mentioned.

        (just drove a rental HHR on a 9 hour road trip this weekend)

    • 0 avatar
      Mrb00st

      only reason to get an HHR SS is that engine: oh my god the LNF is an awesome motor. While the HHR SS has milder cams than the Cobalt, you can still make a *stupid* amount of power with BPU and a good tune. As in, 320-340 *wheel* horsepower.

      The rest of the car is garbage; how does a car that tall have NO head room??

  • avatar
    ktm_525

    As a former owner of both a VW Passat wagon (1.8T 5 speed) and a Volvo V70R I say get a….Land Rover LR3. The low slung wagon may look Euro cool but in reality the low ride height makes getting the little beasties in a real chore and hard on the back. The tight rear seat in the Volvo means the little ones will be kick kick kicking all day long. The LR3 I am currently driving makes a much better family assault vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      Land Rover? The repair bills would be better spent as a nice college fund for both kids. Last check Land Rover’s were far and away the least reliable vehicles on Consumer Reports annual vehicle survey.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s an anecdotal point, but my buddy leased an LR3 shortly after it came out. He kept it for about a year of the three year lease. It had so many issues (and was CONSTANTLY in the shop) that LR let him out of the lease early.

      He now drives an FJ Cruiser.

      So I’m not sure that an LR3 would scratch the “reliable family hauler” itch that the OP mentioned.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    You have a young child? Get a Mazda5. You’ll appreciate those sliding doors, really you will, and it’s somewhat fun to drive, aside from being a bit poky. If you’re doing regular long drives with kids it’ll save your sanity.

    If you intend to have more children, seriously consider a real minivan. We have a Sienna and it’s made trips far less onerous, but if you want something less soggy the new Chryslers are actually pretty decent.

    If you must go the sportwagon route, consider the Focus ZTW (a much nicer car than it’s credited for) if you can stand small, the aforementioned Mazda6, or the Dodge Magnum.

    Don’t get anything European. Not the 9-5, not the Volvo, not the Merc. None of it. When those things go, they go in expensive and inconvenient ways. I could put up with my Saab when I lived in Toronto and didn’t drive much, but as soon as I started needing it, the lack of dependability became glaringly evident. People I know with Volvos (this is a Volvo kind of town) feel similarly.

    • 0 avatar
      vvk

      Besides having the world’s most uncomfortable driver seat, Mazda5 has had some major reliability issues. Certainly worse than SAAB 9-5, which has been relatively reliable through the years.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        Certainly worse than SAAB 9-5, which has been relatively reliable through the years.

        Consumer Reports doesn’t seem to agree with you. The 5 is mostly reliable, save for body integrity and some teething trouble. The 9-5 is mostly not, save for a few bright spots. About the only good thing you can say about 9-5’s record is that it’s better than the 9-3, which like saying murder is better than genocide.

        The 5 has rust problems, which you can fix with yearly visit to Krown. The 9-5 stands a good chance of sludging an engine, chewing transmission gears, fouling DI cassettes, gumming throttle bodies and sensors, etc, etc.

        And then there’s parts costs and availability. Even when Saab was healthy that was a problem.

      • 0 avatar
        Mrb00st

        Psarhjinian – “The 9-5 stands a good chance of sludging an engine, chewing transmission gears, fouling DI cassettes, gumming throttle bodies and sensors, etc, etc.”

        Engine sludge – change your oil on time, with a filter. It takes less than 5 quarts. Do it every 3k. No oil sludge.
        Chewing transmissions – he wants a 5 speed any way.
        Fouling DI Cassettes – Pull and clean the PCV valve once a year.
        Gumming throttle bodies & sensors – pull and clean the PCV valve once a year.

        Seriously, the 9-5 is about 10% as bad as people make it out to be. It’s not as reliable as the 9000, but they’re all so old and high mileage and hard to pry out of owner’s hands that it’s a useless idea.

        The engine in the 9-5 Aero – the B234R – has been in production in that form since 1993. And based on a engine that’s been around since 1969. Finding parts for Saabs is hard? How did you find the internet? No it’s not. Cheaper than BMW/Audi/Benz parts, easier to work on as well.

        About the only annoying things on 9-5’s are pixels missing from the HUD’s, crap like the PCV/EGR valves, and belt tensioners at super high miles.

        I vote get a 9-5 Aero Wagon 5-speed, a Haynes manual, and a basic Craftsman toolbox.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        Engine sludge – change your oil on time, with a filter. It takes less than 5 quarts. Do it every 3k. No oil sludge.

        Did that. The B205R and 235R** sludge if you look at them funny. Supposedly this was fixed in 2005, true, but that’s about the time GM decontented the 9-5 (and slapped street-hooker-makeup chrome all over the front).

        The point is that the car, in the hands of a non-enthusiast, is not dependable, nor cheap. If you have the time, tools and inclination to wrench, sure, it’s not as bad as an E-Class, 5-Series or V70, but if you don’t have time or can’t spare it, the Mazda is a better choice.

        ** not the 204/234: those stopped in ’98. The 205/235 aren’t quite as robust.

      • 0 avatar
        vvk

        > the Mazda is a better choice

        Mazda5 has had chronic suspension issues, with owners having to dump low mileage cars and get something else. There have been some other common issues with the car but they have been relatively minor, like poor AC performance, etc.

        9-5 oil sludge problem affects a minute percentage of cars, with most cars affected using the wrong type of oil. The car requires ACEA A3 motor oil but specifies 5W-30 in the manual, which is not good in North America, where 5W-30 is typically ACEA A1/A5.

    • 0 avatar

      psar, normally I’m on your aside completely, but in this case the following can be said about the 9-5:

      By the time the OP would be looking for a 9-5, which would be 06-09, of the issues you mentioned:
      – the sludging engine issue was solved by 2004, and hasn’t been an issue since
      – many things can be said about 9-5s, but unreliable transmissions are not one. The stick is of questionable refinement, yes, but it shouldn’t be an issue
      – cassette eating, dead pixels…yes, those were both present up to 2005, but most of the old SAAB electronics were replaced with superior (in terms of reliability, at least) GM electronics in 2006. Those problems haven’t reoccured

      My friends have a 5, and are only decently happy with it. It serves their needs well, and carries lots of stuff, but the highway ride is pretty crappy (lost of noise, tire worbling) even on premium, newly aligned/balanced pirellis. The car is also known for suspension issues, which puts at risk the tires (if the 5 is like the 3, it munches tires like peanut snacks). Personally, I find the 5 great on paper and great to look at, but disappointing largely from thereon in.

