Hi Joanne, I have a question for you:
My wife just gave birth to our second child and she wants us to buy a minivan. Should I dig in my heels or just accept my middle-aged fate?
Well friend, it was Henry David Thoreau who said "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." What makes you think you're so special? What else would you expect to drive?
When you made the decision to get married, and especially when you decided to enter family life, did you think it would include a two-seat sports car? Your wife needs a safe and reliable machine to transport groceries, and your two children. It's sure hard to squeeze a baby seat into a Porsche 911 or a Mazda Miata.
On the other hand, do you really need a minivan to accommodate two car seats? Or perhaps it's just one, depending on the age of your first child. And just how many groceries do you think a young family of 4 requires? Ask yourself if you want to make your mark on the environment with a minivan, and whether you'll mind lumbering around in a vehicle that's probably too big for your needs.
In any case, a Volkswagen Jetta or Passat would do nicely. So would a used BMW 3 series -- or any one of a multitude of cars that are practical for carrying families, sexier and far more fun to drive than a minivan, and very safe. Just look at the crash test results of the US National Transportation Safety Board. Many family sedans meet or exceed the results of the minivans tested. For example, the reports for the Honda Civic received excellent grades all around.
In the quest to renounce your middle-aged fate, let's not forget the crossover vehicle. It's got minivan DNA, with a more toned, athletic exterior. While a minivan won't impress the neighbours like it did during the Reagan/Mulroney years, a crossover will get you some cred with the guys. And it looks fashionably good at Tim's drive-thru. Although the crossover is cutting into the minivan market share, it will never replace it due to the minivan's more efficient use of space. But in exchange for less space (and feature for feature, the same or less money), the crossover offers you a trimmer, younger-looking figure.
Take the Mazda CX-7 crossover, for example. It's sporty and fun to drive. It's been given a facelift for 2010, and the base version is more affordable than ever. Mazda's reputation in designing cars built for drivers is legendary. Who hasn't muttered 'zoom-zoom' at least once at a passing Mazda? There are many other manufacturers which offer excellent crossover models. These provide a similar ride, and let everyone know your mojo's still working.
Don't get me wrong, minivans have their place. As the children grow up and get involved in organized sports, and you're taking turns with other parents driving your kids and their friends around to events, maybe a minivan will be the answer. But as far as carrying kiddy-cargo goes, if your children haven't learned to walk yet, they won't be hitting the slopes any time soon. Put your Olympic dreams for them on ice -- you've got a few years before you'll have to haul any serious sports equipment.
To answer your question, if you can afford a minivan and don't mind the attached stigma, go ahead. If not, convince your wife to get something like the Honda Civic 4-door. Maybe even a good used model. Really, if you're starting a new family, do you need the expense of a new car? With the money you save, buy yourself a fun little project car -- like an old MG, a Triumph Spitfire, or maybe even a classic muscle car.
Then when the kids are screaming and your wife is complaining about not having a minivan, or when your daughter's date arrives on a Hog to pick her up for the junior prom, you can retreat to the garage. Fix the brakes, polish the hood, or redline the engine.
Need some Auto Therapy? E-mail Joanne at firstname.lastname@example.org