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Best used 3rd row vehicle

Hello, first time on this website. My family is growing and I am looking for feedback on the best used Midsize SUV or Minivan for around 20K. So far I am liking the Ford Flex but just started my research. Thanks for any advice.

If you have or expect to have 5 or more in your family, then a minivan is the way to go. If you like to take a lot of baby stuff, a minivan is still a good choice. You can’t beat the people and cargo carrying efficiency of a minivan. Let us know how many of you there are and if the children are young (need attention in the car) and we can start to narrow down the list.

If it’s old enough, almost anything will end up at that price. Would you rather have something more basic, but newer, or older/higher mileage, but nicer?

It would also be better to know a little more about how you plan to use your vehicle (how many miles per year, freeway or city miles, carrying a bunch of kids in back or adults, too, how much cargo space you need with third row in use, stuff like that). There are mid-size SUVs and things like the Mazda5 where the rear seats are only good for small kids and there is very little cargo space when they’re in use. Those are fine for people with a couple of kids who just want to be able to carry a couple of their friends now and then. The Mazda5 is very good for that. The Flex is sort of the opposite, big enough for a big family and its luggage.

They’re pretty nice, but a minivan has even more space. The Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna are the most popular and generally best made (better than the Chrysler/Dodge models or the Kia Sedona) , though if you read this site you’ll learn that older Odysseys had very weak transmissions that rarely made it to 150k miles. Newer ones may be better. My brother just retired his beloved Honda, Hidalgo (it’s white and he liked the horse movie), after a decade and 350k on two transmissions. He’s a delivery driver, so that was stop-and-go driving, but it still looked good and drove well, with the transmission the only serious problem area (it needed another.) He loved it so much (despite the tranny issues) that he just bought a new one. It is one of the most comfortable vehicles I’ve ever made long trips in. The Sienna is similar, though the interior has never seemed quite as nice.

Of SUVs, the medium/large Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander are nice and well regarded, but if you don’t need the cargo space I’d also check out the Mazda CX9, which is slightly smaller, but is prettier and has the interior of a luxury vehicle. I think it’s even nicer than the Lexus RX. The Flex is more carlike than any of them, which I like about it.

One thing the Mazda 5 has over the other choices is that you can get one, brand new, for about 20 grand starting out.

For space, a minivan is hard to beat. I have owned minivans for over 22 years and I have owned a 1990 Ford Aerostar, a 2000 Ford Windstar, a 2006 Chevrolet Uplander and now have a 2011 Toyota Sienna. The advantage of a minivan over a 3 row suv is that you can haul luggage as well as passengers. Just before Christmas, the chamber orchestra for which I am president had a gig 50 miles away. In my Sienna were 6 passengers, 1 cello, 1 viola, 1 violin, 1 flute, 1 clarinet, my horn and a large box of music. We sold the Ford Windstar to our son and bought the Uplander then sold the Uplander to him and bought the Sienna. Our independent shop has serviced all four minivans. The recommendation of our trusted mechanic this time around was the Sienna. We have 49000 miles on the Sienna. I have replaced the tires, brakes and battery, but no other major expenses. The gasoline mileage averages 15-18 around town and 22-25 on the highway. The gasoline mileage on the Uplander was about the same.
I can’t comment about SUVs except to say that we also have a 2003 Toyota 4Runner. It does not have the 3rd row of seats that you are seeking. However, I for long trips, I do find the seating position and the firmness of the seats in the 4Runner more comfortable than that of the Sienna. I have the opposite taste of MarkM. I like the 4Runner because it is more like a truck than a car. I was sorry that Ford discontinued the Aerostar because it was truck based.

My neighbor is on his third Pilot which he specifically leased for it’s third row seating. He likes a lot for it’s handling and long distance driving comfort which he does frequently.

I don’t think our tastes are all that different in one way, triedaq - we both like minivans a lot. I don’t really understand why someone who doesn’t need the awd ability would choose a Highlander over a Sienna. The minivans usually get better gas mileage, are much roomier, and are easier to load. When people come here asking what SUV to buy, they usually won’t even consider a minivan, so I don’t waste too much time trying to convince them to keep an open mind.