  • avatar
    JKC

    If you’re looking for a small wagon, I’d add a Hyundai Elantra Touring to the list. But make sure a rear-facing car seat will fit first.

    I wish Sajeev’s answer was wrong, but it’s not: the wagon is fast becoming extinct in North America, with the exception of the Hyundai and a few European holdouts. The Acura is really the only survivor left: the new Outback has devolved into an oversized crossover wannabe, the Hyundai is arguably too small for families with babies (i.e. car seats) and the Europeans are a huge crapshoot as far as reliability goes.

    You might consider a Mazda5 if you’re willing to expand beyond wagons. The Toyota Rav4 and Honda CRV may also fit your needs. Assuming you go the used route, the Mazda 6 wagon is a safer bet than any European wagon, assuming you can find one.

    • 0 avatar
      MZ3AUTOXR

      We looked at the Mazda5, but even my non-enthusiast wife noticed the lack of power compared to the Mazda6. Not surprising, considering that they are the same weight and the 5 is down two cylinders and about 60 HP.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        But make sure a rear-facing car seat will fit first.

        This is important.

        You’d be surprised what a rear-facing seat won’t fit in, at least when it’s installed safely. An important point: it must be properly level (the manual will tell you what this is) and it must not come within in an inch of the front seat seatbacks.

        Also, the Elantra Touring is a good choice, and one I’d forgotten. Also consider the Kia Rondo: lots of space in that car for it’s physical footprint, and the EX-V6 is quite nicely trimmed.

      • 0 avatar
        VanillaDude

        This isn’t rocket science. A family that is growing can continue to grow. In the first decade of marriage, a healthy frisky couple can produce more than 1.5 kids.

        The Mazda 5 and vehicles of this size are for families that have stopped reproducing after two, and those two no longer need all the luggage extras that come along with small kidhood.

        Or, get the Mazda 5 and find yourself needing a bigger vehicle before it is paid off when another one of your swimmers hit pay dirt creating another blessed event.

        Mazda 5, after Daddy gets neutered.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        The 5 does well enough if you’re willing to do the rooftop cargo box thing on long trips. We weren’t, hence the larger van, but it’s an option to consider. In-city it works for two or three kids.

        That said, the base Caravan is awfully inexpensive.

    • 0 avatar
      hyundaivirgin

      Elantra Touring! Elantra Touring! Elantra Touring! I know I sound like a car salesman, but it is really the perfect car for you if you want stylish, reliable, roomy, and manual and sunroof options.

      I can attest rear-facing car seats fit in the Elantra Touring. In fact 3 at one time. I know because we put one in the middle and one on one side, and seated an adult on the other side. This was while taking my sister, her husband, and two babies plus 3 suitcases to the airport. They were remarking how it was bigger than their Jetta Sportwagen TDI. Yes this was the TDI that suffered an engine failure in the first week, requiring another few weeks in the shop.

      Real-world MPG, not EPA: 31 mixed 75% highway 25% local, verified by gas pump calculations.

      Not sure why this was left out of the discussion. It’s only been reviewed on this website (glowingly) twice. Perhaps Hyundai Elantra Touring should be added to the tags in the post.

      • 0 avatar
        econobiker

        The Hyundai Touring is left out because no one knows about these except the most rabid value conscious people- the sport-o drivers look down on the Touring as the last generation model’s technology and not cool enough, US salesmen don’t know how to sell the cars though since Hyundai only ships a couple (or one) to each dealer per month the cars fly out pretty quickly.

        I also wondered why the blog authors left the Touring out…

      • 0 avatar
        adango

        @econobiker: You should come to “central” Eastern Canada. Elantra Tourings are everywhere. Dealers can’t keep them on the lots In downtown Montreal, I’ve even seen quite a few with 17 inch rims and the short-throw 5-speed. Likewise in Toronto. They seem to be the car of downtown urbanites who need a reasonably compact car to go away on the weekends with.

        Of course, out West, all you see is trucks, but that’s a whole different ball game. There’s a perception against small cars there. A once had a guy telling me that an AWD Chevy Silverado SS with slick 20 inch low-profile tires was better in the winter than my wife’s Corolla with snow tires.

        (Not including Vancouver of course; I would imagine they sell a lot of Tourings there)

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    We were surprised with twins a few years ago. Since we already had pre-schoolers, it wrecked havoc on us on many levels, one of them vehicular.

    I hate minivans. I don’t like oversized vehicles. I don’t care much for SUVs. I like wagons. So your question is legit. It sucks to want a family wagon in today’s market.

    This is what I discovered. Adding another child requires a much bigger vehicle than it did adding the first child. It was easy to make do and accommodate one kid. Adding another kid magnified the situation exponentially. I savor efficiency. I hate waste. I discovered that I thought too small. Those big family vehicles we see with a mom and kid in them becomes a necessity because you will end up with a mom and kids in them.

    And not just because of one additional kid. You will have more family members along for the ride too. So, instead of having a vehicle for your nuclear family, you will need a vehicle for each family member, plus the baby sitter, or grandma, or grandpa, or visiting aunt, or family friend, or whoever. So, instead of getting a vehicle that will seat four comfortably, get a vehicle that will seat 6 comfortably. When you are not using the two additional seatings, you will be discovering the need for the space available in a vehicle capable of seating 6 people comfortably.

    An Insight? Yeah – you like to not buy too much vehicle. I understand the attraction and have lived it too. But listen up brother, you have reached the level when you need the Family Man Vehicle. European wagons come from countries that don’t know how to breed. Thats why they are dying out over there. We don’t just amuse our women in bed like they do – we also know how to get them pregnant too. We need vehicles for the families we are creating.

    Keep the X-terra. It will do 70% of the job you will need to do. If you find a decent Mazda 6 wagon – pass it up – it is too small. Skip the minivan unless your wife wants one. Minivans shrink nads and make men lactate. SUVs may work – but you already own a real one.

    Get a disposable used vehicle that will seat six. After six years, if it is still running, put a match to the decaying Goldfish crackers, the empty juice boxes, the Barbie shoes, the ignored Happy Meal toys, the diaper wedged under the back seats, and let it burn for a day. Then call a wrecker to tow it away.

    Kids destroy vehicles. Don’t waste your money buying a decent one for at least a decade. Used wagon. Used full size. Anything that runs. There is no Swiss Army knife of a vehicle that will fill these needs. There is no efficiencies here. You have gone Daddy mode. Good job, man! Don’t stop at just two kids – get the big vehicle and fill it up.

