vat is vay-cay-shun?

Looks like Team Munchkin Wrangler is going to go south for a family visit again. That means a 1,000-mile drive, which in turn means getting the Grand Marnier’s AC fixed. Right now, it’s not AC-ing due to a leak in the system somewhere. I am NOT going south of the Mason-Dixon in early May without some freon-cooled air at my disposal.

One of our friends is going to house-sit for us while we are gone, so the doggies have company, the chicks will be fed, and the Intertube spigot won’t rust shut from disuse. (Did I mention we’re getting chickens in April? Fresh eggs for all the Castle residents!) We are going to be gone for a week and a half, with a few days scheduled to recover from the vacation.

Anyhow, I have two items for you today, Internets. The first is for the east TN/western NC crowd: I’m thinking about getting a table at some eatery down in Knoxville for a little get-together. Anyone up for a meet-up of sorts? It would be in the first week of May. We will also be in the western NC area where Robin’s family lives, and I might be able to meet up in Asheville.

Second item: I know that there are quite a few car nuts among you. I need suggestions for a replacement for the Grand Marnier. It’s still doing fine, and will probably serve its function as kid hauler for a good while longer, but I want to get a few ideas for its eventual successor.

The criteria:

  • AWD or 4WD drivetrain.
  • Sufficient amount of cargo space (doesn’t have to beat the minivan, but should have ample space for five people plus luggage without feeling packed.) That means crossover, SUV, or really spacious wagon.
  • Decent gas mileage. The Grand Marnier gets 21 city/27 highway, and I’d like something that does as well or better, which may be a tall order to fill when coupled with AWD.
  • Price tag of under $30,000.

For reference, my current short list includes the Subaru Tribeca, VW Tiguan, and Jeep Compass. The Subie gets lousy gas mileage and is expensive, the Tiguan looks a bit small, and I am not sure about the build quality of current Jeep models. I love the Mazda5 concept, but that one isn’t available as an AWD. I’d like to get an AWD minivan, but the only option there is the Toyota Sienna AWD, which is north of thirty grand. in the end, I may just say “fuck it” and get a Subie Outback, but I wanted to make sure I don’t overlook any viable contenders.

So, anyone have any ideas for a new AWD family hauler that fits the bill?


38 thoughts on “vat is vay-cay-shun?

  1. You’re in the right direction, and I’d say you can narrow it down to the Subaru or the VW. I’ve had two VWs back-to-back, both super reliable, easy to maintain, good build quality and good resale value. The Tiguan looks cool and hip and German and you can get a diesel, if that kind of economicalness is appealing to you. But, the Tiguan isn’t great on cargo space, and you know it’s also named after a tiger and an iguana. Tigeriguana. That’s just unnatural to think about.

    While I’d never call any Subaru cool, they are so incredibly reliable, and the Tribeca is really spacious. The back seats seem a little small, so I wouldn’t want to pack any full-size humans back there for very long, and the fuel consumption is a bit heavy (low/mid 20s per gallon). If it’s even the teensiest bit boring though, think about it, because Subarus last forever and you’ll have it for the next 2,000 years or so.

    Go drive both. A friend with a Rav 4 originally wanted a Subaru Tribeca, but when she got int it, she realized it was sized for someone about 4 inches shorter than she is, and the Rav 4 fit her body better. Take the family, load them up, see what works, see what’d be comfortable for a long ride, see what you don’t get bored with easily.

    I missed my calling as an automotive journalist, for sure.

  2. Paul says:

    I asked my mechanic what to buy and he recommended Hyundai or Kia …. bought an 05 Santa Fe – suprisingly sure footed in the snow … YMMV?

  3. Jay G. says:

    Check out the Kia Sorrento – co-worker’s wife just ditched her AWD Volvo for one and loves it.

    • Sigivald says:

      Or the Hyundai Santa Fe, more or less equivalent.

      Also, seriously – buy used (not ancient, and inspected or perhaps even certified) – new car depreciation makes it a sucker’s game.

  4. princewally says:

    I drive a Pacifica. Minneapolis to Chicago and back on 20 gallons. Adults fit comfortably in the back seat, and the storage area is decent.

  5. Gregg says:

    If you go Jeep go Wrangler. The 4 door Wrangler Unlimited will fit the bill, the gas mileage is a little lower than you want, but it will fit what you want.
    As far as build quality of Jeeps, we have owned 6 ranging from a CJ 7 to a recent model year 4 door Wrangler, including a Cherokee and a Grand Cherokee. The only major problem due to build quality I have had in the past 13 years was a hydraulic throw out bearing on the Cherokee and I’m not sure I can blame Jeep for that. Admittedly, I don’t know that it wasn’t their fault as it was replaced under warranty and thus I didn’t see if it was misinstalled.
    Jeep’s red headed step children I don’t have much experience with, though my MiL has a Patriot that she adores, which hasn’t had any major problems in the year or two that she has owned it.
    Please note that I work on my own vehicles and thus stay away from most of your list as they tend to be pitas to work on, minivans top that list, and I have had parts availability problems in the past with certain imported vehicles. Jeeps are ubiquitous and so are the parts for them.

