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2011 Ford Flex: Flex with EcoBoost is available on the SEL, Limited and Titanium series. (Ford Motor Company Ford)
2011 Ford Flex: Flex with EcoBoost is available on the SEL, Limited and Titanium series. (Ford Motor Company Ford)

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A minivan makes sense, but they don't want one Add to ...

Hi there: We will soon be in the market for a new kid-mobile. My husband hates minivans and refuses to buy one, which is fine by me. He also feels that life is not worth living if the vehicle isn't a standard transmission. We are driving an aging Volvo V70 with a rumble seat in the trunk. We have two seven-year-olds and a nine-year-old and drive a lot, so good mileage is important. I'm partial to Subaru because of the all-wheel-drive, but I'm open to suggestions. Do you have any? Suggestions that is. When a minivan is not an option, what should a busy family buy that will make a performance-crazed dad and a practically minded mom happy? - Thanks, Jennifer

Cato: Okay, Jenny, your hubby must get over his manual obsession. A do-it-yourself gearbox is not available in anything suitable to meet your three-kid needs.

But minivans are so cheap and functional, you and dear hubby might want to get one and then spend the leftovers on a sports car for date night. With two seven-year-olds and a niner, you most definitely need a weekly date night.

Vaughan: Jen, what's that wagon they're driving? A Vulcan? A Victor? Oh, a Volvo. They used to be popular, then Ford bought the company and let Volvo suffer a lingering near-death before dumping them at remainder-bin prices to the upstart Chinese auto maker Geely.

What will Geely eventually do with Volvo? Cato will tell you that an unlimited pot of Chinese government money guarantees a glorious future for Volvo. I don't think so. Can you say Chinese taxi cabs?

Cato: What's wrong with taxis? Mercedes makes them - dull yellow ones all over Germany. Toyota makes them - Prius cabs line Vancouver's curbs. I like Volvo's future as a taxi maker.

Vaughan: Okay, if you're happy recommending a future taxi, and if Jen and her mate are happy with Volvo, then why not the Volvo V50?

The V50 is a true station wagon with 1,700 litres of cargo space and all-wheel-drive. It also has a piece of IKEA furniture as the central console. With the 2.5-litre, five-cylinder, turbocharged engine you get 227 hp so hubby can play.

But no standard tranny. As Cato said, they've gone the way of the dodo, unfortunately.

Cato: Gotta stop you right there. The V50 is too small; so is any Subaru. Not enough room inside for the three booster seats Jenny and hubby are carting around. They need three rows of seating.

Vaughan: What? I'm shocked. You've always liked those Subies, Cato, because they're bulletproof quality-wise, although they have had that correctable issue with front-wheel shimmy. I like the Audi A4 Avant for these two, also. Nice wagon, very sporty.

Cato: Too small to accommodate three booster seats, not to mention the extra kid or two Jenny will find herself bringing along - friends of the kids.

Vaughan: Well, I'd like to tell Jen and sporty hubby that they should stick with Volvo and go for a new V50. Back in the day, Volvo was actually the top premium import in Canada - can you believe it? I owned one - used - a million years ago and loved it.

I feel sorry for the many excellent Volvo dealers in Canada who are standing by helplessly as Geely tries to figure out what to do with its new toy. I don't think it's going to turn out too well.

Cato: We want car shopping to turn out well for Jenny. Let's focus.

First choice: the Ford Flex. It's car-based and drives really well, and has three rows of seating. I like the all-wheel-drive Flex Limited. It lists for $43,199, but I can see at least $7,000 in discounts available. It's super-safe, too.

Vaughan: It looks like a hearse. Hubby will hate it; he'll die of embarrassment if he has to drive a Flex.

Cato: It's cheap enough so that they can buy it, do the family thing, and still get a stick-shift car for date nights.

2011 BMW X5

Vaughan: If you're recommending crossovers, the obvious choice is the BMW X5. Also available with three rows of seats and it's perfect for sporty hubby.

Cato: The V-6 with all-wheel-drive lists for $59,990 and then Jen will need to add $2,100 for the third row of seats. But cash buyers can tap a $3,500 factory-to-dealer rebate.

Vaughan: I'll play your game, Cato. Jen and the husband should look at an Acura MDX - $57,900 with AWD and the Technology package.

Cato: No one pays full list for an MDX, not with a $5,000 factory rebate in the mix. My recommendation is the Flex and a date car.

Vaughan: Sporty hubby needs the Bimmer.

2011 Acura MDX



2011 Ford Flex Limited AWD

2011 Acura MDX Technology Package

2011 BMW X5 35i xDrive

Wheelbase (mm)




Length (mm)




Width (mm)




Height (mm)





3.5-litre V-6

3.7-litre V-6

3.0-litre six-cylinder

Output (horsepower/torque)

262/250 lb-ft

300/270 lb-ft

300/300 lb-ft

Drive system

All-wheel drive

All-wheel drive

All-wheel drive


Six-speed automatic

Six-speed automatic

Eight-speed automatic

Curb weight (kg)




Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

13.4 city/9.0 highway

13.2 city/9.6 highway

13.0 city/8.5 highway

Base price (MSRP)




Source: car manufacturers

Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which appears Fridays at 8 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on CTV.

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Follow on Twitter: @catocarguy

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