Adam lives in Texas and likes to take his kids camping. He has been using a Scion xB, which has been fine for two campers, but now that his youngest is old enough for an adventure they need a bigger ride. What car should he buy?
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Here is the scenario -
My son and I car camp about once a month. Our 2006 Scion xB has served us well; with the rear seats folded down we have just enough room for ourselves and our gear. My other boy is almost at the age to join us in our outings so we need a vehicle with another seat for him. The cargo space in most SUVs and crossovers leave much to be desired when actually utilizing the second row. We would like to explore more remote areas so something with more ground clearance would be nice but reliability and decent mileage are more important as the vehicle is also regularly used for commuting and running errands around town. I like vans but I am also into the idea of a truck with some type of camper set up in the bed.
My budget is up to $30,000
Budget: up to $30,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Austin, TX
Wants: Roomy, good for camping, decent MPG
Doesn’t want: Something too luxury or with bad fuel economy
Expert 1: Tom McParland - It’s A Van That Rides Like A Crossover
Camping with your kids is a fantastic activity and it seems like using your own car over an RV is probably the better move. While the xB is a great little box, I can see why it would be less than ideal for a three person trip. You need something that is daily drivable but with a layout where everyone can be comfortable.
The all-new Kia Carnival seems to check those boxes. It has a starting MSRP of $32,100, so it’s a tad above budget, but it’s a super spacious MPV which is basically a minivan that rides higher like a crossover. That gives you the interior comfort you are looking for and the added clearance you need for those light off-road trails. The Carnival is not a luxury ride but comes well equipped with all the safety tech most parents are looking for, and it has sliding/removable second-row seats. It will get up to 26 MPG on the highway, which is fairly respectable for a vehicle this size.
If that $32,000 MSRP is pushing you too far over your budget you can score a nice Kia Sedona in the mid-to-upper $20,000 range.
Expert 2: Mercedes Streeter - 4x4 Vanlife
Some of the best parts of an adventure are when you get to camp and have a good time with your family with a picturesque backdrop. If you want to go places more remote, you’ll want some good ground clearance and maybe some four-wheel-drive.
I present to you a 1995 Ford E-Series ambulance. This bad boy has a Quigley 4x4 system and is powered by a 7.3-liter Power Stroke turbodiesel. These engines are known for their pulling power and dependability. That 4x4 system will get you into places unknown and as a bonus, it’s already been converted into a camper. Unfortunately, all of this capability will come at the expense of fuel economy; you’ll be getting in the teens.
It’s a little bit of a hike away in California, but it comes in right at your budget and should serve you well for years to come.
Expert 3: José Rodríguez Jr. - Pricey And Predictable...For A Reason
Howdy, Adam! You’re in Austin, and that’s just a jaunt away from Houston. I mention this because H-Town is quite possibly my favorite used car market; it’s ridiculous. It’s an embarrassment of riches! OK, well, right now the used car market is bonkers, but if you want a pickup, here it is. Or the best Wrangler. Or a gas-guzzling FJ Cruiser. I should steer you towards a new car, but I’m going to suggest a used SUV. Look at this 2015 Toyota 4Runner in Katy, Texas.
The miles are up there at around 118,000, and it may not be thrifty as far as fuel mileage, but there’s a reason that 4Runners are sought after. It’s quite simply that these Toyotas are decent on the road, and damn good off-road. This is likely one of the few cars I don’t absolutely hate because of how common they are. This 4Runner will reliably take your family to remote locations and back, and probably never skip a beat.
There’s even a third row in this thing! It also seems to be in good shape despite its mileage. Prices right now might be high, but even if the market tides over, you likely won’t lose too much money buying into a 4Runner.
Expert 4: David Tracy - I Can’t Believe I’m Suggesting This
If it’s just you three, you really just need a medium-size SUV with a split-folding rear bench. If you still can’t fit your stuff in the cargo space, then you’re probably packing too much gear.
I’d normally suggest that you buy an old Jeep Cherokee XJ, because they’re incredible machines. But you said you wanted good fuel economy, and I’m told that these living beings called “offspring” are things that parents are keen on keeping alive. So some modern safety features might be nice.
I’m recommending the Jeep Cherokee KL Trailhawk. I can’t believe I’m saying this, because when I first laid eyes on this car back in 2012 (when I wasn an intern, I pulled up the fascia and outer skin on my laptop’s CAD program at Chrysler Group LLC’s engineering headquarters) I nearly vomited. But I’ve come around to the Trailhawk model, and after taking one on some fairly impressive off-road trails in Moab, Utah during a development “hot trip” in 2013, I gained an appreciation for this Fiat-boned Jeep. It’s legitimately good off-road relative to its competition.
There’s a legitimate rear locking differential, a low-range gearbox, skid plates, and decent off-road angles (approach, departure, and less-so breakover). The KL is still not great off-road compared to the XJ, but unlike the XJ, the KL will score mid-20s fuel economy all day on the highway.
It’s also the only Fiat Chrysler product sold in the U.S. to come with a downsized version of the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 (the KL’s is only 3.2-liters), and I find that quite interesting. Here’s a 2017 KL Trailhawk for sale near you for $19 large. Buy it, off-road it, camp with it, enjoy it. Just don’t spend too much time looking at its face.