When I wrote about hot hatch finds a few weeks ago, I mentioned that the best thing about them is that they’re fun and practical, meaning you can take your kids to school in them. And then I remembered no one with kids will buy one of these as a way to take them to school.
That’s because many parents have told me that a Volkswagen Golf or Mazda3 is not a practical family car if your family requires bulky reverse-facing car seats, strollers and that folding mesh crib thing. These cars typically also lack the electronics necessary to keep the children sedated for part of the road trip.
This week, I present three people movers of sorts, with lots of seats that fold and to make space for the big pieces of stuff that little children seem to require these days. Two are best-sellers, one is perceived as uncool, one really is uncool and the last one is a little weird and better for it.
Face it, if you have at least two kids under the age of 5, people are just going to assume you have a Honda Odyssey. I don’t know what makes parents so anti-minivan, but if you spend your days trying to collapse a stroller and snap in car seats, you’re just not going to win the cool contest.
Perhaps Honda has to share the blame for the stigma. Minivans are only cool if your hot husband is driving one? But she’s right about that hair, Debra.
Despite the image, Honda manages to shift at least 100,000 Odysseys every year to parents who know it’s the easiest way to secure five car seats/children. Most models built from 2005 have seating for eight, and they’re real chairs rather than the upholstered beach furniture that you get in some three-row SUVs. Early Odyssey models start from around $11,000 with less than 100,000 miles, too. Or you could go the other way and get a current generation, built from 2011, in top Touring Elite trim for as little as $25,000. That gets you heated leather seats, a sunroof and a rear entertainment system with a split widescreen that doubles as a babysitter. There is an Odyssey for everyone, and it’s there to make your hauling duties easier.
Did that convince you to buy a minivan? If not, there’s the Toyota Highlander. It’s not a minivan, but it’s still not cool. What it is, however, is a really practical and sensible crossover for families.
Sorry, Muppets don’t add coolness.
A Highlander seats seven or, since its 2014 redesign, eight passengers. You’re getting the same seats as in an Odyssey, but they’re not nearly as comfortable. What you’re picking up, however, is a higher seating position and widely available all-wheel drive. Make no mistake, the Highlander is dressed up to look like an SUV, but it isn’t one. It’s sort of like how there’s a big difference between a lumberjack and the actor portraying the Brawny paper towel man.
Still, the first two rows are extremely accommodating. A flat floor means there’s room for three people across the second-row seat, and there’s a generous cargo area behind it. If you need more seatbelts, flip up the third row.
Around $17,000 will get you a 2008 or newer Highlander with three rows of seats, fewer than 100,000 miles and probably only minor soda stains. For maximum efficiency and eco-snobbery, a Highlander Hybrid with its V6-electric powertrain starts off at around $20,000. And the current body style with a much nicer interior and seating for up to eight starts at around $25,000.
So what’s the middle ground between a crossover and a minivan? That would be the Ford Flex.
Journalists have long championed the virtues of the odd-looking people mover from Ford and the public has responded by staying away from it in droves, preferring the more conventional Ford Explorer, which shares a lot of basic stuff with the Flex. But look, it’s the “cool mom” car!
What’s cool about the Flex, however, is the attention to detail. Get a black one and it looks like a hearse, but some have contrasting roofs. Many higher level ones have the Vista Roof that floods the cabin with light. And better still, it has a real third-row seat for passengers who need head and legroom. Fold all the seats down, and you have minivan-rivaling space. The boxy shape works wonders here, and it also doesn’t look like much else on the road.
A nice 2009 Flex starts off around $17,000. All-wheel drive is a somewhat common option, though California is the Flex’s biggest market and many are front-drives there. And from 2010, you can get the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 with 350 horsepower and the power to smoke any Highlander or Odyssey from a stoplight. Your kids will love it.
All three of these cars are proof you can get a huge people mover for the price of a hot hatch. And then, when your kids have grown out of the car seats or refuse to ride in the car with you at all, you can get a hot hatch again.
I’m convinced this is how parenting works.