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Matt writes:

Sajeev and Steve,

I think it’s time to replace my wife’s 2005 Honda Odyssey EX-L. It’s got 48,000 on the clock and has developed a few problems over the years. Power side doors that get wonky on really cold days, a slow leak in the AC system, a leak somewhere around the windshield, and an intermittent airbag light most recently, to name a few. None of these things is that big a deal, but considering that my wife has held a grudge against me for convincing her to buy a minivan in the first place, they are just mounting evidence in her case to replace the Ody.

Don’t get me wrong, we both admire the van. It’s a good highway cruiser, gets OK gas mileage, and can haul massive amounts of stuff. But we have no passion for it, and we’ve decided that we’re secure enough to get a vehicle that we really WANT, not just tolerate. I’m normally the type to hang on to a car for at least 100K miles, but I’ve had to hear complaints for 6 years, and I’m ready to give in. Besides, I still use my 2001 Accord as my daily commuter to the train station and back, and since I just dropped $2,000 on all the 100K service items, I intend to hang on to it. Besides, I like it. But back to the van…

The replacement probably has to be new. Wifey hates used cars…something about having to deal with other people’s problems and dirt. She claims she’s open to the CPO route, but usually she finds something wrong. Seems like many of these off-lease cars were formerly smokers’ cars, and she’s insanely sensitive to any odors, even after intensive detailing. Fortunately, she’s not affected by the toxic gasses leeching out of the plastic on brand-new vehicles. But I digress.

90% of the time she’s using it for normal soccer mom duties, hauling our little ones aged 5 and 7. It has to be an SUV/CUV. My love has always wanted a truck and has been denied her whole life, so the idea of a jacked-up station wagon appeals to her very much. And please, 4WD/AWD only—apparently it’s necessary for all those 2-3 in snowfalls Chicago is famous for. Towing isn’t much of an issue, since there are no 10,000 pound boats to tow in my future, for now.

Three rows of seating would be nice, but we’re on the fence. Honestly, we only use the third row 5-10 times a year. But when we do, it is nice to have. Built-in navigation is a must (tired of the Tom Tom falling off the windshield unexpectedly and scaring the bejeezus out of me), and I’m kind of a gadget guy, so I’d like something with all the latest cool bells and whistles. Even though I know that it just ups the chance of something breaking.

Oh, and it has to be somewhat truck-like. My lovely bride isn’t fooled by a Forester, so there’s no need to even go there. If it doesn’t look like a truck, it won’t make the cut. I figure I’m not going to get out of this without spending $35-45K, and have promised her that she gets to make the decision, as long as she keeps it reasonable. No Audi Q7s or ‘Slades in her future, then.

The candidates:

  • 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee – Probably tops on the list right now. If we go this route, it’s got to be a Hemi. It’s my money, and if I want to be stupid with it and get gas mileage in the teens, then so be it. It would just be too hard to pass up the chance for a big-a** V8. It does OK on the gadget test, but without three rows, we get a bit nervous. We’d have to go for Limited or Overland trim.
  • 2011 Dodge Durango – I thought it would be a good candidate as a pseudo-Jeep Grand Cherokee with a third row, but my partner didn’t think it was truck-enough.
  • 2011 Ford Explorer – Scores high on the bells-and-whistles test, but my wife thinks it’s ugly on the outside. The usable third row would be a plus, though.
  • Honda Pilot – A strong contender until the latest crop of competitors came out. Besides, we’re sort of over the Honda thing. We’ve been driving them for 15 years, and frankly, their quality has gone down. I think my ’01 Accord is a better car than the Ody in many ways – except for the 2 failed transmissions, which I’ll save for a future Piston Slap question.
  • Acura MDX – Wife has always liked this, though it starts to get a little pricey as you option it up. Regarding quality, see “Honda Pilot above.”
  • Toyota Highlander – She thinks it looks “kind of luxurious” on the inside but I think Toyotas are bland. It is nice that you can get a third row.
  • Toyota 4-Runner – She likes it because it looks tough. She hasn’t driven it though, so I’m thinking that she might change her tune after some extended time with it.
  • GMC Yukon – This is truckish, all right. Saw it at the auto show and my wife loved it. Cons: third row is kind of a joke, and it scores low on the gadget department.

So, what do you think guys?

Steve Answers:

You need to figure out if this is the time to be a ‘keeper’. My brother’s family is going through one kid who is college bound and two others who will be of driving age in the next four years.

They no longer need the ‘BIG’ vehicle as a long-term keeper. You may be in the same boat as time goes on.

If we’re talking about the ‘thou shalt’ of making your wife happy, for now, I would look at the Highlander and Yukon. They are both well-designed vehicles and should keep her happy… until your needs change. Or until gas prices potentially zoom up to the ionosphere.

You know me by now. I love safety, and don’t believe for a minute that bulk and bloat equate to it. A front wheel drive midsize to full-sized cars would be a far better long-term value for you. However I’m not married to your wife.

If she’s stubborn then just make her happy. Or for a nominal fee, I can ask some old friends of mine from Jersey to help do some ‘traditional’ persuading.

Good luck!

Sajeev answers:

Not that it’s a problem per se, but the crux of your quandary is your wife’s perception of trucky-ness. It’s all good, as I have a rather severe distain for the automotive buffalo butt. As such, I suspect a look at all large crossovers on any one of the automotive shopping websites will help narrow down the choices. An Acura MDX should hit all the size/tech requirements, except Acura doesn’t make anything even remotely truck like. I will second the Toyota 4Runner, even if its not the most efficient package on the market. That said, go all out and grab a Ford Expedition: with SYNC+Navigation and an unbelievably well executed third row (folded or in use) you may never care about the “shamefuel” mileage. (snort)

Or just screw it and get a Lincoln Town Car with winter tires. Solid axle, BOF construction and stupid-durable suspension makes it more of a truck than most of these limp wristed pansies, that’s for sure.

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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