There were so many great car recommendations that came in from Scripting News readers. Here they are.
I've got similar needs in a vehicle, with the addition of needing to carry racing canoes and kayaks around the country for events I participate in. This has usually meant pickup truck. However, I've been starting to look at the Ford Escape Hybrid. I like that 36mpg in the city number a lot, since I have a nearly one-hour commute each way.
Ford licensed the hybrid technology from Toyota (makers of the Prius, a zippy little sucker), then claims to have made some improvements. I've seen good reviews on it.
I'm on my third Chrysler Town&Country Minivan. Not because they wore out but they have been introducing lots of additonal features. We will be keeping the current one 2004. It has a nice GPS system, the rear seats all fold into the floor leaving room for a small caberet or gobs of storage plus it has automatic doors on both sides and the back hatch. The auto doors are worth it when it's raining etc.
"Handles well" pretty much rules out a minivan. Given your parameters, I'd actually go for an Audi A4 or A6 wagon... has the cargo space, nav system, handling, that you're asking for, without the bulk of a minivan. The Mazda 6 wagon is the sleeper choice, you can snag one for WAY under the list price right now (ford, mazda's corporate parent, is pressuring Mazda to move a lot of cars immediately to raise cash) but you'd have to get an aftermarket nav system.
Dave, I had very similar requirements to yours (I also wanted 4WD for the snow here in MN) when I went shopping for a new vehicle last June. I ended up buying a Chevy Blazer (I got the two-door model) because I didn't already have an SUV, but the Subaru wagons were good, as was the Dodge Magnum.
The big thing I noticed is that there are more and more station wagons appearing on the market again, and you may want to check those out.
Car: Honda Odyssey. I've had mine five years and love it. The nav system is really slick, easy to use, clear. Great flexibility to the interior configuration (can lose all the seats behind the driver if you want to carry a lot of stuff, 2nd row captain's chairs can be made into a bench kinda thing if you want, or taken out entirely, 3rd row drops down to lay flat and give you an Econoline sorta thing). No maintenance issues.
So-so mileage around town, but better than the Mazda 929 it replaced. Very good mileage on highways -- well over 30 mpg on trips. You sit high enough to have a good view of the road. Traction control kicks in anytime there would be a little wheel spin (not only snow, but oil-slickened rain at a stop sign).
Dual sliding doors for passengers, both automagic (just a little pull to get them going, not an arm-wrenching yank required -- or the driver can control them from the driver's seat or key fob). Cup holders for all seven passengers. (The middle of the third rwo would, of course, have to reach over another passenger.) And so on.
That's for a 2000 version. I assume there have been manifold improvements since.
I don't know an Odessey owner who complains about the choice.
(Let us know how the decision is going, hmmm?)
Check out this vehicle -- The Ford Explorer Sport Trac. I believe it will meet your needs as you've described them. I own one and it is perfect for me. The things I love about it, is that it has a full-sized back seat, a small pickup bed for hauling those big items, high ground clearance and 4WD if I decide to go fishing in some remote area. It is one versatile truck/SUV.
The web link will take you to an enthusiasts web site, where you can research almost anything you'd like, and you may also register and ask any specific questions. The people there are very helpful.
You can see a photo of my truck at http://www.zjstech.net/~library/10694/IMG_0291.JPG
There's nothing more comfortable or practical than a minivan. My wife resisted, but once we took the latest Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna for a test drive, she was convinced. Since then, many other friends have been convinced to make the SUV/minivan switch by sitting in our capacious third row and watching "The Lord of the Rings" in surround sound. Minivans are roomy, luxurious, comforable, fuel-efficient, and surprisingly sprightly. I only wish they already had a hybrid version out on the market.
Two choices come to mind:
1) Chrysler Pacifica
2) Dodge Grand Caravan - check out those Stow-n-Go seats!
HI Dave! Met you up at Bloggercon in Palo Alto. Regarding your question about a new car. I have a 2004 Honda Element and I can vouch it's a great car with everything you could ever want including a place to plug your iPod into the stereo and 4 wheel drive. People say they're boxy looking but once you ride in one you know it's not true.
There's lots of room: seats fold down, fold up, and come out so you can haul stuff. It's got a iVtec DHOC 4 cylinder motor with overdrive which pumps out the horsies giving you lots and lots of power while still getting 38 on the freeway and 28 in the city. As for the gps, you'll have to look into upgrading to the stereo honda offers in their Accords. I promise you'll never be at a loss for room in an Element. Atleast test drive one before you buy. They're very good and handle excellent. Airbags all around, anti-lock breaks, theft deterrent systesm, and an extra power port in the back so I could charge the powerbook while the iPod is plugged in up front were major selling points for me.
It's also HIGHLY recommended by Click and Clack on NPR. We've even slept in the thing on a trip to Mono Lake. Laying the seats down makes an excellent place to take a nap on the road. Take a look. I think you'll enjoy it.
Good luck in your search.