    • 0 avatar
      Japanese Buick

      VD I seldom agree with what you write on this forum but I’m always entertained reading your comments.

    • 0 avatar
      godflesh

      This was awesome:
      European wagons come from countries that don’t know how to breed. Thats why they are dying out over there. We don’t just amuse our women in bed like they do – we also know how to get them pregnant too.

      >Has twins
      >Love my 99 Saab 9-3
      >Love my Honda Pilot

    • 0 avatar
      econobiker

      “Get a disposable used vehicle that will seat six. After six years, if it is still running, put a match to the decaying Goldfish crackers, the empty juice boxes, the Barbie shoes, the ignored Happy Meal toys, the diaper wedged under the back seats, and let it burn for a day. Then call a wrecker to tow it away.”

      Very true- a friend in the used car business told of how reconditioning former child-seat equipped suv’s always meant cleaning and working over the 2nd row seating alot more than the front two seats (or third row) due to what is described…

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Any small-to-medium domestic or Asian wagon will do you fine, if a minivan isn’t on your radar. Like above, stay far, far away from anything European – you’ll pull your hair out maintaining the thing, fun to drive or not. Or just buy an Impala! (sorry).

  • avatar
    priapism

    The 2001/2002 Volvo S60 / V70s are nightmares. They eat transmissions and have electric gremlins. There is, however, a 10-year warranty on the ETM issue that they don’t like to make public. Look for a yellow sticker on the ETM which is easy to see (right front, down a bit), that shows it’s been replaced.

    2004 had an update which addressed much of the reliability issues. They drive pretty nice and are fantastic long trip cars. New valve body on the trans and removal of that stupid stop-neutral idiocy made them live. Just be sure to replace that transmission oil more often than they say. Make sure it has or has had the timing belt done at 105k minimum. Make sure it idles smooth and steady. Make sure the trans shifts smoothly under light throttle (like stop-and-go traffic). Those are the big things.

    I’d also look at a Magnum. I like the Saab 9-5 as well. Early 4-cyl motors have sludge issues, the 6 is a safer bet. If it’s in your price range, I’d totally rock a Cadillac CTS wagon, that’d be my first choice by far! 6-speeds might be hard to come by but they’re around.

  • avatar
    chriskauffman

    VanillaDude is correct, the unfortunate reality is that kids do destroy vehicles, even nice, well behaved kids make mistakes. I drive a 2002 Chevrolet Suburban with leather interior and 177,000 miles. It is routinely loaded with my three kids and any number of friends and gear. I only wish that it got much better mileage and that it had a rubber floor. Other than that, the big Chevy puts up with whatever we dish out.

    That being said, if I was buying today, I would look hard at the minivans, especially, if my wife was willing to drive one. Even if I had to be the driver, I would still consider them first over any wagon I can recall. At the end of the day, the family vehicle becomes an appliance. There’s nothing easier to load kids into than a minivan and they represent the best compromise of mileage, space, and comfort. Think about VanillaDude’s other comments. The reality is that two kids can lead to three or at least more family visitors.

    If you must stick in the wagon and/or SUV category, I would look at the Freestyle (Taurus X). I would bet that a new CRV has more room than a Mazda 6 wagon, but I understand the 6’s appeal.

    • 0 avatar
      jbcrzn

      When we my wife and I had our first, we had discussed our next vehicle being a minivan, not that the little one required that, but that the little plus a set of grandparents (and sometimes a pair of grands plus an uncle and aunt), and us. The long trips are minimal, but the space for a day trip that the little one requires at less than a year old is fairly impressive. My wife hates minivans, but she is considering a Ford Flex for her next vehicle, which is a modern wagon in the same vein of the Taurus wagon, Freestyle/Taurus X. Until the Flex comes along, we will enjoy our Nissan Xterra and Chrysler PT Cruiser, which both serve to handle we three and one additional passenger in the PT and two additional passengers in the Xterra.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    Sell the Insight and get a Prius v. Retain the good gas mileage of the Insight while being able to carry the whole family and all the stuff that goes with it. You might not get much money out of the Insight, but you get the benefit of not having to maintain, inspect, register, or insure it. That does save real dollars every year.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    I’m surprised no one mentioned the last “American” wagon, at least the last one this side of Cadillac pricing. The Flex/X/Freestyle, it is a Volvo wagon with lower price tag. No it doesn’t have a manual trans but you really don’t want one for the family truckster. Ford may market it as a CUV but if you look closely it is just a Wagon.

    Speaking of CUVs I heard the funniest thing on the radio the other day on a local dealers ad. “Everyone knows a Cross-over vehicle is just a cool looking truck that gets good gas mileage”. I couldn’t help but burst out laughing.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    If you’re considering any European wagon, then either get a CPO car or budget for $600-$1000 annually in repairs. (I own an ’02 9-5 wagon; I know!) You might not end up spending that much, but with a second child and those associated expenses, you should be prepared.

    When our second child came along, we bought the then-newly released Jeep Wagoneer/Cherokee (1984), which only a few years ago finally was taken out of production. It served us fine until #3 came along, when we surrendered and bought a mini-van.

    There’s a lot of mini-van hate on this board and elsewhere, but the truth is, for a family with even two kids, its a pretty good solution. It carries everyone’s stuff; it carries their friends and considering its carrying capacity, doesn’t use much gas. So, keep your X-terra for the really nasty weather, and get a mini-van.

    Your balls will NOT fall off.

    You have arrived at the point in your life where your involvement with cars is going to have to be based primarily on their functionality, not as a fashion statement, not as an ego-feeder, not as an escape machine . . . but simply a machine that performs a necessary function.

    As the narrator in Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” advised: “to the destructive element, submit!”

    • 0 avatar
      mike978

      I agree – I have a 4 year old and twin 2 year olds. When they came along it was good buy to my 3 series and hello Toyota Sienna. I really didn`t want a minivan and looked at the Flex, the Traverse and Pilot trying to escape minivandom but the sensible choice was a minivan. I can honestly say after 2.5 years with the Sienna it is the perfect family hauler – exciting and interesting no, but practical and solid. Those are the attributes you want when dealing with screaming, fighting and messy children. I know my minivan is an appliance and I am longing for the days when my old Subaru Legacy Wagon (too small for all three and stuff) can be replaced by something fun. My advice is suck it up and get a minivan – Vanilla Dude is right, you might not stop at two or stuff can happen like twins which throw all our best laid plans out of the window.

