We Need A Family Car But Have Too Many Contradictions! What Should We Buy?

Illustration for article titled We Need A Family Car But Have Too Many Contradictions! What Should We Buy?
Image: Toyota

Rick and his wife are in the market for a new family car. The problem is that they have so many conflicting requirements it leaves them stuck. They want roomy but not too big, fun but also fuel-efficient. What car should they buy?



(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. )

Here is the scenario -

Here’s our current situation: I have a family of 4 — myself, my wife, two sons that in the next few years will turn into hulking teenagers (likely approach my height of 6'2"), and a corona-virus-acquired dog that’s now about 55 lbs. My wife & I both used to be daily commuters, but now work (mostly) from home and likely will continue to do so even after the pandemic.

Our two cars today are a 2021 Highlander Hybrid and a 2016 Honda Civic. Basically, it’s a setup that has worked well for a long time even as different cars have come & gone — one family/road-trip car, one commuter/short solo trip car. Since the pandemic, we’ve been swapping who drives which car more than ever based on where and who (and what) is going.

Recently my wife decided that continuing to share / trade off cars is a situation that absolutely cannot continue. This, coupled with the fact that — when we need it to — the Civic just can’t comfortably seat a driver plus two growing boys plus a dog (it could barely even seat me as just the driver). So we’d like to replace the Civic with something larger that approaches but may not match the utility of the Highlander.

Our budget is variable. We could probably go into the $50-60k range if the case was compelling, but I think we’d prefer to keep it under $40k. Neither of us particularly care about looks/brand/image when it comes to a car.

Here’s what we’d want from the car — and I’m sorry of some of these feel like contradictions:

1) Since it’s primarily going to be used for short trips (<20m round trip), we don’t care about fuel efficiency — HOWEVER, we feel like these trips would be well suited to a full-electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle that can operate in full-electric mode

2) Because we’re not commuting in it, it doesn’t need to be comfortable — HOWEVER — we’d like our growing sons not to be uncomfortable in the back, especially if they have to share space with our dog.

3) We don’t need a third row like the Highlander, but wouldn’t object to one.

4) Though we don’t tow anything, we have a hitch-mounted bike rack, so having a trailer hitch is a plus.

5) High marks for reliability / low maintenance.

6) Though my wife & I haven’t decided whose car this will be, we’d like the new owner not to feel like they got the short end of the stick when compared to the Platinum Highlander.

7) I don’t care about performance at all, but if it’s for my wife, she’ll want to drive it like it’s a go-kart (at least when it’s only her in the car).

Quick Facts:

Budget: Up to $60,000 but prefer closer to $40,000

Daily Driver: Yes

Location: San Diego, California

Wants: Fun, functional, fuel efficient

Doesn’t want: Something small or “down-market”

Expert 1: Tom McParland - Boogie, Woogie, Woogie

Illustration for article titled We Need A Family Car But Have Too Many Contradictions! What Should We Buy?
Photo: David Tracy

Rick, this doesn’t seem all that complicated. You need a midsize-ish SUV or crossover that is fairly quick, comfortable for the boys and ideal for commuting around town. Keeping in mind you have the Highlander for longer trips so we don’t need something too big.

It seems to me that the new Mustang Mach-E would be a good fit. It’s all-electric, so it’s perfect for short trips, and Ford claims a maximum range of up to 300 miles. It will sprint to 60 in under four seconds, which is serious sports car territory. As a midsize crossover, the Mach-E has plenty of room for four, though the swooping roofline might be tight for your taller boys, so it would be wise to see if they fit on a test drive.


Starting price on a Mach-E is about $43,000 but the car qualifies for up to $7,500 in federal tax credits and I would imagine the state of California likely has its own rebates to sweeten the deal. Inventory is fairly plentiful within your region, but as is often the case with California dealers, some stores are putting markups on these rides. You may want to cast a net farther out and have something shipped to you.

Expert 2: José Rodríguez Jr. - Maybe Not A Ford, But A Fjord 

Illustration for article titled We Need A Family Car But Have Too Many Contradictions! What Should We Buy?
Photo: Volvo

As I read into this it’s clear that an upscale European car would fit the bill more so than a domestic, even a neat one like the Mach-E. So I think a hybrid car like the XC60 Recharge could be the ticket for you and yours, Rick!

It has a pure electric range of up to 19 miles, which is one shy of the 20 miles you want for short trips in the city. It has decent fuel efficiency outside of its electric range, with an EPA estimated 27 miles per gallon combined. And it’s a sizable, safe and modern Volvo that ought to fit your family fine, dog and all!


It may be close to your price limit, however, starting at $53,500 new, but it also qualifies for the federal tax credit. Maybe just not all of it, since it is a PHEV. Don’t worry about the XC60 Recharge owner feeling like they got the short end of the stick versus the Platinum Highlander. In fact, the reverse may apply.

Expert 3: Rory Carroll —The Contradiction Resolver

Illustration for article titled We Need A Family Car But Have Too Many Contradictions! What Should We Buy?
Photo: Toyota

There’s exactly one car being sold in North America that I’m interested in testing, and it’s the Sienna. It looks fucking incredible inside and out, solves every single one of your problems without breaking a sweat, and it comes in green for about what you’re looking to spend.

If it’s as fun to drive as the last Sienna, and I believe it will be, I really don’t see a point in considering anything else.


Expert 4: Lawrence Hodge — A Vehicle That Makes Sense

Illustration for article titled We Need A Family Car But Have Too Many Contradictions! What Should We Buy?
Image: Toyota

To me, you almost literally described the RAV4 Prime. It’s got everything you would want. With most local dealers having them for the low- to mid- $40,000 range, it comes in closer to $40,000 than to $60,000. It’s the ideal vehicle. With an all-electric range of 42 miles, it can cover the short trips you described without ever using a drop of gas. Even with the regular hybrid engine, you’ll still get an estimated 38 mpg combined. And while it doesn’t have a third row, it does have enough room for your boys, your dog and your stuff. Along with that legendary Toyota reliability, it all adds up to a vehicle that just makes sense for your and your family.

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Tom is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs AutomatchConsulting.com. He saves people money and takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. (Facebook.com/AutomatchConsulting)


Idiot who sold e39 m5

4 reasonable recommendations? What has happened to Jalopnik? All of these are great options. Rav4 Prime is what I had in mind before seeing the recommendations. If that doesn’t have the desired space, the Sienna could replace the Highlander as the family travelling vehicle and the Highlander could replace the Civic.