Having a large family can be a rewarding experience. But when you have a brood of three or four, there are concessions you have to make, and nowhere is that more apparent than with the car you drive. Forget the convertible or even a sporty four-door sedan; you need to be able to load up everyone to take to hockey practice, ballet lessons or a day at the beach, with little or no fuss. And for many, the safety and convenience of all-wheel drive is also a deciding factor. So what is out there for a family looking for seven or more seats and the safety that's so important? We look at vehicles in the price range of $12,000 to $15,000, to take advantage of as many air bags and electronic safety features as possible.
For extra AWD traction, larger SUVs may be the best bet. The domestics offer a good range: the Ford Expedition and Chevrolet Suburban are large, four-door trucks with that extra row of seating; the Nissan Armada from Japan is also large, but you'll pay for this size dearly at the pumps. Look for model years 2007 to 2010.
You could go a little smaller, with the Nissan Pathfinder, Mitsubishi Outlander, Ford Explorer or Chevrolet Traverse. However, the third rows of most of these vehicles are difficult to access and, in some cases, not suitable for adults.
If you want more convenience and ease of entry, ditch the SUV for a minivan. The most inexpensive would be the Dodge Caravan and Grand Caravan; the safety standards are good, but reliability isn't, according to Consumer Reports.
You'll find 2010 or slightly newer models at this price, and while they don't offer as many options as other brands, you do get the famous and convenient Stow 'n Go seating.
Plus, there are plenty available, so they'll be easy to find with reasonable mileage. The Kia Sedona is another reasonably priced solution, though they are more difficult to find.
You can go more upscale and luxurious with both the Honda Odyssey and the Nissan Quest, but you'll be buying older and with more mileage for the same price.
There's no getting around the fact that a minivan is your best choice. Forget the SUV. No matter how big it is, it can't match the interior room and versatility of a minivan. The best choice is the Toyota Sienna XLE, the only minivan available with AWD. It may be more expensive than other vans and SUVs, and more difficult to find on the market, but the Sienna rates highly in reliability and safety and holds its value well. Expect to find a 2008-09 model for about $15,000, but watch the mileage; 100,000 kilometres would be median in this price range.
Minivans are much better than SUVs when it comes to the convenient sliding rear door, the ability to rearrange and remove rear seating and better fuel economy. And ask yourself: are you planning to do any serious off-roading? I didn't think so.
For real luxury and off-road capability, look at the Land Rover LR3. But look more closely: its third-row of seats is laughable and certainly no place for adults. While Land Rover has improved immensely in reliability in the last few years, the LR3 – the model available in this price range – has suffered from dependability problems. You'll be buying older and with more mileage than the other choices while giving up space and reliability.
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