Monday, December 07, 2009

What Do You Do When They Don't Make What You Want to Buy?

We're in the market for a new car. Sort of. We've been in the market for a new car for well over a year now. The older of our two cars (a 1996 Subaru Outback that Hubby bought used before we were married) has been slowly racking up the repair dollars for the past few years. After each repair, Hubby and I think "we really should be ready to replace this thing in case the next repair is too big to be worth doing."

But we still haven't bought. It isn't that we lack the money to replace this car. We have the money. We've been diligently saving since we last bought a car (replacing the sporty two door I drove pre-kids with a Prius).

The problem is that they don't make the car we want to buy. Here is our wish list of features:
  • At least 30 mpg highway. We're on the green side, we live in a city that has poor public transit, and our job locations pretty much ensure that we're going to each drive solo to work. We need good gas mileage to keep us from feeling too bad about our lifestyle. (And to save the planet, of course. But mostly, its about guilt.)
  • Enough cargo space so that we can haul ourselves, our two kids, and all the stuff we need for the two kids to Arizona to see my parents. We're also looking ahead to the days when we can have hobbies again (and when the kids start having hobbies) and guessing that we'll want some toy-hauling capabilities. The Subaru is great for carrying surfboards. One stroller just about fills the Prius' trunk.
  • I would really like a optional third row of seats.* Or at least a back seat big enough so that an adult can squeeze in there with the two car seats. Kids are in car seats for a long time these days- we have several more years of dual car seats. It would be nice to be able to pick my sister up to join us for a family lunch. When my parents visit, it would be nice if we could all fit in one car for the outings to the zoo, etc.
  • We don't care if the cargo space and the extra seating are mutually exclusive. We don't need to haul a lot of people and a lot of stuff at the same time.
Given this list of features, it is pretty obvious that what we want is a hybrid minivan. Too bad there isn't one available in the US. (Toyota does make one: the Estima, and it gets great reviews. Unfortunately, they do not sell it here. A quick Google search will find you lots of articles by people bemoaning this fact.)

Ford, GM, Chrysler- are you listening? Here is your chance to regain the lead in the minivan market that you invented and get back in the good graces of the coastal environmentalists who hate the SUVs you've been making for so long**. Make a hybrid minivan. Chances are, we'd buy it.

*Hubby would be willing to forgo this feature. He'd be perfectly happy with a full-sized station wagon that got at least 30 mpg. This car does not exist, either. Right now, the Ford Escape hybrid is his front runner for a replacement to the Subaru. However, our current plan is to wait until someone makes the car we want or the Subaru fails and forces us to settle on something else.

**Yes, I know, they only made them because people bought them. Since having kids, I can understand a little better why people buy SUVs. Kids come with a lot of stuff. Perhaps part of the reason the SUVs sold so well was that they solve a real problem. Perhaps some of the people who bought SUVs would have been interested in alternative solutions to that problem that didn't involve driving a gas guzzler. Surely there are other enviromentalist parents out there, who are facing the same need to haul kids and stuff that we are, and are just as unwillingly to ditch their environmentalist principles and just buy an Expedition. Have the car companies even considered that market?


  1. We went to the LA Auto Show in 2004, looking for a mid-size station wagon to replace our 1994 Saturn SW1. We had the same requirements you had.

    There was NOTHING for us. The only station wagons that were large enough were AWD Subarus and 400 hp German "sport wagons". They all got mid to low 20s MPG on the freeway. The German wagons got SUV mpg in the city. At that time, we were a one car family, mainly driving in the city.

    We gave up and bought an eight-seater Toyota Sienna.

    Have you ever seen a Toyota Estima up close? They are the same width as a Previa. They might seat 3 Asian butts across, but you won't even get 3 American kids in even the middle row seats. By the time they outgrow child safety seats, American kids are wider than Asian adults.
    Look at the difference in trunk space between American and Japanese cars built on the same chassis. My 1988 Mazda 323 had a 15.5 sf trunk. The Ford Escort had 40% less trunk space. Same with the Corolla and the GM twins.