  • avatar
    Toad

    Just because you cannot swing a dead cat in your area without hitting a Subaru is a poor reason not to buy one; just because a lot of people do something does not always make it a bad idea.

    Chris, News Flash: you are no longer remotely unique. You are a married middle class guy with a couple of kids, and you need a vehicle to haul them, your spouse, and their gear around. Subaru’s perform this task efficiently and reliably, with reasonable packaging and drivetrain specs.

    BTW, a manual transmission will be a major pain in the ass as you try to juggle driving and managing multiple children. A Subaru CVT will do just fine.

    There are other ways to demonstrate your uniqueness besides your car. Get a tattoo, buy some hipster glasses, take a driving course from Jack Baruth if that helps (just don’t let Jack near your wife).

  • avatar
    Dino

    I have a 9-5 Wagon (my 2nd). This after a succession of BMW’s 2002, 320, 530, 630 etc. I like the styling of the Saabs. While the 9-5 doesn’t handle as well & isn’t as stiff as the BMW’s I truly believe it’s one of the best wagons going and better (as a wagon) than BMW, Audi or Volvo (I looked at all 3). It’s very roomy, super comfy, a great tourer, gets great mileage (I avg 25) handles well & carries a ton of stuff. It’s our only car as my wife & I have a home office & live below our means. Mine is loaded (a ’04 9-5 Arc), I’ve had it for 4 years. Other than replacing some vacuum hoses & routine maintainence it’s been quite reliable (far better than most of the BMW’s!)

    FYI Saab’s are safe, our last one was instrumental in saving our life as we escaped unscathed from a very bad head-on crash.

    I strongly recommend the Saab. Have done so to my friends. One bought a 9-3 Wagon & really loves it.

  • avatar
    slpalitz

    Though you may hit inummerable subaurus with dead cats in your town, I doubt you will have hit this one: Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT wagon, MT (LIMITED). Like the audi they are rare, espcially considering they made the wagon GT in a manual for only one year (2005). The thing is a jack rabbit in the snow…a friend drove ons in SYRACUSE, one of the snowiest places in the country, with snow literally coming over the hood. Has a 250hp flat four turbo, with 25+mpg on the highway. Huge trunk. Comfortable, quiet, a super sleeper (its faster than V70 R and prob close the S4). Even has a momo steering wheel.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      And of the 500* they sold, I’m sure that half have broken 100k miles. I searched and searched for an LGT wagon w/ 5MT a few years back and even then it was impossible to find a lowish mileage one.

      *This is a made up number, but they are ridiculously hard to find.

      • 0 avatar
        gessvt

        Just use SearchTempest and expand your radius. Legacy GT 5MT wagons are worth the trip to see. I drove 250 miles to get mine.

      • 0 avatar
        Quentin

        I was also requiring a white exterior and a black interior. I settled on a color once and regretted it the whole time I owned the car. Anyway, finding an LGT wagon, 5MT, white, and black interior wasn’t in the cards.

      • 0 avatar
        SwingAxle

        I will second everything slpalitz says about the 05 MT Legacy GT wagons. I love everything about mine except the gas mileage, although I knew that going in, and the cheap paint. Mine is just coming up to 70K miles, but a lot of them have more. The Legacy GT handles much better than the Outback but with a slightly stiffer ride (I have both). The production numbers can be found in the link below. They actually sold 1670 MT GT wagons in 2005(US and Canada), 118 in white with black interior. Obviously not enough to continue production for the US although they did for a few more years to Canada.

        http://legacygt.com/forums/showthread.php/official-my2005-production-numbers-model-color-83304.html?t=83304&highlight=2005+production+numbers

  • avatar
    fred schumacher

    Vanilla Dude is right. Two children is more than one plus one. You’ll be carrying a lot more stuff, especially in winter. And if you have the inevitable dog along, you’ll want all the room you can get.

    The obvious answer is Detroit’s best idea: the minivan. This is exactly the task it was invented for. They’re ubiquitous, inexpensive used, and reliable as any machine can be. We’ve travelled in a Dodge Caravan with four adults, two children in car seats, two dogs big and medium and had plenty of room.

    I recently bought a 2000 Grand Caravan for $2,200 and put $1,200 into it. It’s good to go now to 300,000 miles. The 3.3 engine is bullet proof. I average 23 mpg in mixed driving and have the van set up as a tow vehicle. In addition, minivans have great winter traction (most of my driving has been in Northern Minnesota and North Dakota). If your budget is $20,000, you’d have $16,000 left over to spend on other stuff.

    When you have children, forget about impressing the neighbors or satisfying your fantasies. They’re the priority and you have to choose what is best for them.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    Chris, Chris, Chris

    You say you want a wagon with manual transmission, but more than half of them will be Volkswagens, and you’ve ruled them out. Face it brother, the logical vehicle for you is a minivan. You don’t think you need a minivan now, and you’re right. But these kids won’t be in car seats forever. They will be in booster seats, and they will have friends, and the friends will need booster seats. When one of your kids takes a friend, somewhere, the other kid HAS TO. There will be carpools. Whereas taking a spouse and two kids on vacation is possible in a 4 seater, in a minivan it is actually enjoyable. You won’t believe the difference in having child 1 and child 2 in separate rows. Dude, you already proved you’re macho, you sired two offspring. Drive a minivan and prove you don’t give a f— about what other people think. That’s macho.

    The fact is that a minivan gets about the same gas mileage as a Taurus wagon, and most newer ones are significantly quicker. Any 3.5 liter minivan will be quicker than your Xterra and get better gas mileage as well. Get the power sliding doors. Kids that can get in the car by themselves often can’t close the door by themselves. Video screens prevent hideous screams. Embrace the van. It is your destiny.

    To the notion that a minivan robs you of your manhood: it’s easier to get lucky in the back of a minivan than a Honda Insight.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      To the notion that a minivan robs you of your manhood: it’s easier to get lucky in the back of a minivan than it is in a Honda Insight.

      From what I’ve noticed, it’s women who have more trouble with minivans than men.

      I find it sad that we’ve created a culture where on one hand we say children are precious but on the other we encourage parents—especially mothers—to deny that they’re parents. Personally, I thought the Swagger Wagon lady was hot.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    I have on the other hand gone through a few more cars:

    Saab 9000, YIKES!

    Saab SPG, YIKES!

    Ford Bronco, Not bad.

    VW Jetta, Yiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiikes!

