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Alternatives to the Standard Mama Van

There aren't many good options for a set of wheels that can fit a family.  Shari asks:

It's time for us to buy a new (to us) vehicle, and my dream car would be hip looking (without sliding van doors, for example) and enviro-friendly, and would seat seven (with halfway decent leg room). But I think my dream car may not exist. Do any other hip mamas out there have a good recommendation?


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we have a '93 volvo station wagon that seats seven...i believe they make them in diesel, which would enable a switch-over to more eco-friendly options. i've always loved volvos for their workhorse capabilities (i've basically used them in lieu of trucks before) and reliability -- especially with standard transmissions. good luck!

A good friend recently purchased a used Ford Freestyle for their expanding family, and they love it. I rode in it the other day, and it was very comfortable. Gas mileage is ok - 25 mpg or so, but it could hold several car seats, or adults pretty comfortably in every row. 7 seats and no sliding doors, too!

I'm intrigued by the Mazda CX-9, but haven't actually seen it in person, and I have no clue what the mileage is like - probably not great. It sure looks purty though.

The Honda Pilot seats seven and is pretty comfy, gas mileage is solid for a large vehicle. But as with any 7 seater without sliding doors, getting in and out of the back row is a bit of a challenge and the cargo space with all seats in use is minimal.

We are actually making a move TO a minivan. Unfortunately I no longer spend enough time on back roads and in the snow to be able to justify the "But I NEED a vehicle with good clearance" argument...Also, although I hate to admit it, having used a Pilot, Highlander, Tahoe, and Suburban among other minivan alternatives, I find minivans WAY more functional for family usage.

the Mazda CX-9 lists the mileage as 16/22. It is good looking, has third row seating and drives very smoothly (we test drove it). There's also hybrid crossovers from Ford and Toyota (the Highlander). Not sure how economical hybrid suv/crossover cars are just yet, but they're at least making them, which is a step in the right direction!

I'm right with you. We've had an SUV for a number of years, but with three kids now and gas prices where they are, we needed to make a change. We're just not mini-van people, though. After a lot of research, we purchased a Ford Freestyle. We LOVE it!! It is really comfortable and the seating & stowing configurations are great. I highly recommend it!

I did hours of safety and reliability research (mostly on edmunds.com) and finally narrowed it down to a '95-96 Honda Odyssey (smaller than the current model with swinging not sliding doors) or a '95-96 Vovlo 940 wagon. We were looking in the $5000 range. Both can seat seven with the right setup- The volvo with the far rear seat and the Odyssey with the 7 seat model. (it also comes in a 6 seat version.) We decided we would buy whichever we found first and it ended up being the Odyssey. We love it and have since found so many die hard fans. Definitely the best $5000 family car!

I LOVE my Pilot and it was great with one kiddo. BUT now that we have 2 carseats it's so unfortunate that we can't get to the third row without removing one of the seats, argh! I swore I would never drive a minivan but I have some serious van envy these days. It sure isn't comfortable to squeeze between the two carseats so we basically can't take anyone in addition to our family of 4. That said, the cargo space (with the third row folded down) is fabulous for hauling all the things that we find necessary for a car trip.

I'd highly recommend the Mazda 5! It seats 6 with a small-ish back row that can be folded down for storage. It does have sliding doors, BUT, we think the car looks so cool that it doesn't really matter (plus, we've gotten really used to the convenience). Before we bought it, we heard that they were really popular in Europe, as they are great family cars, but still on the small side. We felt good about buying this one, since we wanted a car that would hold our growing family, but didn't want a big fat SUV. The mpg is 26 hwy, 21 city. Good luck in your search!

Maybe a Kia Rondo? I've only seen an ad but I've been curious.

I too was opposed to the minivan -- but then finally caved in and purchased the Honda Odyssey. I have to tell you -- as a mama with a 2 year old and a three month old -- whose parents live in Salem (and thus frequent trips are commen), I quickly fell in love with it -- especially the automatic doors. We just got back from our friends cabin near Mt. Hood and packed sooooooooooooo much stuff -- and still had room for two additional adult passengers in the far back seats. My husband loves it because we can put the seats down in about 1 minute and it's ready to go to Home Depot and fits things like sheets of drywall with ease. I thought it would be an affront to how I see myself -- but it's so great that I got over it pretty quickly.

I WANT a minivan. I don't even care what it looks like or if its hip or not! We're looking to trade in the passat wagon (which we love, but barely all fit into now) for a minivan very soon.

We bought a Ford Freestyle. It is a GREAT family car. It seats up to 7 comfortably. I have had this car since 2005 and I continually have people that stop me and ask me about what kind of car it is, asking about it's features, etc.

