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07/31/2005: "and now, minivan thoughts"

Yes, the dreaded minivan. Not even a year ago my wife and I were in full agreement that we never wanted a minivan. Now, we're all but shopping for one. Why? Well, with our current vehicle we can *just* fit five people in it, and that's a pretty tight squeeze in the back. As a family of four, it can just barely hold the luggage (and equipment) we need for a weekend trip, or luggage enough for a week long trip to California. In short, it's serving us well, but we're at its limits.

What's more, if I do get into school, my wife wants to do some child care at home to earn some money, and unless we trade in for a vehicle that can seat 6 or more, that would sentence her to being stuck at home, or trying to corral 4 kids onto the city bus system. Not going to happen. Thus, we're starting to look at minivans, in the eventuality that I get into school. (Gotta love this waiting, huh?)

As I mentioned before, we looked at the newly-released Mazda5. It's based on the very popular Mazda3 platform, except the 5 is a 6 seater mini-minivan. (I like to call it a nanovan.) So it seats six, but has a 4 cylinder engine, good fuel economy, and even comes base with a 5 speed manual transmission. If there ever was a minivan for me, this would be it! Or, at least, so I thought.

The one possibly fatal problem with the Mazda5 is the cargo area. With all seats upright, the cargo area is... well, pretty pathetic. I doubt it would even be able to hold a week's worth of groceries for my family. Yes, it's that small. Factor in the possibility of my wife wanting to take a stroller to the mall, or anything like that, and you've got a serious liability on your hands.

Now, the one saving grace is that all the seats in this vehicle fold flat. So, it's conceivable that if we did go for a Mazda5, we could simply fold the rear seats flat, have more than enough cargo space for our typical needs, and be able to trade cargo room for extra seating during those times we need seating for 6. Of course, we have to take a better look (and long test drive) to determine whether having the rearmost seats folded as a standard configuration will work very well. The last thing we'd want is groceries careening forward at every stoplight, between the middle captain chairs.

If we're looking at trading seating for cargo, then we owe it to ourselves to look at the other options too. One such option would be the Toyota Highlander, which can be had as a 7 seater. I haven't seen one personally, but would assume that its default role is cargo carrier, with extra seating being the bonus feature, instead of the other way around as in the Mazda5. Other options in this same category would be the Chevy Trailblazer and GMC Envoy. It's near apocalyptic that I would be considering a domestic product, but the fact of the matter is that right now GMs are dirt cheap (employee pricing for everyone), and they are also well represented in the used market.

But now if we open up the used market, we have even more options, back in the minivan camp especially. There's used Siennas, Oddyseys, and my wife would even consider used Montanas and Ventures as possibilities. Basically, anything that has 6 or more seats, can be hand for about $20k or less, and that doesn't suck (i.e., Ford products need not apply) is fair game. It's just too bad I can't weld two Hyundai Accents together and have seating for 8.

I even brought up the old idea I've had of a used limousine instead of a minivan. Two bench seats in the back could give space for 8 or even 9, and one rear-facing bench would be perfect for putting young infants on. Well, so I think - we're still arguing about that.

In any case, once again we're in a what-if situation, and we're going to be shopping around to see what are options are, should I get into school. At some point we'll test drive a Mazda5 and see what our opinions of it are. At its price point (tops out at $24k fully loaded) and ability to economize on fuel, it's a very tempting package. We just have to make sure we don't get something that has a fault we're constantly having to work around.

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