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Growing family ISO bigger car without losing MPG

We currently are driving a 2005 Honda Civic and LOVE it! Unfortunately, we just had our second kid and it’s becoming a pretty tight squeeze with 2 car seats and all the stuff that comes with kids! We are on a very tight budget and don’t have much to spend, so we are planning on going for a used vehicle. My partner is adamantly opposed to buying a van; so I guess we’re looking for a wagon, crossover or SUV of some sort. We don’t want to give up the great gas mileage we get from the Honda though. We’d like to find a bigger vehicle that gets at least 25MPG in the city and 30MPG on the highway.
We’ve looked at the 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid (one is for sale near us for $10K) and that might be an option. But I know there is some issue with hybrid breaks and we hate to go to an automatic car after years of driving a manual transmission. Any advice or suggestions would be appreciated!

Mazda CX-5 comes in manual transmission and is relatively inexpensive. You could look at a Mazda 5, they come with a stick, too. You’d be surprised how well a minivan might work out for you guys.

Take all the car seats and stuff when you go shopping to get a feel for how well things load and unload

Prius V?

Pick up a Consumer Reports Used Car Buyer’s Guide and New Car Preview at the local bookstore. That’ll show you all the different options available and give you a master plan to test drive against.

Maybe you could go up a class or two in size yet still drive a sedan. The 2008 Chevy Malibu is about $10,000 with a 4-cyl and gets 22 city/32 highway. A 2008 Accord would be more like $12,000 to $13,000. Or large sedans. Chevy Impala gets 18/29 and under $10,000 for a 2008. By contrast, a 2008 Toyota Avalon (19/28 MPG) starts at $14,000. If you are interested in a larger sedan, you should look at GM and Ford products. They are reliable and cost significantly less than comparable Honda and Toyota cars. I have a hard time justifying the price on a used Accord, Camry or Avalon. They are excellent cars, but high resale price is your enemy as a used car buyer. BTW, I have a 2005 Accord that I bought new. It’s a great car; just not a good buy on the used market.

The one other option is to rent a larger car/minivan for longer trips and keep the civic for around town. My experience is that for around town you don’t need to carry the huge amounts of stuff like packnplay etc. it’s a good compromise for keeping fun to drive cars with long distance travel.

Honda Fit? Not bigger than a Civic, but more useable space.

As a rule, you will likely lose mileage going to a bigger car. They weigh more, and thus use more energy to haul around. That said, my 2001 Accord 5 spd gets very similar mileage to your Civic and is considerably larger, so there are factors other than size. You could look at something like a CR-V (which was available with a manual through 2006), which would give you a lot more space with fairly similar mileage.

I guess it depends on how strictly you interpret van whether the Mazda5 is one or not. It’s smaller than a typical minivan but has sliding rear doors for easy loading of car seats in parking lots. It has a couple of small third-row seats so you can take some friends along (child-sized ones), or fold them down for space. It has been made for several years so there should be used ones out there, and its gas mileage is OK for a toy box on wheels. Not much glamour, plenty of practicality. The Hyundai Elantra Touring doesn’t have much more people space than a Civic, but it’s a fine little wagon made a few years ago. The rear doors are cut higher, so it should be easier to load the child seats. Hyundai by that point was making good cars, if a bit plain. Of course there are lots of perfectly good small SUVs out there, too, but these two are a little different.

A definite size up, but feeling more like a car than an SUV is the Toyota Venza. It’s essentially a tallish Camry wagon, in the same way a Subaru Outback is a tallish Legacy wagon. Unlike the Subaru, most Venzas are front-wheel-drive, so gas mileage is better, if not great. It would be a bit lower than you were hoping, but it’s on the bigger, nicer side. For another wagonlike crossover, there is the Ford Flex, though I don’t have the Consumer Reports reliability info handy. It’s a roomy beast, reminding more of my childhood station wagons than anything else sold.

I’d put mpgs 3rd on the list, behind safety (#1) and reliability (#2). Take a look here at a good safety ranking site:

First thing to do is rethink what you NEED. The baby industry is far more ridiculous about this than the auto industry. People will complain that Ford will try to convince you that you need an Explorer, but have you ever stepped foot in a BuyBuyBaby? Good grief, it is absolutely insane.