We opted for the Limited version which comes AWD (although I haven't really taken it in snow, etc. but I remember it was voted the "Official Winter Vehicle of New England"......http://media.ford.com/newsroom/feature_display.cfm?release=20156 whatever that means!) and a monocromatic paint color which makes me feel a little cooler in it. Rather than a two-tone version. It also comes with a reverse sensing system...which I consider a god-send in a neighborhood full of kiddos running around. It is considered a crossover so it has the ample room like an SUV but drives much more like a sedan.

The third row is "stadium style" seating so the passengers get a nice view rather than looking at the back of the second row seats. And it is easy for me to glance in my rearview mirror to see all the way back there.

When the third row folds down it holds a TON of stuff. Something which is nice is all the passenger seats (including the front passenger) fold completely flat for big items. The brochure I have from 2005 shows a 10 foot kayak loaded in that way. I have transported 4 heavy wood "pub-type" bar stools in it....easily. As well as an entire patio set from Costco (4 chairs, umbrella and round table).

The third row also will fold backwards so we can have seats in the cargo area facing outward. Great for tailgating, drive-in movies or watching fireworks, etc. Kind of a cool feature I thought I would never use but do.

The second row can be ordered either a bench style seat or two captains chairs with a nice large console in the middle with two cupholders. I think in all there are 11 cup holders. One in each of the doors...so my husband and I can each have our morning coffee in the console as well as a bottled water in each door.

Even with the third row in use; I am able to fold up our big bulky Eddie Bauer Travel System stroller as well as a diaper bag and several bags of groceries in the area behind those seats.

I have transported two toddler size car seats in the third row along with two in the second row with two other mamas in the other seats.

You can have a navigation system and a built in DVD player. We did not opt for those features so I can't speak from experience.

I get about 20 miles in the city and 27 on the highway give or take.

I too wanted to have a "hip" family car sans sliding doors and I have to say I feel pretty hip in it.....especially when other people what to know all about the car.

As you can see I am a huge fan of the Freestyle.....best of luck to you in your search! I hope you find your hip dream car!

I am completely in LOVE with my 2001 VW Eurovan. It's the weekender Westfalia version which means it has the pop-top camper and the lower bed so it sleeps 4.

It has two front seats, two rear facing seats right behind them, then a third row that seats three. I can get three Britax carseats across the third row! This means that there is plenty of room for me to put all of us inside the van, close the door, THEN buckle up. No more stooping over, no more rain down the back of my pants. I can also slide the stroller in the passenger area without folding it down if I need to, or my 100 lb. dog. One of the rear facing seats (the one closest to the sliding door) comes out with a simple lever for even more room.

It also has an electric cooler that holds our lunch, which we like to eat at the built in table. It's made my life immeasurably easier. The ultimate best part is that it makes me feel like my old, pre-kids self. I can't think of a better compliment.

It was hard to find (we shipped it from Pennsylvania) but worth the work and every penny.

I ditto Suki. I've got one too and it's the perfect car for families. They don't make them anymore, but they should. You could probably find a used one that's been loved and cared for.

I'm pretty happy with my Highlander Hybrid. The '08 version seems to be even more family-friendly, with a second row which can convert from one seat to two "captians chair" seats, with pass-through to the 3rd row.

i love my honda pilot. the gas mileage is great (better than a lot of cars), it's super safe and very spacious. i have a two year old but i cart around friends' kids and my 90 lb. lab all the time and there's always tons of space. in fact, this past weekend we had three adults and three car seats with room to spare! it can seat eight. i think it's a great value.

Now does anyone have a suggestion for a new work truck for our urbanpapa? The backseat needs to be big enough for 2 kids (long-term so a 4 door is probably best). We really prefer a smaller truck and it's important to him that it's American made. Oh, and he prefers a regular bed length but will compromise there if necessary. Dodge Dakota seems like the best option so far - any experience with that truck for a family? We'll be looking for a used vehicle. Thanks!


We recently received an email from Erin, who seeks suggestions and/or thoughts on the Honda Element:

"I have to give up my beloved truck for a family car that fits 2 children. I don't want to drive a minivan, even though so many people say they love them after they get past the stigma. I want something that sits pretty high off the ground for visibility, has enough cargo room to get my double jogger to Baby Boot Camp, and is as small and efficient as possible. It looks like the Honda Element might be my best bet, but I'm wondering whether the set-back rear seats makes it hard to load kids in and out of carseats. Does anyone have positive or negative experience with the Element as a family car? Any other recommendations?"

I love my 2003 4runner. Completely reliable, sporty, very easy. I bought it before there were a TON of them out there. The only way that I would get another car would be if I could find a diesel with a third row seat.

We recently had an Element -- which we absolutely loved before kids -- and traded it in for the very reason you described - the rear seats were hard to get a car seat in and out of (our daughter is still an infant.) Also, in order to open the back door, you have to have the front door open also, which is kind of a pain. It's really an awesome car for so many reasons and we miss it very much. We've been Honda drivers forever. We switched to a Subaru Outback but still look longingly at Elements when they drive by....

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