    Nissan X-Terra. Leaky radiators, self-destructing transmissions, YIKES!

    What do I think? I think based on your previous purchasing decisions and your wife’s selection of a Gen I Insight as her wheels of choice, she should pick your next car or SUV and you should be left out of the process.

    Time to embrace the minivan dude. NONE of them are perfect.

    Honda Odyssey: Finally moved away from the self-destructing transmissions of the past, if you go used, don’t buy a five-speed automatic version of these used. The tranny problems are the stuff of infamy. The problem with the current version is it has swollen (like the rest of the Honda line up) and if you start adding options (seems you like your creature comforts) they get expensive fast.

    Chrysler Town & Country: The original, and now that Fiat has come and saved the day getting better. Competitive in the class, but Chrysler is not known for reliability and quality (although data is pointing to improvements). The latest 2012 offerings come with leather and DVD player standard – seems that the average Town & Country buyer didn’t want cloth. Definitely the value leader of the segment (if you don’t count the Mazda 5)

    Toyota Sienna: The best of the three in stripper trim – BUT. They get expensive if you add options – FAST. Think $40K plus in a hurry. $40K will buy an awful lot of seven passenger AWD CUV these days that has more mojo for what you’re looking for.

    You couldn’t go wrong looking at a Mazda CX-9 or GMC Acadia in that price range.

    Although maligned in style, it is loved in execution, and you could probably get a screaming deal on the world’s biggest Scion xB, also known as a Ford Flex.

    But dude, seriously, you seem to gravitate toward quality nightmare vehicles — let your wife pick.

  • avatar
    George B

    We may have found a potential customer for the Volkswagen Routan. Yes, it’s just a Dodge minivan with a European badge. OTOH, being really a Dodge instead of a Volkswagen helps keep the repair costs down.

    The other Caravan variant that might be of interest is the one set up as commercial cargo van. Would be cool if it offered both family seating and a clean it with a garden hose interior. Would fit in at Dad’s construction sites too.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      I’ve seen a couple short wheelbase Sprinter (Freightliner or Mercedes) used in my area as family passenger vans. Commercial chassis that should last forever, high seating position/low beltline with great visibility, diesel fuel economy, cool looking (especially with tinted windows) and unique. Hard to find, but if I had kids I’d be all over it.

  • avatar
    chuckrs

    Was on the Hopi Reservation years back. While I saw any number of old pick’em ups, the most interesting vehicular sight was a guy and his family in a gen 1 Taurus picking his way through a wash. This was the sort of wash that almost without exception no SUV or ‘off-roader’ would see – at least until they were so clapped out that someone the Res could afford it. More man, less machine.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    I hate minivans, true. But I have real reasons to hate them. So should you.

    First of all, they aren’t vehicles – they are purses with tinted windows. They were designed for drivers wearing dresses. Really. Your wife can wear one of those Hawaiian Muumuu that make her look like a giant golf umbrella and step right behind the wheel of a minivan. The only way an attractive woman can climb into a minivan is if she is wearing a very short black leather skirt and red stiletto pumps. And flips her long hair over her shoulder like she used to do when she rode with you in the Camaro.

    Minivans ride like tombs. Tombs made from recycled Japanese Pottery Barn Longaberger Baskets. Have you any idea how many kids fall asleep in minivans? You can fill them up with Pixie Dust, put “Dora the Explorer Meets Jason” in the DVD, but your kids are going to fall asleep faster than if you fed them the Benedryl Happy Meal, (which everyone knows isn’t supposed to be given to kids under the age of 6 anymore). While you and wifey are arguing over who last cleaned the litter box, your kids are drooling all over the minivan unwashable cowhide as Jason corners Dora for the final showdown. Minivans are that awful to drive.

    Minivans are expensive. Why would a vehicle shaped like a giant loaf of Wonder Bread cost as much as a real vehicle with a real engine in it? Frankly, auto manufacturers should pay us to drive these things. Minivans are today what a 1972 Gran Marquis was to our grandparents – a rolling sepulcher. The auto equivalent of the ladies lounge room you mistakenly walk your four year old daughter into looking for the toilet hoping not to meet a octogenarian with IBS. Or worse, smell one. Like a minivan, those ladies lounging rooms have vanity mirrors and tufted seats. And they used to both have ashtrays in them. So I heard.

    I have a minivan. My wife cried for one. It is so “pretty”. It is hers. When we finally cinch down the damn kids into their car seats for Sunday School, I drive it to church with the a/c vents pointed at my arm pits, trying to dry up the wet stains I get when I spend family time without first having a shot of single malt.

    The minivan is practical. Yeah – so is Tupperware. But driving is supposed to be more than just practical. You are supposed to feel alive when you are moving. You are supposed to feel in control. Your car should make you feel like you have a life outside Walmart. Driving a minivan is like pushing one of those family shopping carts that can seat three kids. You fight to keep all of them in their seats, keep the seatbelts fastened, and hope they stop grabbing at merchandise as you push past the toilet paper aisle.

    No one should be paying over $30,000 for a vehicle your kids crap in. Why wouldn’t they? Minivans look like large horizontal port-a-potties. I even have to hang air freshner in mine. Naturally, when carting around pre-schoolers and infants, the soft rolling motions of a minivan are going to soothe their little bowels, right? Worse, the damn windows don’t roll down after they download spinach and cottage cheese into their Pampers. Today’s minivans have about as much ventilation in them an old stoner’s cargo van.

    Auto manufacturers know this. That is why they sell them like they are bordellos on wheels. They know your genitals got you into this mess, so they think they can sell you a rolling Boppy Pillow titillating your nether regions too. Don’t fall for it.

    Like I did.

    • 0 avatar
      salhany

      Very entertaining even as it’s completely wrongheaded, heh. Somehow I suspect this post was less about the minivan and more an introduction to a very interesting mid-life crisis.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      Very, very amusing. Holy crap, how do you come up with such a dissertation? But I find it odd that in one post you remind Chris of all the practical vehicular implications that come with parenthood, but then in this post proceed to denigrate the most practical vehicular solution. What on earth would you recommend to the poor man?

      “Download spinach and cottage cheese”. I’m going to remember that one.

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      Sounds like a mid-life crisis just waiting to happen…

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Jezze my ex-wife tried to accuse me of having a midlife criss at 31 years old cause I passed my motorcycle test and divoriced her for a woman 7 years my junior. (No kids at that point, thank god.) You Sir need to ship the kids off to grandma and take a vaction with just your wife, Amigo.