  6. Hmm. I drove a Toyota Sienna in Flordia and I really liked it. Good mileage and plenty of cargo space. Don’t know if it’s got a AWD/4WD option, though.

  7. Fred2 says:

    A thought.

    Get an aluminum trailer for the luggage when you are in super whole family haul mode. Size the vehicle for mid-hauls. My brother in law does this, he has a mid sized station wagon and when he takes the whole family, they+dog go in the car and stuff goes out-back, with dire threats to the kids to be shoved out there too

    Routan/Dodge Caravan is a lot of vehicle for the money. They were designed at Chrysler when the Germans provided some engineering, so it’s a german assisted engine and design.

  8. joevc says:

    Our Subaru Forester manual transmission gets 27 in town and 32 on highway. It seats five, but the luggage for five would be tight. Great vehicle, however.


    • Marko Kloos says:

      Yeah, we love the wife’s Forester. I’m just used to a wee bit more space with the Grand Caravan. That’s why I’m looking at the Outback–better gas mileage, slightly lower ride, and a bit more cargo capacity.

  9. abnormalist says:

    I would suggest another Forrester. My wife currently drives a Mazda5 (wonderful microvan. Not the space of your grand caravan but much nicer than a wagon) and wants something AWD, New Forresters are available for 21-25k reasonably equipped.

    Probably the best option out there right now

  10. SayUncle says:

    Let me know about the K-Town meetup.

    RE: vehicles, my wife picked up a 2007 Navigator for about $27K. Before that, she had Honda Pilot. Both are great kid haulers and grocery getters with plenty of room.

  11. Kristopher says:

    A good used diesel Suburban will last damned near forever.

    My ’82 is working on it’s fourth trip on the odometer, with the original engine ( no rebuild ), and is still getting 20 MPG.

  12. Dragon says:

    I can’t much help in the automobile department, having long given up being an automotive encyclopedia in favor of enjoying my latter years in comfort. Give me a Caddy, and I’m happy.

    So…that leaves topic #1. Yes. Get together. Blog-ish type in the Knoxville Metro area. I’m in.

  13. I love my Honda Pilot (’03 with 171K miles and going strong). I think the newer models get better mileage than mine. I bought a factory certified used model and haven’t regretted it.

    If you’ll be in the WNC/Asheville area, let me know and I’ll buy you something with gin in it while we swap dachshund and fountain pen stories.

  14. Dan says:

    LOVED the hell out of a pilot before an untimely totaling of the vehicle, wife wants a new one when finances recover better. Technically it is classed as a mid size SUV but the squareness of the cargo area (no weird oval hatch) meant it out-cargoed bigger SUV’s.
    Prior generation pilots all had 4wd, now it is an option.

  15. Ancient Woodsman says:

    Until two weeks ago I would never have said this: I recommend the Subaru.

    A good friend rolled her Forester on Route 9 in Roxbury (the one south of you, not the suburb of Boston) and went over three times. The Granite Gorge area is not car-wreck-friendly by any means. The car was totalled, but she walked away without a scratch.

    I’ve got a new-found respect for the safety of a Subaru, and being ‘daddy’ that is quite the important thing.

    Mrs. AW has a CR-V and loves it; previously we’ve had Pilots. I’d also recommend either of those over the Exploder, Blazer, or Broncos that she had in years past. Sisters have Pilots, having had Jeeps & various other U.S. SUVs – they also prefer the Honda product. Yes, the Pilot registers ‘north’ of your benchmark, but you can get a used one in good shape, too.

  16. Ken O says:

    I’d have to say Subaru. I bought the last year made Baja (read Outback turned into a Brat) for my exwife and it handled like a slot car, did very well in sand, scaled out at 4,000 on the truck scale, towed as much as my Wrangler, ran 14s in the 1/4 and got 24-27 mpg. That being said, parts are expensive and it liked dealership maintenance better than DIY. Who would have thought putting a locking gas cap on it would bring up trouble lights? The ’06 turbo had to run premium fuel and showed a decided distaste for this 10% ethanol bullshit. The rotten bitch I was once married to still has it, drives the snot out of it on weekend trips and commutes 50 miles each way in the Research Triangle in it. I am unsure about today’s Outback, but that platform only sat 4. I would buy another Subaru in a heartbeat. Fortunately for me, Wife v2.0 really likes the Jeep and wants a second one.

