My Dream Vehicle: Does it exist? Looking for a High MPG Commuter Van with Towing Capability

We have a family of 6 that like to take road trips a couple of times a year. We currently have 2 Hyundai Elantras we use to commute to and from school and work, and use our van when we need to transport all 6 of us, but we only get 18 mpg. I would love to get down to 2 vehicles, selling one of the cars and the van and buying my dream vehicle. “Dream Vehicle” would seat all of us comfortably, get great gas mileage, and be capable of towing a small tent-trailer. I’ve looked at the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, but it looks a little cramped for long trips, and I would prefer having seating for 7. Any ideas?

The Mazda5 gets a combined EPA mileage of 24 MPG (21/28 city highway). But it’s a bit smaller than other minivans. If you want something larger, the Honda Odyssey (6 speed auto trans) gets 22MPG combined mileage (28/19). Either way, that’s a lot more than you get now. Nissan Quest, Toyota Sienna (4-cyl or 6-cyl), Kia Sedona, and Odyssey 5 spd auto get 21 MPG combined. Before you make the change, you should know that the Mazda will only save you $555 in gas for each 10,000 miles you drive. At 22 MPG, that drops to $404 and at 21 MPG, it drops to $317. I assumed that your driving is an average of highway and city driving. If it is mostly city driving, you will save much less. If it is mostly highway, you will save more. If most of your van driving is stop and go, I’d either keep your current van or buy the Highlander Hybrid. Under those conditions, a new van will net you a very big car payment and not much else.

BTW, they Highlander Hybrid is worth almost $800 in gas savings for each $10,000 miles.

Have you considered renting a car for the trip?

The Highlander Hybrid does have seating for 7.


But in order to set six people comfortably and have room for your stuff and have some towing capacity, and get better than 18 MPG, I don’t think such a vehicle exists. You’ll have to make a concession or two. There’s the MB Sprinter, which even with the diesel option will struggle to get more than 20 MPG, and costs over 50k for a passenger model. It’s also much more utilitarian/Spartan than you would expect a Benz to be.

Your current setup is about as good as you’ll do. The Highlander hybrid is cramped for what you describe, a minivan is the way to go. And the Mazda 5 would not be a good tow vehicle, fully loaded as you describe.

I don’t think this vehicle exists. I’m afraid that when you have a family that big, you have to expect to pay a bit more to transport them comfortably.

A vehicle that can safely transport that many people and is powerful and rugged enough to tow a camper trailer is gonna take some fuel to move it around. Not much of a way around that.

When you say VAN and TOWING your mind must instanty shift gears if the next thought is MPG .
A virtual oxymoron.
As advised by the others,
start with the highest mpg vehicle which WILL tow what you expect, that’s all you can ask.

I own a large pop-up camping trailer. When I bought my current 4runner I needed a truck that can tow the trailer and haul around 2 adults, 1 teenage kid and 1 12yo…plus all gear. Doesn’t look like my requirements are near what you’re looking for.

The vehicle with the BEST mpg was 21 highway. If you can get one better then that - that will meet your needs…I suggest you buy it immediately. For a vehicle that I think you need…you’d be lucky to get 16mpg.

Looked at a Sprinter van yet? The diesel version has a 5,000 lb tow rating and claims 33mpg highway. You can get them large enough to serve as a motorhome, or one that’s about the size of a normal full sized van.

Since you are only towing a small tent-camper, almost any minivan should be able to handle it. Check out the Odyssey, the Sienna, and Chrysler’s Caravan/Town and Country. If you go this route, get something with a roof rack, and you might consider getting a weight distribution hitch with a sway bar if you get something with front wheel drive.

I would suggest you check out Ford’s smallish SUVs with Eco-Drive tech, but I seriously doubt any of these vehicles will seat seven people.

Stay away from the Sprinters. We bought two of them for service vehicles and they have been a disaster. Three years later and we’ve been through one engine, three turbos, countless trips to the shop for repeatedly dying without warning and one is currently in for a complete strip and repaint. Look at any Sprinter in the north and note the high amount of body rust. The body integrity is terrible, the plastics in the cab crack and fall apart, and two radio failures. We just bought three new fords, no more Sprinters. The only good thing was the terrific fuel mileage. The savings on fuel are about one third the costs of the repairs.

I had heard the new ones arent’ having those problems. The older ones are notorious for it though.

Our accountant ran the numbers on purchase price and fuel savings. The new Sprinters are about $16-18,000 more than a comparable Ford or GM with the Supreme conversion. The end of life total cost came out in favor of the domestics. Since the domestics have been building the same vehicle for 30 + years, the gemlins have been exorcised. Their superior reliability doomed the Sprinters to our company. Also, the parts situation is rediculous. Every part including fuel filters never seem to be in stock and are always 2 days away.