In general, having kids requires surrendering some semblance of “cool.” With kids, for instance, living room orgies have to stop – at least after 9pm. And money that would’ve been spent on tires and brakes must instead go to Huggies and strollers that fold to the size of an umbrella.
But the addition of children doesn’t need to mean buying a boring minivan or SUV. No matter your budget, you can keep your vehicular “cool” when wee ones come along. Allow me to list some of the coolest family cars for dads who aren’t yet ready to drive an Odyssey with a stick figure family on the back.
1995 Volvo 850 T5-R Wagon
There are yellow ones and there are black ones. There are also a few green ones. I highly recommend yellow, primarily because it may lift your spirits when it inevitably breaks down. I highly discourage spending your last dollar on a T5-R wagon, primarily because there’s no such thing as a “last dollar” with these. In fact, the number two cause of bankruptcy in America – after medical expenses – is used turbocharged Volvos.
So what’s the upside? Well, did I mention it’s yellow? Also, Volvo used this car – yes, the wagon – in the British Touring Car Championship. It broke down a lot then, too.
2001-2006 BMW X5 manual
Imagine it: you drive a stick shift E46 323i with fake Xenons. Then you knock up your girlfriend. This will be harder for some of you to imagine than others. Obviously you can’t keep driving the 323, since the marijuana smell will stunt your child’s growth. So what’s a BMW lover with an M Power tattoo to do?
Easy: X5 manual. Sure, it doesn’t have a third row, and the cargo volume is reminiscent of a soft-sided cooler. But what’s more exciting than rowing the gears in a BMW while you effortlessly cruise through a blizzard and pass wet wipes to your sniffling two-year-old?
Mercedes R63 AMG
Yes, they made these. Approximately 84 in total, which is about 77 more than the market could bear. As a result, this is the cheapest “63 AMG” you can buy – assuming you can find one for sale. Which, fortunately for wives everywhere, you usually can’t.
But if you do, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful R-Class styling combined with award-winning 6.2-liter AMG fuel and maintenance costs. Oh, wait.
At least you can seat six.
2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8
The first Grand Cherokee SRT-8s are in the low-$20s now, which makes them great deals for anyone with a refinery. Or a gas station. Or mental problems.
Yes, the SRT-8 is expensive to run. But it’s also the perfect family car thanks to leather and plastic that’s so cheap to replace, you won’t even worry about hand prints. You also won’t worry about vomit, which is common in a 425-horsepower vehicle that shares its center of gravity with a race horse.
1995 Toyota Land Cruiser
A ’95 Land Cruiser is like a savings account. Value in 2006: $9,000. Value in 2009: $9,000. Value today: $9,000. Coincidentally, that’s about the same interest rate I actually get on my savings account.
The ’95 Land Cruiser – dubbed “FZJ80” by guys on Internet forums who seem to know what they’re talking about – may be a total gas hog, but it’s cheap to run, cheap to insure, and still very cool. It also houses the world’s flimsiest third-row seat, which weighs 90 pounds and “stows” directly in your blind spot. (Literally! It actually covers the rear side windows.) Not that it matters: even if you have an accident in an old Cruiser, you’ll drive away uninjured. And it’ll still be worth $9,000.
1996-1999 Ford Taurus SHO
I love the ’96-’99 SHO because you don’t have to go through the hassle of selling it. Here’s what you do: buy it for $3,000. Drive it for two years. One day, boom! Cam sprocket failure. Abandon the car and do it all over again. This is surely less of a hassle than dealing with people on Craigslist who ask what part of town you’re in even though there’s an address in the listing.
Plus, there are other redeeming qualities of the ’96-’99 SHO. For example, you and your kids can play “count the ovals” with the center stack. And it has some really cool five-spoke wheels you might want to consider harvesting during abandonment. You can sell them on eBay to SHO owners who don’t yet know the term “cam sprocket failure,” but will soon find out.
Land Rover Defender 90
It’s often said that the D-90 is the perfect car for any situation. Of course, whoever said that must have an endless supply of oil. Also, they must live somewhere with no rain.
But for all its flaws, the D-90 is the perfect family car. One reason is that it seats six, not five like the womanly Lexus RX. Which coincidentally costs about the same. That means if you want to have four kids, go ahead and do it. They all have to stare at each other as the rainwater leaks in.
The D-90 is also great because it’s so safe. Some cars have airbags: this thing has steel. Except for the ones that have rust, which is virtually all of them. But as you cruise through Nantucket on a warm day with the top off and your motion-sick children in the back, you’ll know you’ve made the right decision. Especially if a Land Rover dealer is close by.
OK, so most of these are awful ideas. In fact, I’m not sure that a sorrier list of “cool” family cars has ever been assembled. Have you got any better ideas?
Doug DeMuro operates PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, roadtripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute laptime on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.