I didn’t mind the old Aerostar too much, because it was decently roomy. Never liked the GM competitors (Astro/Safari) because the drivetrain left no space for feet in front. I won’t sit sideways if I don’t have to.

When we were looking to replace our 80’s chrysler minivan we compared the Honda Pilot with the Odyssey and while both seated up to 8 the Odyssey would get a little better mileage and cost less for the same trim level while having more room for cargo. Some do need the AWD of the Highlander/Pilot and others like my dad decided they really didn’t want/need another minivan. But by that point whatever vehicle he bought would be mainly transporting himself and 1-2 others on an average day. In his case he bought a '07 CRV brand new and uses a utility trailer for the stuff that doesn’t fit in the Honda.

Minivans do quite a lot of things well but they have the mommy-mobile image that station wagons used to have.

I have a friend that got the stow away seating in a Caravan, got to beat dragging out the seats in our Windstar.

@MarkM–Yes, we are in agreement on minivans. The one disadvantage of our Sienna over our 4Runner is that the Sienna is longer and on a longer wheelbase and has a greater turning radius. This makes it more difficult to maneuver in tight quarters.
For a young, growing family, I think that a minivan is a great vehicle and our son would agree. He bought a used Windstar minivan not long after his daughter was born and found it great for traveling. He is on his third minivan. While they are only a family of three, they often travel with his wife’s parents and they travel in the minivan.
I need a minivan because I frequently have musicians with their instruments with me/ However, when my wife and I are traveling by ourselves, we often use the 4Runner. There is plenty of space for the two of us and I like the seats and driving position better than that of the Sienna.
@Barkdog–I agree about stow away seating. That is one feature of the Toyota Sienna that I own that I prefer over the Chevrolet Uplander I previously owned.

“Minivans do quite a lot of things well but they have the mommy-mobile image that station wagons used to have.”

Soccer Moms drive SUVs.

There is much to recomend in a minivan as all have pointed out. If you don’t have winter driving to worry about, it is a hands down no brainer as the ultimate in versatility. The sliding door and the walk through capability give you advantages in safety while loading in a parking lot that only SUvs could dream about. They lack ground clearance for good snow traction but makes up for it in loading ease. The most reliable ones in my opinion is the Toyota Sienna. If you enjoy driving, the Odessy is a little better but no van is really more then a great people and cargo mover. In SUVs, I recomend the Pilot because of it’s proven overall reliability and commodious interior with adult size rear seating for eight total passengers.
If your famly needs are not “excessive”, the vehicle that is now replacing the family sedan for a lot of people, are the roomy compact SUVs. Of course for $20k we are talking about used in all of these selections. Compacts have only a few scattered used models that offer a third row…the Mitsubishi Outlander is now the most obvious. Don’t expect much room when in use though.

Never underestimate what a young family will haul around, particularly when traveling. When our grand daughter was a toddler, our son and his family made the 350 mile trip to our house for Christmas. The morning they were to leave, something went wrong with their car, so the church my son was working for loaned him a 15 passenger van. He had that van completely loaded and this was for two adults and a child.
It wasn’t long after that that he replaced the car with a used 1999 Ford Windstar. It had been used for package delivery from one city to another on the interstate. My son’s wife’s brother is a mechanic and he thought that Windstar was a reasonable buy even though it had a lot of miles. Our son used that until we sold him our 2000 Ford Windstar which had about half the miles on the odometer. The 1999 Windstar was still going strong at 150,000 miles when he sold it. He sold the 2000 Windstar at about the same number of miles and bought my 2006 Chevrolet Uplander.
I don’t think any minivan provides an enjoyable driving experience–if you have driven one minivan, you’ve driven them all. On the other hand, when I owned the 1990 Ford Aerostar, we bought a 1993 Oldsmobile 88. For long trips, we found the Aerostar much more comfortable for traveling than the Oldsmobile 88. I could drive 450 miles a day in the Aerostar and not feel stiff when I got out. I would get a cramp in my right leg after 50 miles.
As to the amount a minivan can haul, fifteen years ago a musical organization in a town 25 miles away was folding and offered the chamber orchestra of which I am president a full set of four tympani. I took the seats out of the Aerostar, but figured I would have to make two trips. I couldn’t believe it that all four tympani went into the Aerostar and it saved me a 50 mile round trip.

