Need a Vehicle for a Treehugging Family of 6


We currently have 3 kids and drive a Toyota Prius comfortably, but with another baby on the way, we finally have to move up to something larger. We’ve been very disappointed to find no good hybrid minivans or wagons on the market in the US. After driving a Prius for the past two years, driving something that gets less than 40 mpgs seems like anathema.

Our dream car is the Toyota Estima Hybrid, which is only sold in Japan, but it seats 7 and gets 40-45 mpg (up to 55 mpg in the diesel model). We are seriously considering importing one to the US, but aren’t sure what legal hoops we’d have to jump through. Other cars we’ve researched are the VW Touran, Chevy Zafira and something like a service van-VanGo is one of the models.

Forget importing a vehicle, there is no reasonable way to do it. There are no 6-seat 40 mpg vehicles available in the US. The Highlander hybrid is as close as you’ll get, but it’s big $$. A more realistic choice might be either the Mazda 5 or Kia Rondo.

A VW Touran is just a slightly modified Chrysler minivan. If that’s an option, you’d be better off with a Sienna or Odyssey. I’m not aware of the Zafira coming over.

Here you go…

Japan drives on the left (steering wheel on the right) so that’s out of the question.

Start looking at gently used mini-vans. Hybrids are over rated IMO. A nice clean low-mileage used mini van will give you a much lower life time per-mile cost over a new hybrid. Depreciating is the number one long term vehicle cost component and much higher than fuel cost.


That bike looks great, but I’m not sure the kids will reach the pedals (we’ll have a newborn and a 1-year old in February).

Why is having the steering wheel on the wrong side out of the question? Is it against the law?

We are definitely looking at used to lower the environmental impact of our purchase, but we want to get the best mileage possible as well. According to my research, a low-mileage used Estima is around $20k and shipping it from Japan to the US is around $3k. I think that compares well with buying a used domestic minivan that would get half the gas mileage. Am I missing something?

If you can get the Estima certified to import to the U.S. (which is doubtful), where will you get parts and service? I don’t think you want to ship it back to Japan for servicing.

One solution might be to keep the Prius to use for going to work or when the entire family isn’t going to be in the vehicle, and buy a used minivan to take the whole family. In a few years, there may be a vehicle which fits your needs and you can trade on or both vehicles for this new vehicle.

I have a friend who has both a Prius and a Ford Escape Hybrid. The Prius is used for most trips (there are only two of them living at home), but the Escape Hybrid is used for travel if they take their aging dog along.

check out the chevy HHR. 40 MPG in a cool wagon that seats several.

Steering wheel on the right (RHD) is not illegal in the US, but awkward and contributes to more accidents. Sweden switched from driving on the left to right in the 1950’s as most of their cars were from the continent (LHD).

Japan-only vehicles do not have EPA or DOT approval. Cost of meeting these would be prohibitively expensive. Good luck finding a mechanic with a repair manual or access to spare parts.


For this occasion, stop hugging trees and start hugging your family and your local economy.

Prioritize the ‘MUST haves’ first.
1 ) You Must accommodate not only six people, but all of life’s functions that must occur concerning them. From tiny babies to tots and into their teens, the next vehicle you get needs to work for you. A minivan makes great sense because of being able to move about in the cabin to tend to their needs while driving plus the space needed and the accessability.
2 ) With a growing family you’ll need a vehicle with dependable service for at least the next ten years.
3 ) ‘trade’ localy. Buy , new or used, from people who do business with you. keep in mind the long term service needs of this vehicle. Would you need to tow the thing 140 miles or can the garage on the corner do you well ?.. and six years from now ?
4 ) When these criteria are met in a choice of vehicles, then, and only then will you compare things like mpg and colors.
5 ) Even a hybrid something, with all the weight of family and implements on board, will show markedly less mpg than it’s advertised maximum potential anyway. Drive the next vehicle in a ‘green’ manner to the best of it’s abilities. ( combine trips, accelerate mildly etc. )
6 ) Live green in all other manners of your life and your personal contribution to the cause will not be wasted.

Very well stated! The tree hugging aspect isn’t the only thing to consider.

Please forget the ‘import from Japan’ idea. It is against the law. End of story. There is no realistic way to ‘Federalize’ a Japanese domestic market vehicle.

Something to consider: Just about anything you buy will give you more miles per person per gallon than will a single person driving a Prius.

I agree, being good to the environment should not force you to choose a vehicle that doesn’t fit your needs or is prohibitively expensive.

Very well put, Ken.

Not to be mean-spirited about it or anything, but “treehugging family of six” is quite an oxymoron. The environmental impact of driving a 25 MPG van instead of a 50 MPG Prius is nothing compared to that of bringing four more people into the world who are going to live long lives and presumably enjoy the high standard of living we do in this country.

I’m not saying you should feel bad about having a big family, I’m just saying that the MPG figure on the car you drive is an incredibly small part of your environmental impact and is really not something worth fretting about and certainly not worth getting something unsafe or impractical.

won’t get into the environmental ramifications of bringing 4 more people into the world that will consume the earth’s resources for the next 80+ years or so. But, for your question, importing a car that hasn’t been tested for crashworthiness or emissions standards for use in the U.S. is pretty much out of the question. Even if you manage to get one of those JDM vehicles onto American soil, you won’t be able to get it registered for use on public roads. You may want to look into the Mazda 5 or maybe the Lexus RX 450h.

Just Think. Not Too Far Into The Future, Your Family Will Need Five “Tree-Hugger-Mobiles” (Unless Baby 5 Or 6 Come Along).

I’m not much of a tree-hugger, although I do like them a lot. Don’t worry about some kind of impact, enjoy those kids, you are blessed with them, and I agree that any kind of vehicle that contains 6 is much less tree-kicking than multiple tree-hugger cars.

Your family’s safety and comfort are number one. The earth can take care of itself. This environmental, global warming stuff is way overdone (to the point it is causing you to think irrationally).

Choose safety for your family, first. Compare all safety data first when choosing a vehicle. The differences in environmental impact between vehicles is negligible.


What about a Highlander hybrid? it gets 27 MPG city, 25 MPG highway and seats 7.

You might also consider a new or used Dodge Sprinter. It is much (way much) larger than the Highlander and gets high 20’s on the highway. Check it out:

You could even double your family and fit in the larger ones.

. . . Or Give A Ride To A “Zero Carbon Footprint” Tree-Hugging Family!