    • 0 avatar
      fred schumacher

      This post is not about minivans. It’s about not liking children. If the circumference of a guy’s balls shrink when in a minivan, it’s not the vehicle that’s the problem, it’s the guy.

      I used a minivan as my primary pickup truck when I was farming. 90% of the time it was a better pickup than a pickup. The other 10% of the time I used a real pickup: a one-ton long wheelbase dually with a 12 foot contractors bed and hoist.

      I’ve taken my minivans down logging roads and field trails that 95% of SUVs will never see. I drove them across plowed fields. They’re the Swiss Army knife of vehicles. Their frames are stronger than a car’s, and they’re dirt cheap to own and operate when you buy older high-miles versions. Next to luxury sedans, they’re the safest vehicles on the road.

  • avatar
    mikedt

    Suck it up and get a minivan. You’re looking at 2 or more child seats. Inevitably you’ll start having to haul your kids friends around, because if you aren’t now, you soon will be friends with other toddler parents. A decent sized wagon isn’t going to save you that much gas vs a minivan and the extra room and sliding doors of a minivan will be most welcomed.

    So again, suck it up. If you’re worried about your testes, buy a used sports car too.

  • avatar
    hriehl1

    Mazda 5.

    Get over the “minivan stigma” right now. With a family, it is all about roominess and access. Sliding doors cannot be beat when loading kids into car seats. The Mazda 5 is light, economical, roomy, great access and comes with a stick.

    Wagons have their merits, but still WAY less room than the Mazda 5. Do not discount having that seating and luggage room. During the life of this purchase, your kids will grow and you’ll be hauling their friends (and their stuff) to scouts, t-ball, birthday parties, etc.

    Just get over it any “minivan stigma”. There is no better package for a family. And really, be honest, is ANY wagon or SUV truly sporty? MAYBE one of the German makes… but at $50K for a 5 or A6 or E-Class, that’s pricey. Buy a Mazda 5 and a Miata for the same money.

  • avatar
    turbobrick

    As others have pointed out, the ’99-’02 Volvos are the ones that were trouble. Defective ETM’s, poor interior materials, self-destructing AWD drivetrains… not worth the trouble. Sure, the ETM’s received a 200tml / 10yr warranty after the lawsuit, but what year is it again?

    I’d say green light for the V70R, just look up how much a brake job costs for that car beforehand, so it won’t come as a complete shock. Also, the automatic transmissions use Aisin’s super special ATF that’s made out of baby seals and priced accordingly. But it will all be less than what ze Germans will charge.

    Also, slightly generalizing, but usually Volvo + six cylinders = trouble. Stick with the five-banger.

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    Sliding doors may not be sexy, but they are a real boon when it comes to car seats and kids in general. They open wide enough to allow you to load a car seat (or kid) with little strain on one’s body (or one’s nerves). They’re great for tight parking spots when there’s little room to open the door in a wagon or SUV wide enough to get the kids out. They’re also great for when the kids get older and want to open the back door without risk of it flying into the car parked next to you.

    Vans are fantastic for holding lots of people and gear and they’re good for highway cruising. They are immensely practical and surprisingly comfortable vehicles.

    You already said you’d like to keep your other two vehicles, so what you really need here is a genuine family vehicle. Don’t buy an anti-van for the sake of being anti-van. Don’t listen to all the crap you hear from so-called ‘enthusiasts’ without at least trying one out, and be sure to bring the car seat with you when you do.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    If VW is out for past reliability issues (unfortunate, you can get a new Jetta wagon with a manual and the 5 cylinder for ~$20K, and reliability since 2006 seems much improved), and Subaru is out for superficial reasons, you’re left with used Saabs and Volvos. Both will be expensive to fix.

    Consider a RAV4 V6. There’s no prestige in it, but it has AWD, handles far, far better than your X-terra, has tons of backseat space for the cubs, and will outgun 90% of the cars on the road. And reliability shouldn’t be an issue.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    A nationwide Cars.com search for a Mazda5 with manual transmission under $20,000 returned 42 hits, with the closest one being 162 miles from me.

    The problem with the Mazda5 is that the third row seat and the space behind the third row seat are not as useful as on a full-size minivan. It doesn’t get that much better gas mileage, maybe no better highway mpg, and it is slower than just about any full-size minivan. That’s why Mazda doesn’t sell very many of them.

    By the way, when you try out a prospective vehicle, make sure you take it home and park it in your garage,and try putting junior in the car seat while the other car is parked next to it. You’ll see why sliding doors make a huge difference in a family hauler. Then think of when the kids are older and opening the doors themselves. Think of how many door dings the sliding doors will save.

  • avatar

    Having just purchased an E320 wagon in the past few months, I’d say it’s a wonderful wagon that has no sporting pretensions at all. If you’re looking for corner carving, look elsewhere. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a really comfortable road trip car it could be a winner for you.

    The drivetrain is very reliable, but it does have the weirdness and electrical gremlins that could come back to make your life miserable over time. It just depends on the car – I’m fairly confident I’ve got a good one (great service records, like-new condition) but I sprung for an extended warranty because I am absolutely certain that there will be problems with it sometime in the next few years.

    If you’re going to get the E-class wagon, go for the lowest-level model you can find. No panoramic roof, no V8, since those have the air suspension that WILL break and be expensive to fix, MB-Tex upholstery, etc. They’re hard to find, but worth the effort if you really want a nice place to spend time while you’re driving.

    Just my $0.02, and definitely not the prevailing opinion here. But they’re still very nice cars.

  • avatar
    Chicago Dude

    Where in the Northeast are you? Urban?

    I have a Volvo V70 wagon and really enjoy it. It makes a great highway cruiser. Great visibility, comfortable, better than advertised MPG, etc.

    However, it is a bit of a pain when parked in a tight parking lot. Not those suburban lots where the spaces are 8 feet wide. I’m talking urban lots where they cram as many spaces as possible into the lot. Pulling a baby out of the back seat is difficult and is sometimes impossible. I have had to move the car on more than one occasion when my son was in his infant car seat. Two kids in the car mean you can no longer pick one side of the car to pull the kid out of – you have to use both. On the other hand, a car with sliding rear doors would be a breeze. No problems at all.

    My television tells me to man up and drink watered down beer. So I’ll go ahead and tell you to man up and buy a minivan.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    Oh man I just love these minivan battles, all the whipped minivan drivers trying to recruit other men to the trap of minivan life. Guys generally hate minivans, if you are the type who cares about things like that, no amount of convincing is going to change your mind, thats just the facts. Some women hate them as well, and no matter what you as a husband do, you will NEVER convince a woman she should drive a minivan if she doesnt want to.