I've been driving a Honda Element for a year, and I think it would fill the bill. I get 21-23 mpg on the freeway, and have used it to carry bikes, large electronic signs (roughly 5 x 3 x 8") two at a time, and other loads.
The Element's rear seats can easily fold up to the side or be removed. The entire interior is designed for easy cleaning, so instead of cloth on the door and seats, Honda used water-resistant vinyl that looks better than that sounds.
There's a power socket and an audio aux-in right on the dashboard, just above a little tray that's perfect for an iPod.
It's great fun to drive, and 4-wheel-drive is available.
The only thing it lacks is the GPS Nav, which would have to be aftermarket.
Here's Honda's page:
Here's a Car and Driver review:
Here's an owners' forum:
I bought mine via the internet, and got a 4wd EX automatic for less than 19k INCLUDING tax, tag, title, etc.
If you made mileage more important, I'd strongly recommend the Prius. If you really don't like the idea of good mileage (or want more luxury or performance than mileage), friends seem to be happy with the Acura TL or RL.
Have you considered Scion xB? You'll have to add an aftermarket GPS, but its modest cube and scale for just one other regular passenger make it worthy of attention (Scion is Toyota made).
Seems also the PT Crusier might fill the bill. Same as the Scion--modest, flexible cube, and comfortable seating for a single passenger. PT Cruiser still has a manual 5-speed gearbox option.
For all other Japanese minivans I'd include Honda's Odyssey, and Toyota's Sienna, though our devalued dollar makes them more expensive now. And: they're both "glittering prizes", definitely hard to find bargains for. Either of DaimlerChrysler's domestics compare very favorably, and there are
Don't know how much horsepower matters to you, but the Durango's a sort-of minivan with a BAD engine: http://www.dodge.com/durango/index.html
take a look at the chrysler pacifica dave - my wife has one and loves it, especially the very logically placed navigation gps/trip screen which sits right in front of the steering wheel and talks to you as your trip progresses...
it holds up to 6 people, but the seats fold down to maximize space if you only have 2 or 3 passengers...
we cart kids w/ hockey and snowboarding gear all over new england in it...
plus it's got awd which works great in the snow ;)
finally the front & middle seats are buckets and very comfortable - the back seats are small-ish and only for short trips...
Buy a Renault Espace (I'm not sure they sell them in the US)
If you are positively sure you will never need to transport more than two persons, don't buy additional seats.
Driving a modern Renault is a an unbelievable treat : extremely sweet and responsive, very confortable, and great mileage...
I used to drive Mercedeses, but I changed to a Renault Laguna last year (I have a big family, but not big enough to need the additional space available in the Espace model), and I definitely do not regret it. (I don't work for Renault, I'm just a VERY satisfied customer.)
Before you commit to anything else, I suggest you find the nearest Renault dealer and spend half an hour test driving an Espace.
One possible problem, though : is it politically acceptable to drive a French car in the US today ? ;-)
You know the Toyota Highlander Hybrid is coming out in the spring and it will make the Prius look like a Model T. It may not fit all your parameters mentioned but it's so hot in so many other ways -- it's like chocolate without the calories -- an SUV that's not a gas guzzler.
I know whereof I speak, I spent two weeks selling Toyotas in the local dealership just for fun last month (sold 6 cars in the first week). If you want one, get on a waiting list NOW. Also, they will be much easier to get on the West Coast (esp CA), harder to get on the East Coast from what I hear.
Car choice - consider a Pontiac Aztek. Yeah, everybody makes fun of them, but it is a great car. A year or so back I chose a bright red one as a rental car for a week. It was great - easy to store luggage, good high seating position - snappy performance - easy to find in a parking lot. It is shorter than a minivan, so it is quite manuverable.
It is also American made - for whatever that is worth pro or con to you.
I've shared this experience with other road-weariers and often heard similar sentiments. Popular Mechanics had a writeup on them in the last year or so where they interviewed owners. They found a very high level of owner satisfaction.
Another slick choice would be the Honda Element. Although it was designed to target the young, it has become a smash hit with baby boomers. At least check one out.
I personally am a great fan of TDI volkswagens. I have a red diesel beetle. If you want one though, look at either a Jetta or the great new diesel Passat - they have more room. I don't know if these are available in CA, though. I live in the other 49; specifically Michigan.
On the phones, I was real happy with T-mobile, but my company replaced it with a Verizon. Obviously "can you hear me now" is as commonly asked over Verizon as the others.
The service truck that I use to do my 200-800 mile round trips is a Mercedes-Freightliner-Dodge Sprinter. It has the great five cylinder Mercedes turbo-diesel. Mine is a long tall windowless affair, but the short, windowed version would be a great way to go. I usually get about 22-23 mpg, and have all the power I need east of the Mississippi. I've been stopped twice and warned on top speed.
It is rear-wheel drive, but has an electronic posi-traction setup and holds the road fine in the upper mid-west.