With 2 kids, all you really need is a sedan. Seriously.

We have 2 children and our “big” vehicle is a 2010 Mazda6. We get about 25-26 mpg around the town and 31-32 on the highway. You can actually get much better on the highway with a similar vehicle, as a 2010 Ford Fusion gave me 38 mpg hwy with the cruise set at 70 on a long business trip. But we liked the feel of the Mazda much more than the competition, and it was cheaper AND we only put about 7000 miles per year on it, despite it being our primary family vehicle.

But the trunk on that Mazda (not the smaller 2014) is HUGE. We can fit our Chicco travel system stroller AND a Graco double stroller in side-by-side. With just the Graco, we can fit in a fair number of suitcases and still get that thing in.

In any case, I would look primarily for midsize sedans and then look to cut back on the baby equipment. A little goes a long way. That Graco Twin Ipo that we have actually folds up tighter than the Chicco travel system. Seriously. I see people driving around minivans that have their entire rear compartment filled with the monstrous double strollers most people buy, while we get around with a midsize sedan and a trunk and a better-designed stroller and room to spare.

@same. Agree as there are too many possible things to consider. CR does a better job of listing possibilities depending upon your priorities.


That’s what happens in 5 years when you have to take your kids and or their friends somewhere or take a week long trip? If you have 2 or more growing kids a minivan is the way to go. I remember when I was in 3rd or 4th grade and my dad broke down and got a Dodge Caravan. (He had a Buick Century previously). Taking trips was much more pleasant in the Caravan as everyone had their own seat, and the amount of interior room was tremendous. My parents like it so much that until I was old enough to drive, we always had a minivan. The 88 Carvan was followed by a 91 Caravan, which was followed by a several Windstars, when were lemons for the most part.

@FoDaddy -

Frankly, I found the “kids and friends” argument to be a little overblown. By the time you’re taking their friends anywhere, they’re at least into boosters, and getting three across the back of a sedan is no problem.

I’ve taken long trips (all the way across the country) in a sedan the size of a current Yaris with 4 people. Sure, the minivan would be more comfortable, but you’re going to buy that to lug around empty space and excess weight the vast majority of the time? Seriously, you’d be better off renting a minivan, even twice a year, than paying for all that extra gas. Plus the things cost a LOT more upfront to purchase.

Frankly, the only minivan that really makes sense to me for a family of 4 is a Mazda5. Considerably better mpg than any other minivan on the market, and a LOT cheaper. The third row is a bit of a joke, but it is actually sized for what most families of 4 use the 3 other seats in a full-sized minvan for - short term, short haul carrying of extra passengers. Only you’re not paying the mpg price and purchase price for that excess room that you rarely use.


I guess it would work for you, but between scouts ,football ,soccer ,wrestling, or any other activity that myself and my friends, and or my brother and his friends did, I don’t think a compact would’ve cut it. My brother played travel soccer back in the day, and they would routinely pack him, my mom, dad, two or three other kids their soccer gear, and luggage for a three day weekend for all of them in one vehicle. In a compact or even mid-sized sedan, that’s not happening. When you’re doing this 15 times a year, renting a bigger vehicle probably isn’t worth it.

Granted if you’re talking bout younger children, like 1-5 years old, then yeah, they won’t be into all that sort of thing at that age, and you can get away with a smaller car but once they hit 3rd grade or so it’ll start, and trust me, that Mazda 6 isn’t going to be enough anymore, my dad thought the same thing. But once he got his first minivan he was hooked.

We had a Saturn SW2 with 3 kids. I liked a small car because I could easily hand things back to the children from the driver’s seat. I had a long ski box that I would put on the roof when I really needed to haul kid stuff around (twice or three times a year). SW2s are no longer available as new but the concept of an economical car when the kids are small is good. I consistently got 40mpg on the highway with that car and a little less when I needed the ski box. Now that my kids are as tall as I am, I finally bought a minivan and love it. I’d say stay small now and put something on the roof when you really need the space.

The perfect car for you would be a Hyundai Sonata. With the 4 cylinder direct injection engine, your mileage will be about the same as your Civic, while the interior space and trunk are the size of a full size car. Unfortunately these car models are only 2012 and later; you won’t find an older one.