After years of backpacking and sailing on cramped boats and tripping in cars , I have come to this conclusion about most people, myself included. We all will fill what ever container you give us for a trip. We are getting ready for a cruise and I felt fine with a carry on and seat bag. When my wife decided we should each take a large underneath bag too, I now don’t have enough room. Go figure.

When we were younger, We took two kids and two adults on week end trips in a Honda Civic. Now, everyone needs SUVs for things like iPads and chargers for their power tooth brushes.

So trei…give some one an 15 passenger van…they will fill it. ;=)

@dagosa–Years ago when my son was in elementary school, we would throw a pup tent, a couple of sleeping bags, a Coleman stove and a few other supplies into the trunk of the Oldsmobile Cutlass coupe I owned and go camping for a week in a state park. We had a blast. My son, at that time, couldn’t figure out why a person wound need a large RV to go camping. I guess things have changed since he became an adult and got married.
The same is true for students going to college. When I went off to college back in 1959, my dad opened the trunk of our old Buick and said I could take whatever I could fit in the trunk. I put in my French horn, books, records, clock radio and typewriter–all the necessities. I left all the non-essentials at home–towels, wash cloths, razor, toothbrush, etc. In my last years in my job at a university, I had an office where I could see the parking lot for a dormitory. Students and their parents came pulling U-Haul trailers or in U-Haul trucks with small refrigerators, television sets and I don’t know what else.

I bought a 1993 Caravan NEW and loved it much. I also had a 1990 Voyager, used with 154K miles, and liked it a lot. I now have an '09 Caravan which had 46k miles on it. The shocks and struts seemed to be worn badly and the front rotors were warped, and the engine noise coming thru the firewall is annoying. It now has 70K miles on it and we have replaced the battery and front rotors. So I don’t know!!!

Don’t tell me you now play a great horn with a beard and dentures ? ;=)
Seriously, when running my daughter back and forth to school, she was lucky enough to have an extended cab pickup truck to move her. The first time I helped pack was not pleasant for either of us. All of the subsequent moves sounded like this, " Put nothing in the driver seat please. I have my overnight gear in a gym bag stuffed under the seat. The rest is yours. I’m watching the Red Sox. Let me know when you’re ready to go."
After the first trip, we decided only I would take her to school and pick her up so she could have more room to pack her “stuff”.

“Don’t tell me you now play a great horn with a beard and dentures ? ;=)”
@dagosa–I don’t know how great my horn playing is these days. Maybe a beard would help. I do have more crowns and bridges than I have teeth. Ironically, I just had a crown replaced on a tooth yesterday. It only took 2 hours from the time I got in the chair until I walked out with a new crown. The crown was made right in the dentist’s office using computer imaging. The dentist even let me go back to the room that had the machine that mills the bridge from a ceramic block using the images that were sent from the computer and watch the crown being made.
Actually, a student shouldn’t require much space to pack for college. A laptop computer and/or and Ipad take very little room. Dormitories now have WiFi, so one can watch television shows on the computer. A thumb drive or the hard drive on the computer can hold one’s favorite musical recordings. My wife bought me a small, remote speaker that links via Bluetooth to my laptop as a Christmas present. If these things had been available in 1959, there might have been more room in the trunk for my razor, toothbrush, towels, washcloths and a change of underwear and socks that were non-essentials. Maybe my teeth would have held up better and the girl I was dating wouldn’t have given me a pack of Gillette Blue Blades for Christmas.
The only television set available in the dormitory was in the lobby and the set was shared by two dormitories. The only time I remember anyone watching television was in the fall of 1960 when we crowded in the lobby to watch the Nixon-Kennedy presidential debates.

The 3rd row seats in a SUV are for small kids. There’s just no room for anyone over 5’3. Plus when you have someone sitting back there…they take up all the cargo space.

"The 3rd row seats in a SUV are for small kids. There’s no room for anyone over 5’3, "

Maybe for ordinary compact car based or mid size truck based
SUVs. But the Pilot and a couple other other midsize SUVs have very substantial third row seats. When the Pilot first came on the market, it separated itself from most others with it’s substantial seating including Truley functional 3rd row seats.

Also, the larger truck based SuVs like the Sequoia are on par with minivans, and some are bigger.