    • 0 avatar
      priapism

      Minivan hatred seems to stem from irrational hatred towards some intangible “image” issue. Minivan love comes from objective facts. People need to get over it…

      • 0 avatar
        hyundaivirgin

        MInivan hatred stems from so many relatives and friends being convinced they have to get one when a wagon would be even better. Then they go about driving 2-ton boxes at 20mpg to go buy a gallon of milk. And meanwhile the irrational lack of demand for wagons means worse wagon selections for those of us who know better. Yes I am a wagon snob!

      • 0 avatar
        redmondjp

        I have no minivan love, but I simply could not find a more practical vehicle for hauling our two little ones (plus Grandma once or twice per month, as noted above), for all of the reasons listed above. Our minivan-hating friends have been gradually succumbing to this as well, one of them graduating from an Accord sedan to a Sienna with their two kids, and the other couple still clinging to their almost-new Camry with the biggest cartop carrier that I have ever seen (but have been asking me about which minivan to get).

        Plus it gets almost 25 mpg on the highway – pretty good for a 2-ton vehicle!

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        @redmondjp, I only laughed at that because my father, for whom it would have made sense recently to pick up a maximum seating minivan to haul his grandkids and occasionally his mother-in-law, what did he buy for a second vehicle? 4X4 Suburban, old but gently used. Triumph of emotion over rationality.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        MInivan hatred stems from so many relatives and friends being convinced they have to get one when a wagon would be even better.

        This isn’t true. Small and midsize wagons really can’t do what a minivan can, while a wagon that can (eg, something like a Buick Roadmaster or Dodge Magnum) is almost as heavy, gets about the same mileage and is still more annoying to live with.

        Put it this way:
        * There’s nothing a Civic hatch (if one ever comes back) can do that a Fit can’t do better.
        * There’s nothing that a Mazda6 wagon can do that a Mazda5 can’t do better.
        * There’s nothing a Magnum can do that a Caravan can’t do better.

        Tall-roof, low-floor vehicles always, always, always are better choices for 90% of what people want. “Sport wagons” might drive moderately better, but they’re just as much an image salve as SUVs are, only for a different kind of buyer.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        A friend of mine has a Magnum that he uses as a surf wagon. When there is even one board inside, it is a single seater. When the boards are out, it is a 5 seat car with a moderately sized trunk. I wouldn’t call it a minivan substitute by any stretch of the imagination. The Hemi is nice though.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        Its NOT intangible, its important to that person, therefore tangible, even if you dont happen to agree with it. I am not denying that minivans are not infinitely practical vehicles. But we dont always buy the most practical cars, so why because you had a couple of kids do you have to all of a sudden become the most practical guy in the world?? A minivan excels at hauling people and stuff. If you dont have to haul people all the time, then why suffer with it? I can literally count on one hand the number of times I NEEDED to bring a bunch of relatives in one car, and we still all fit in the Explorer with 3-rows. Now we take multiple cars, or let some other parent do the shlepping. Our huge strollers and baby junk fit just fine in the back of a Land Rover Discovery, and the cargo hold on those is smaller than a CRV. The minivan was used on exactly 2 road trips when we had more than our 3 kids, and both times it was puked in (not by my kids). Why should I spend $30k on a car my wife and I both hated to drive, hated to be seen in, and didnt care for the looks of, just so other people could be more confortable?!?

        If you only have 2 kids, and dont have to shuttle around grandma or uncle joe or cousin tommy, drive whatever the heck you like and dont let them eat in the car. On the rare occasions you need more room, rent a van.

        Or, buy a used cheap minivan like a Caravan for under $10k, and get yourself an old E30 for fun.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      I just think getting whipped into a frenzy about minivans with either love or hate is just silly. VD post was just so in left field that I had to respond. My fiance thinks that minivans reek of “game over” and as long as its her money putting up the payments she can choose as she likes. I just refrain from telling her that most of the CUVs she likes are glorified minivans… Personally I like big sedans and I’m willing to put up with the other compromises as long as the # of children involved stays at or under 3 total. (Right now – 0)

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      If you don’t need a van, then don’t get one. It’s pretty simple. Our Grand Caravan drives like a tank, great for cruising, but definitely not exciting to drive. But we can take our two kids (young) in the back and still put four bikes in the space behind them (and the bikes are standing up wheeled in completely intact–mine’s an 18″ with high handle bars–just wheel them out and drive them). Obviously not everyone needs to do that kind of thing, so if you don’t need a vehicle for varied uses like this (and don’t mind struggling with car seats in tight parking spots) then don’t get a van.

      I’ve been simply pointing out that there are plenty of people who could actually use a van (I refuse to call them minivans anymore, except perhaps for the Mazda5) who won’t even consider one because it makes them feel like a ‘soccer mom’ or like ‘everything’s over’ (as Dan said). At least try one in the kinds of situations you’ll actually find yourself in your regular lifestyle (like loading a car seat in a tight parking lot or in your garage) before dismissing them completely.

      When I worked in the woods, I always preferred driving a panel van (with heavy springs) over a pickup. They can go pretty much anywhere a pickup can go, and they’re also much more versatile vehicle for most things (aside from carrying gravel and such), and you don’t have to store valuable things in the cab because it’s already enclosed.

  • avatar
    tedward

    Here’s what I think of the cars being discussed. .

    Magnum: too big and heavy feeling, ignore the V-6 and go for the Hemi if you must, but it won’t feel great coming off of smaller vehicles like your Xterra (I kid, but really). This is a great first car for a lifelong pickup owner.

    TSXwagon: not even remotely in your budget, there are none used, plus no manual, so screw them.

    Outback: No. Especially not the newer CVT ones. Biggest step backwards in the entire marketplace.

    Last gen Legacy GT wagon: Hell yes. OTOH you are paying for Subaru engine upkeep at high milage and AWD, so it won’t be fuel or money efficient.

    A4/3series/Eclass: Unless you are buying an older car (early 90’s older) and maintaining it proactively this is about the most expensive thing you can do. The only way you are going to get a stick shift RWD wagon though. That’s were I’d go, and for less than 20k.

