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Family-friendly green car suggestions

My hubby has a Jetta that he runs on biodiesel. It’s time for me to trade in my ancient 4Runner (yikes) and rise to his level of greenness. We have 2 kids, and I’d like to fit 3 kids in the back. Any suggestions?

Ford Fusion Hybrid, Camry Hybrid, or even Prius maybe.

The backseat of an ancient 4runner is relatively narrow/cramped. I think the cars listed above are actually wider.

Thanks! Do those three have a third seat belt in the back? I wanted a Chevy Volt, but there’s no third seat in the back.

biodiesel sold at pumps – he fills 10 huge cans at a pump 50 miles away and then fills up the tank with those.

If you can hold off for awhile:

Mazda6 Diesel (coming this fall)
Ford C-Max hybrid (supposed to come early-mid 2012)
Ford C-Max (coming in a few months)
Mazda5 (available now)

I think your husband is “green” enough for both of you! I would buy something that is RELIABLE, EASY to start and relatively easy on fuel, as well as inexpensive to maintain.

Your family may not be able to afford to maintain 2 Jettas.

Fitting 3 kids in the back determines you need a larger than subcompact vehicle.

Most “green” families have one larger vehicle that can seat 5 on a long trip, and one smaller vehicle that has a frugal engine and gives good gas mileage.

As long as your husband drives the Jetta (recommended), you need a mid size car with a small engine. My choice would be a Totota Camry, 4 cylinder (no hybrid) or a Hyundai Sonata 4 cylinder direct injection. This car is large inside and has a super efficient 4 cylinder engine. as well as a cavernous trunk. Unless you drive 35,000 miles a year or more, forget a hybrid, as you will not recover the extra costs. Both cars mentioned are incredibly reliable and inexpensive to maintain compared to the Jetta.

I categorically do not recommend you follow in your husband’s automotive footsteps; I don’t know the climate where you live, but driving an unreliable and expensive to maintain car on biodiesel (especially in cold weather) requires a great deal of dedication, which a busy mother of 3 often cannot muster since she has more important things to do, like raising a family.

Please ask your husband to come up with a life cycle carbon balance for his biodiesel fuel; he may find that the net carbon reduction is very small and not worth the effort from an environmental perspective.

If you’re planning on more than 2 kids, I would suggest a minivan. Even with 2 kids, the ability to separate them as they grow older is another advantage (just ask my wife). Currently, my wife has a 2006 Toyota Sienna. It’s overpowered with a 3.3 V6, but gets about 21 mpg in local driving and about 25-26 mpg on the highway. The new Sienna has a 2.7 4 cyl. in the base model and is probably adequate for most driving.

My wife looked at a RAV4 and a Highlander, but the 3rd row seating in both was a joke.

Ed B.

I wouldn’t call the 3.3L V6 in the Sienna “overpowered”. I’ve driven an Odyssey with the 3.5L and I would rate it as “tolerable” or “adequate”. I have to think that a 2.7L in a modern minivan would be quite underpowered. Also the difference between the 3.5L and 2.7L in terms of mileage for the 2011 Sienna is a whopping 1 MPG.

She didn’t actually say it was out of the way. Could easliy be a place that is driven by infrequently, and stocking up done on those trips.

It’s not always about “the costs”. If it is, why aren’t you recommending buying a $2000 beater? Besides, with gas headed WELL north of $4/gallon by sprin(many say $5 is coming soon), better mileage pays for itself more quickly.

Yes, that’s why a Hyundai direct injection 4 is such a fuel miser. This vehicle gets better mileage than a Diesel minivan. Am aware of rising fuel costs; that’s why all Hyundai non-luxury cars now have 4 cylinder engines, and Ford is going that way as well. The real reason is, of course, the rising CAFE standards.

A $2000 beater no doubt will be hard on the environment, that’s why I would stay away from that.

The 2011 V6 Sienna has 266 hp. I think that’s enough power to be called “overpowered” in my opinion. Thankfully, there is now an I4 version available that only has 187 hp.

Yeah it has 266 HP but the thing weighs 4500-4700 pounds too. The power to weight ratio is only a little better than a 4 cylinder Camry. I guess we have different opinions of what constitutes “overpowered” When you get up to around 300 HP per ton of car that’s the point of where things start becoming impractical IMHO. 200 HP per ton is the sweet spot, enough to have fun, but not enough to really compromise drivability in most cases.

“Biodiesel” is only ‘green’ if it is made from waste oil streams. It is also made from oil palms planted in what used to be rain forests. Decidedly NOT ‘green’!

The Ford Fusion Hybrid has 3 across seating, but a somewhat limited trunk size. There’s a new Prius coming shortly that has added room, worth a look.

Thanks for all the great replies, everyone. FYI, my husband bought the Jetta when we lived 5 mins. from a biodiesel pump. Now we live in the country. He does drive out of his way to get biodiesel, but also gets it when we travel to nearby cities, every couple of months. I will run your views on biodiesel by him; I know he’s done lots of research on biodiesel and has heard these anti- arguments before. We are on the list for a Leaf, to replace his Jetta most likely.

Horsepower is not important to me; only to the extent that it affects MPG. I know nothing about cars, but just want to support progress by buying a true eco-friendly car. Not so concerned about trunk space – we have a cartop carrier for long trips, which are about once a year these days.

Avg. daily driving is anywhere from 10-25 miles, on mostly country (40+) roads.

Thanks again everyone.

Also, any thoughts on a used Toyota Highlander Hybrid? Or the Audi A3, which won Green Journal’s 2010 car of the year award?

Correction: Hubby gets biodiesel from waste vegetable oil, not virgin feed stocks.

An Audi is a nice car to have while it is under warranty.
However, once the warranty is over, you will be driving a car with a higher than average need for repairs, and a very high cost for those repairs. The same could be said for most other European models from makers such as Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar, and Volvo.

Or to put it in other terms, your “green” concerns will begin to revolve around how many of your US greenbacks are being spent to keep a European-made car running after its warranty has expired.

If you want to reduce the costs of ownership over the long term, I suggest that you avoid European models and concentrate on cars from Japanese, American, and Korean manufacturers.

Not saying they are not, but what is so “green” about a diesel engine? Also if you apply the “walks like a duck” line of logic then “if it stinks raw or burned it must be a diesel”. This is a foul, offensive smelling fuel, does this fit anywhere in a decision to run a diesel? Not saying 87 octane smells like “white diuamonds” but this diesel stuff brings on respitory distress.

I have a 2011 Toyota Sienna with the V-6 engine. It certainly isn’t over powered. Since I frequently have a full load of passengers and musical instruments, I didn’t consider the four cylinder engine. The gas mileage is acceptable for a heavy vehicle. It seems to me that I am driving a green vehicle by transporting my group in one vehicle rather than driving two or three sedans.