    I really do think that American manufacturers were in a conspiracy to push Americans into buying larger (and larger profit margin) cars/trucks. A NYT reporter even wrote a story about that. It was a stated goal at Ford for the sales staff to push people from cars into the unsafe Explorer, on which they could generate more profit. As light trucks, instead of passenger cars, they could forego costly safety equipment.

    OK, this is a long comment. But we ultimately gave up and bought a Prius for city driving (10k mi/yr) and a Sienna for vacations, carpooling and grandparent visits (3k mi/yr) and use bicycles for short trips.

  2. Consider the Mazda 5. Can seat 6 but would need roof bin if travelling distances.

    We can easily fit our BOB Dualie in the rear with the 3rd row down and stuff on top (rear wheels off)

    Sliding doors are *wonderful* for kids.

    We've been happy; it's a great car.

  3. We were in the same predicament about 3 months ago. We'd been a one car/one bike family for over a year but with winter and a baby coming...
    We ended up with a Toyota Highlander. They make a hybrid but it was more than we were looking to spend, especially since we don't drive very much. Since the other car (Clare) is on it's last leg, we compromised and decided that once she leaves us, we'll replace her with a Prius for all our major driving and drive the Highlander for skiing/snowboarding and roadtrips. We'll see how it goes.

  4. @badmomgoodmom- I hear you on the difference in size between US and Asian butts. One of my first reactions on returning to the US after our 4 month trip around Asia and the pacific was "my god, we're huge!" But the Estima has three rows of seats, right? I'm ok with two per row if I can have three rows.

    @Jen- the Mazda5 is my current front runner! But it doesn't get 30 mpg, so Hubby is not sold.

    @Nanette Jula- I think the Highlander hybrid lacks the optional 3rd row of seats (they put the battery there instead). So we took that off our list. If I'm going to compromise on mpg, I want my third row of seats!

  5. @badmomgoodmom- it occurs to me that you may have just explained why the Estima is not available here.

    Is it just another disturbing side effect of our obesity problem?

    As a complete aside- we had a lot of trouble shopping for furniture for our living room when we moved into our house, and we suspect the same reason. Our house was built in the 50s, and has a smallish living room. We wanted a sofa and two chairs. Finding two chairs that would be comfortable but still have a small enough footprint to fit in our living room was hard. In fact, I'm not sure we succeeded- I sometimes think our furniture is too big for our room. The problem is that the chairs were all made for big people. We're not small. But we're not big!

  6. We have twin boys, 2.5, and one Prius. We both bike to work, so don't need it for commuting. Our solution to hauling gear is that we have a Thule cargo box. Whenever we go on a road trip, we pop that on the top. We have fit camping gear and food for a week easily. There seems to be plenty of room for around-town outings, a week's worth of grocery shopping and so on, without using the box. Doesn't solve the problem of fitting more than the 4 of us in one car, but

    a. That doesn't happen often
    b. In a pinch and for short trips I can squeeze back there
    c. If we really need the extra space for an extended visit, we just rent another car

  7. @zed- our other car is a Prius. Don't get me wrong- we love it. You are right, there is plenty of room in the Prius' trunk for our day to day needs. Our fridge and pantry would not hold enough for us to buy more groceries than the Prius' trunk will hold!

    We've considered just buying another Prius and using a roof box for road trips. It is definitely an option. However, since my sister lives in the same city as us and my parents are frequent visitors, the opportunity to transport more than us + the two kids comes up a lot- I'd say two-three times a month on average. So I'd really rather have our second car be big enough to carry us + kids + at least one more person, preferably two.

  8. Probably doesn't quite fit your needs, but we went with a Toyota Camry Hybrid. High 30s mpg (40 if you try hard) and lots of interior room -- definitely enough for 2 car seats + 1 adult in the back. The trunk is admittedly small because the battery is back there, but it fits a stroller + groceries or similar. For road trips, the roof cargo box solves the problem.