I drive a VW Sharan, turbo diesel. Excellent milage, can carry up to 7 but has really well designed chairs that make it quick and easy to change configurations. The same car is also (or was - I don't know if its still in production) made by Ford and is called Galaxy. Low service costs and comfortable seats make it the best car I ever owned! But mine doesn't have GPS - its a 98 model!
You need a new car... My recommendation: Subaru. They are driver's cars, all wheel drive. They make station wagons that drive better than a lot of American-made sports cars - no joke. You'd have to add on GPS yourself.
I think you'd love the Nissan Murano.
You may indeed be looking for a minivan. My dad has had those same requirements (minus the GPS) for over a decade. Take a look at the new Dodge/Chrysler Grand Caravan. The seats fold flat into the floor, so you can turn your van into a little truck (which is how my dad runs his van -- as a two-seater). The nice thing about the folding seats is that you don't need to remove them and store them somewhere.
Look on the options sheet for a "sport suspension" or something like that. If in doubt, ask. Get the alloy wheel upgrades -- it's not for looks, it's for handling. Lower rotating weight.
You'll get 18mpg or so. Actually, that's horrible, but nobody puts diesels into cars in the U.S., despite the excellent units in their European brands.
If I was shopping now I'd get the Honda Element and I have similar requirements (except I surf). Kind of like VW Van for the 21st century. Covers your wish list except for the GPS. You can get a dashtop unit from a real GPS maker though. Looking for a car with built in GPS limits your options and choices and upgrade path somewhat.
Edgy radical design and unique useful features that will scare away conservative buyers. "Youth oriented" but I think as many or more nth childhood dudes buy them (marketers must secretly know this). Maybe the suppoesd surf bum, hippy traveler audience (or whaterver we should call them) will be diving them used in the 2010s.
I have been pleased with the Plymouth Voyager mini-van I've had since 1988. 161,000 miles on it with very few problems other than the transmission. I had that replaced 20,000 miles ago. The newer ones have a much improved transmission. The reason for the overall reliability has been the Mitsubushi V-6 engine in it.
I have taken the back seats out and put them in the garage, and I can carry a van load of music, lighting and video equipment. If I need to carry people, the seats go back in easily.
When I want better mileage than the 20 something I get in the mini-van, I ride a motorcycle or a bicycle.
Honda Element for cargo space and hip room, Toyota Scion for reliability and head room. Depends on whether you are wide or tall, and on just how much cargo room you need. Either will require aftermarket GPS.
Almost anything the Germans make in Diesel that offers you space; MB has station wagons; VW does a van and small wagon. Diesel is fantastic in mileage, runs forever with small mainenance; and is now quick on pickup and low on noise and smoke. If money is a problem, consider a second owner car even with 100,000 miles or more; they will run you another 200,000 to 300,000 miles; my last complete history was a 1992 MB 300 4-door sedan, very roomy trunk, I bought it with 174,000 miles on it, drove it another 150,000 miles, got a total running and purchase cost, includeing fuel and maintenance of about .11 per mile; now own the 1996 version, getting 30 mph; and diesel fuel typically runs same or lower than regular gasoline. Diesel is more environmentally friendly than gasoline in pollutants, as well as being more efficient.
I love my Pontiac Aztek. It's a decent car, built on a minivan rather than SUV body so that means slightly better gas mileage and more car-like than truck-like fill. The center console as cooler works wonderfully well for long car trips (and helps discourage stopping at fast food joints). The back seats split. And the tent. Who can resist a car that comes with a tent and an air mattress?
Finally, the two rear seats easily remove meaning that you can pretend you're driving a two seater -- and you end up w/ significantly more cargo space than a mini van -- where typically the 3rd row seats fold into the floor and the second row seats fold up and take up a foot or two of space.
The Chrystler Voyager is a great vehicle.
How about the Ford Freestyle or Dodge Magnum?
Look at a Mazda 6S.
I recently bought a car I love and it may address your needs for space while also providing a lot of fun and comfort. Nearing retirement and finding little need for two cars we replaced a Mazda RX-7 and a Jeep Cherokee with a Mazda 6S. We got the hatchback version and a V6 engine. With the rear seats folded down I estimate hauling capacity about equal to the Jeep and with similar ease of loading/unloading.
At the same time, this is a sporty sedan well removed in performance from the typical family car and it is very good looking so I get to keep the fun of driving a sports car. Disk brakes all around and just generally very well fitted out. Price is right too.
A built-in GPS is one of the few options but I didn't get one.
Car recommendation: Get a Toyota Prius! They're cheap ($26K for the model with the DVD system and Bluetooth phone support that will shut down your radio/ipod when you answer a phone call), they're spacious, and as a Hybrid it has great gas mileage. Everyone I know who owns one is passionately satisfied (like Mac-owners).
Pontiac Montana... had one and loved it.# Posted by Dave Winer on 11/28/04; 8:42:38 AM - --