The Cult of Cars, Racing and Everything That Moves You.
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I Need a Road Trip Capable Ride That Can Handle a Big Kid and a Big Dog! What Car Should I Buy?

This week's reader has a $50,000 budget for something cool and comfortable.

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Image: Jason Torchinsky/Jalopnik

Toulson is looking for a ride that can comfortably accommodate an “adult-sized” 5th-grader and a puppy who will eventually be a large dog for long road trip excursions. He had dreams of an AMG wagon but lacks the budget. What car should he buy?

(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. Do you want us to help you find a car? Submit your story on our form.)


Here is the scenario:

I have a 5th grader who is adult-sized and a puppy that is going to be enormous. We do a couple of longer road trips annually, and need a car that can both handle those trips, will be good around town, and not boring. If I could find a brown E63 AMG with a manual within my budget, I would write a check without thinking twice, but stuff like “reality” intrudes on my dreams.

I want enough space for three adult-sized humans and a dog that likes to sprawl (so either three rows or a wagon-sized cargo area). Also, I’m saying I prefer a manual transmission because I do, but I know that in reality that’s not going to happen. Most importantly it cannot be an SUV. I have a budget up to $50,000


Quick Facts:

Budget:  up to $50,000

Location: Washington, D.C.

Daily Driver: Yes

Wants: Roomy, fun, comfortable

Doesn’t want: An SUV

Expert 1: Tom McParland - JAAAAG WAAAAGON

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Toulson, I too have AMG wagon dreams but lack the bank account balance to justify such a purchase. Now, the obvious solution to the scenario of hauling the family and a big dog on a road trip is to just “buy the damn minivan,” but it doesn’t seem like you are quite ready to take that step. With the SUV out of the question, that leaves the longroof. Of course, checking that wagon box means dramatically limiting your options.

You want something with some street presence, plenty of cargo space behind the rear seats, and ideally a good number of ponies under the hood. This calls for the Jaguar XF Sportbrake. It doesn’t have a hand-made V8 like the AMG, but the supercharged V6 making 380 horsepower hustling around Beltway traffic should be no problem. This particular cat with only 25,000 miles is not only local, but also Jaguar Certified, and had an original retail price of just over $72,000. That’s a heck of a bargain, especially in this inflated used car market. Jaguar build quality might be a bit of a gamble, but if you were going to play it safe you would have already bought the Sienna.


Expert 2: Andy Kalmowitz - Do the Right Thing


Toulson, I hate to break it to you, but you need to buy a minivan. I understand you aren’t quite there yet, but these are the facts of life. A minivan will suit you for exactly what you’re looking for. I know it’s tough to hear. So, how about this? I’m gonna find a minivan well under your budget for you. That means you’ll have cash left over to get an actual fun car.

The exact right car for you is a Chrysler Pacifica. Is it better than a Honda Odyssey or Toyota Sienna? It’s a toss-up. But, I’m a Chrysler minivan loyalist. Growing up my mom had four of them in a row, so that is what I’m going to recommend to you. Here’s the great news. You can get one of those well within your budget. I’m talking over $20,000 to spare.


Because of that, I’ve found you this 2019 Chrysler Pacifica Touring Plus. It has all the bells and whistles you’ll need for kid hauling and road trips, under 20,000 miles, and a price that’s to die for. This hunk of metal will cost you under $29,000. That’ll leave you plenty of money to get a second, fun car. Think of all the Miatas and BRZs you can get for that kind of cash. There’s your manual answer, as well.

So Toulson, I know it isn’t what you want to hear, but a minivan is what you need. You’ll thank me later.


Expert 3: Owen Bellwood - Get the Right Bus

A photo of a bright yellow classic VW bus.
Photo: Streetside Classics

Toulson, Andy is right, and a van probably is the best bet for you. But, just because you need a van doesn’t mean you need to settle for something bland – like a Pacifica. Instead, you should let your creativity flow and opt for something classic.

I present to you this glorious 1995 VW bus. Huh, that’s odd. I thought VW had moved on from this design long before 1995? Well, you’d be right there, but in Brazil the design remained in production until 2013, so you can pick up a lovely old van that might last a smidge longer than a VW of the ‘70s. And, with that in mind, I think this bus is perfect for you.


It’ll stand out from the crowd whenever you drive it into town and that four-speed manual will keep your arms working while you’re out on the road. What’s more, there’s tonnes of luggage and dog space in the back. And, if you’re on a long drive and need to pull over for a break, there’s even a second VW bus available with a kitchen installed. I can’t think of a more perfect vehicle for you.

Expert 4: José Rodríguez Jr. - A Long Goodbye for Volvo’s Sleek Longroof

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Photo: Volvo Cars Southwest Houston

Despite a minivan being the obvious choice, you don’t have to get a minivan just yet, Toulson. There are countless cars that’ll comfortably fit your family of four and still be fun to drive in some way or another. To this day, I still look for manual-transmission BMW X5s late at night when I feel restless — or reckless, more like — but I won’t put that on you. You don’t need a project SUV, so I’m recommending this 2019 Volvo V90 T5 R-Design that’s quite a ways from D.C., but comes in under budget and has all the handling upgrades. Also it’s in a lovely shade of blue that’d make for a memorable machine for family road trips.

It sounds like you want something that’s engaging, and while the turbocharged V90 T5 lacks the horsepower of the turbo- and supercharged T6, it could still give you what you’re looking for thanks to its sporty suspension. I know I’m already taking the stick shift away from you, so if you really want more pep to make up for the loss, there’s this V90 T6 R-Design that’s barely over budget.


I hesitated to pick a Volvo wagon at first; I was under the impression that these incredible cars would be common in Washington D.C., but I realized the Volvo V90 isn’t common anywhere in the U.S. since few people bought the damn thing in the first place. It’s just bizarre to me that anyone would pick a clunky SUV over a sleek V90, which would soak up the miles and still fit a family with room to spare. Oh, well. The V90 deserves a long goodbye with a loving family. That’s you and yours, Toulson.