    It's a sedan, so it obviously doesn't have a third row, but we just rent a big van when we really need to take lots of people all at the same time (a few times/year). Or we just take both of our fuel-efficient cars, instead of trying to cram everyone into both vehicles.

    It's not perfect, but if we couldn't get everything we wanted in a single car, we opted to optimize the everyday case.

  9. It does do better on the highway than you might think. I'm pretty certain we get about 28-9 mph.

    I suggest you get him to get behind the wheel; his mind might be changed. If you're looking for another minivan, you'll be soundly below 20mph across the board (plus driving a boat). There are upcoming imported models from Ford and Honda but it will be interesting to see if the rear doors will be sliders.

    While I like the Prius, the dealbreaker for us was that my husband could not sit in the back seat as the roofline runs too low. (Both of us have to be able to sit in the rear).

    As you can tell, we love our 5. Several of our friends test-drove ours and bought their own (strangely enough all in the same color).

  10. We got the Toyota Highlander with a third row. While I really would have liked a hybrid, most of our driving is city driving, which doesn't seem to be as great as highway driving for hybrids (IIRC). Also, we couldn't afford the hybrid.

    We pretty much solved the trade-off of the third row/cargo area by getting a roof-top carrier. It makes a big difference.

    Also, I can just barely fit my butt between the car seats in the middle row, so it is possible to use that as a seat. But just barely.

  11. hmm, yes, 3-4 times a month is definitely more often than we have the 4+ n problem. But then we don't have 2 cars. If you did get a second Prius, you could always take two cars when your parents visit. Maybe the Camry hybrid is the best, since you can at least fit 5, solving the sister-for-lunch situation, or just one parent visiting situation, and then take that and the Prius when both parents visit. I think optimizing the everyday case, as Nicky mentioned, is key.

  12. I've seen ads for the Chevy Equinox. I think it's considered an SUV. It claims it will get 32mpg (outstanding for a SUV). It does not have a 3rd row, but should surely have good cargo space.

  13. Hm.

    We drive a Toyota Echo: they don't make them anymore, but they are available used? It has WAY MORE CARGO SPACE than the Prius. We can pack for Christmas for two adults, a toddler, and Santa, and all the winter gear, no problem with nothing in the seating area, all in the trunk.

    We have fit two adults and a car seat in the back row, without much trouble. I guess Pumpkin will soon be in a booster, and those are way less bulky than the full-deal carseat.

    We get 54mpg highway and 42mpg city. You probably don't want a second small car, but the usable space in an Echo is just so much bigger than in the Prius (one of my friends has one ...) I guess you'd need a roof rack for the surfboard.

    We have put ZERO repair dollars into our car over four years.

    SUVs, if you drive one, you will notice it's got way less storage and seating room than a minivan. They're just really big cars. I don't know how they're practical for much except driving in snow, and looking like a less-dorky (but less useful) version of a minivan.

    I have friends (very eco-minded) who have a mazda 5 and they really like it.

  14. I drive a Toyota Highlander, and as soon as I can afford it, I'm getting the hybrid. I'm pretty sure the 4cyl Hybrid gets over 30mpg.

    I get that some people "hate" SUVs, but many of them get way better gas mileage than minivans. Realistically, (as much as I hate to admit this), all they are is a taller replacement for the station wagons that were so popular 10 years ago.

    If you're not stuck on the 3rd row seat, the 09 Toyota Rav4's have the same amount of cargo space as my Highlander, and get much better gas mileage.

  15. Mazda 5s are extremely popular here, where people have a lot of kids and Toyota Siennas are considered a luxury vehicle. Mitsubishi sells something similar to a Mazda5 here also, catering to a similar market.

    We passed right over the SUV market because of carpool. 4 kids in carseats/boosters nets you a minivan.

    I miss my Odyssey because in it my kids couldn't touch each other and they also seemed far less loud because they were much further away from me :)

  16. Have you found something yet?
    I was going to suggest the Audi Q7 TDI... though upon closer look it 'only' gets 25mph on highway... it's diesel though.


Sorry for the CAPTCHA, folks. The spammers were stealing too much of my time.