    Jetta Sportwagon: Seriously, the only newer car that actually does the wagon/stick shift thing. I know you hate VW…but they really do offer cars without expensive tech now….
    which leads us right to Saab and Volvo.
    Both of which are semi premium brands that use expensive to repair technologies. Turbos and whatnot…that is what makes a used car a reliability nightmare, that, and low volume vehicle parts.

    • 0 avatar
      econobiker

      Tedward,
      Any comments on the Hyundai Touring wagon?

      • 0 avatar
        tedward

        I looked at the Touring recently for a Toyota driver, steering, suspension etc… was not great (don’t remember what trim we drove, it was a manual). Not bad, but not a real Mazda/VW/Honda competitor. The tires and dampers (nothing crazy) needed to make it almost as good as those cars equalizes the price disparity and then some. Not to be sneered at, but not quite there.

      • 0 avatar
        tedward

        econobiker

        I’ve rethought my comment a little bit. I’d say that the Elantra is about even with the Corolla, or maybe represents what you might get with a re-thought Matrix. It certainly was on her short list for the first half of the day, but fell out of contention once we had driven about 3 other cars. The standard options were tops of course, along with the Forte twins, but the Fit knocked it right out despite having the worst basic equipment and warranty in class, and that was for a non-enthusiast driver. Her biggest gripe…the clutch pedal and suspension. She didn’t say anything about the steering (which is what really bothered me).

        That last gen chassis is telling unfortunately. I have to admit to kind of rooting for the thing anyway.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Mazda 5 if built off the Mazda 3, Focus chassis, the CX7 comes off the 6 sedan

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    The only thing wrong with minivans is they block the view from my sedans and coupe in traffic. If you’re driving a minivan, this wouldn’t be an issue. If I needed to move a bunch of people and stuff, I’d buy the best minivan on the market and call it a day.

  • avatar
    econobiker

    Hyundai Touring wagons with leather interior, stick shift, sunroof come in at about $21k- NEW. That is if you can find one.

    Rock solid proven technology of the prior generation Elantra platform plus European sales.

    Plus long warranty.

    ‘Nuf said, Chris’s question answered.

  • avatar
    nels2727

    At your budget this doesn’t make sense because of the fuel consumption…but for $18K-$20K you can have a Hummer H2 with 50k miles or less. For a car kids are going to destroy its a great choice. Its big, offers rear-entertainment, and you’ll have the bonus of helping us rid the world of them. To me this makes a lot more sense than the plethora of not-so efficient $30k-$40K crossovers people buy today.

  • avatar
    FromaBuick6

    Either don’t buy anything or sell the Xterra for a CUV with front/all wheel drive or the Mazda5 every around here won’t stop talking about. Or a minivan. Or sell the Insight for a midsize four cylinder sedan.

    I’m to the point where I want to slap every person who wants or recommends a premium Euro wagon around here. Expensive to buy, expensive to maintain and an all-around silly family car purchase for anybody who isn’t made of money.

  • avatar
    hriehl1

    Finding a modest-cost, family-friendly, good-driving vehicle just ain’t gonna happen.

    Everyone here (myself included) is pointing you to a choice that satisfies 2 out of 3 of these criteria. Pick the 2 most important to you, live without the other, and your options become reasonable clear. If drivability is VERY VERY important to you and spouse, toss out family-friendliness. If not, go for a family-friendly van.

    I assume the $50K Euro choices are out-of-scope.

  • avatar
    Furhead

    Wow, lots of passionate responses. Thanks for posting the question. Here is an update since I sent the original question.

    My father had since decided he tired of his daily driver and wanted a new car, he offered to sell it to me at a price that was very hard to walk away from. So now, instead of a European wagon, or any of the other great suggestions by TTAC readers, we are the owners of a 2005 Camry SE V6. No manual tranny, but I do get my sunroof. And while the V6 is not the best on mileage, it will very easily get out of its own way when asked to do so, making it a surprising sleeper. The addition of the new baby has allowed us to test its caravaning capabilities on some long trips and we have found that the 4 of us (and a wiener dog) fit nicely with all of our stuff packed in the trunk. I hate to admit it, but I guess there is a reason why the Camry is one of the best selling family cars.

    We now joke about wondering which is more ‘grown-up\': having 2 kids or driving a Camry.

  • avatar
    hriehl1

    Post again when the kids are old enough where you’ll need to travel with portable cribs, playpens, bikes/trikes, skis, etc. And their friends. I give your Camry sedan 2 years… tops.

    I am not saying a well-priced Camry was a bad temporary option, I am just skeptical it or any midsize sedan will serve a 2-child American family’s needs as the children get into and through their school years.

    Just having 3 rows of seats that allowed us to separate the little runts on long trips was worth any hit to my image that a minivan imposed.

    • 0 avatar
      Furhead

      We will see, but so far so good. The one kid is out of a crib and play pen, so there is only one to travel with and it packs down very nicely. A craigslist found bike rack takes care of the bikes. Snowboards…a little further down the road, but the kids gear will likely be rented until we know they want to get in to the sport, and I have roof racks on the SUV for those anyway.

      In the end, we realize that this is indeed a disposable car that we will squeeze the most out of for as long as possible as the kids deposit food, crayons, and bodily fluids in to places that we will never find.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        Good job Furhead!! Dont listen to those van fanatics, IMO you have made the absolute best choice possible, most economical, and you seem to know what you need. I dont understand where people get this obsession over carrying so much CRAP with them all the time! I laugh when I see the parents toting bags of junk, playpens, huge SUV-strollers, toys, etc everywhere they go.

        Now I will admit, the main reason we got a van was to separate the kids, who fought constantly when seated next to each other. But we had a blended family and the kids were not used to each other. You have the opportunity to teach them from birth to NOT fight in the car, thereby saving your sanity and keeping you van free.

      • 0 avatar
        slance66

        I only have one kid, but still many people comment that my 328 is “too small” for a family car. It’s BS. Hell, I was stuck in the back of a 1981 Honda Accord, with my sister, as a teenager. Much smaller than a modern Civic.

        That said, modern car seats do pose a problem with anything more than two kids and two adults. But if that’s your formula, I think any midsize sedan will do the job just fine. Crossovers, wagons and SUVs really only offer minimal storage improvement over a Camry sized trunk, given that you probably don’t want to obstruct your rear view. Sure, there’s loads of room when you fold the seats, but how does that help when you have the kids in back? With the sedan you’ll gain driving dynamics and economy.

        Now if I can just convince my wife.

  • avatar
    hriehl1

    “…teach them from birth to NOT fight in the car”.

    You’re kidding… right? Are you SURE you’ve had kids?


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