  17. Gewehr98 says:

    If you get a Tribeca, make sure you get one in the year range that had the female genitalia for a front end, so we can comment on your aesthetic tastes. 😉

    As a Jeep owner myself, it’s not a secret that the Compass and Patriot are considered the red-headed stepchildren of the brand. If you’re into them for the tough-as-nails Jeep heritage and off-road capabilities, you’ll be underwhelmed. If you’re into them for the economy, fwd chassis and utility, then simply buy the Dodge Caliber for fewer shekels. (Same running gear under the sheet metal, both siblings from the Belvidere Illinois assembly line)

  18. yankeefried says:

    Check out the Ford Flex.

  19. Katrina says:

    The new ones might be out of your price range, but I bought a used AWD Volvo V70 for under $30K with an after-market warranty and very little beats it for cargo space and comfort. Mine guzzles because it’s the V70R (for “Racing”), but I think the other versions might do better on gas.

    The only other thing it’s bad at is turning radius. Corners nicely on the road, but does tight parking lot turns or U-turns poorly.

  20. Bing says:

    We bought a 2001 Volvo V70, it’s a 2wd but available in 4wd, It is a SAFE car, handles great, is comfy, and will hold 3 bodies in the back seat easily. Good sized cargo area also. Has a lot of creature comforts too. It’s worth a look at it. Check out Consumers Report mag if you can get their auto issue it can give you a lot of info without running to who knows how many dealers and hearing the same BS. Good luck, enjoy the trip and the recovery afterwards.
    P.S. I liked the idea of the kids in the trailer, but put them there right away, and you’ll never hear a single “Are we there yet?”

  21. Larry says:

    I, too, have a Baja – an 03 so no turbo – and it’s a great little trucklet. After replacing the idle air control valve I’ve decided I will never own another Subaru no matter how much I like it (the IACV for the Scooby was north of five bills, in most other cars they run less than a hundred). But it does have 136K on it and still runs like a new one.

  22. T.Stahl says:

    A used VW Caddy Maxi Life 2.0TDI 4Motion.

    Ah, (expletive), that’s not offered in the US of A. 😦

  23. NYEMT says:

    My folks bought a 5-speed Subaru Outback wagon after their Saturn wagon (which they adored) was unjustifiably totaled after a minor fender-bender. They were appalled by the mileage (Saturn = 35-40mpg highway, Outback = 20-25 highway), and while I haven’t driven it much, I did notice that the drivetrain is very noisy.

    To be honest, I’d try to be open-minded on the 4WD/AWD criteria. My wife drove a FWD Grand Caravan for seven years, and never had any problem getting where she wanted to go in the snow. I’ve always had nearly as good results with FWD and good tires as I have with 4WD/AWD, and I’ve owned all three, in various configurations. Better mileage with FWD, too.

  24. Will says:

    I’ll second what Ken O said about turbos and 10% ethanol gas. My ’91 turbo runs like shit on it. Poor throttle response, and bad gas mileage. Chevron seems like the only gas around CA that has no ethanol in it. No idea what the East or NE has now.

  25. Lizzybeth says:

    Yea for chickens! Our chicks come home on Wednesday. Will be learning experience for the chilluns, and fresh eggs for all! (No automotive advice) 🙂

  26. Martini says:

    I have been very happy with the performace of both the Ford Expeditions and Nissan Armada. Gas millage is lower than you want, but both will haul the family and then some.

  27. SgtStu says:

    Devil’s Advocate time.
    Why settle for just one vehicle? ( Yes, I do know about the Scoob.) Granted, I am a serious vehicular enthusiast (read car nut), so I like having multiple vehicles for various or no purposes. Being located in north central ND and living in the weeds as we do, we’ve adapted to the seasons. We live @ 1.5 miles down a dirt/gravel-ish/mud township maintained (sure it is) road that is 4wd only when soggy. With normal winters, (of which this was not one; first real snow on @ Feb25th, whoohoo!) the big rear drive stuff, like the 560 (thirsty but fun) and the ’91 Olds Custom Cruiser wagon (the Space Cruiser,fast, fun and loud; 25-26 mpg hwy with 216k miles) get laid up for winter as does DRGNLDY’s ’90 Bonneville (@ 31 mpg hwy) and my crackerbox ’93 Prizm sentence 5spd, ( @40 mpg hwy with 234k miles). Then pressed into service are the ’89 Jeep Comanche pickup, DRGNLDY’s ’04 Olds Bravada awd and various 3/4 to 1t 4wds. The small plow truck is a 1t ’82 Chevy K30 and if things get Really Bad there is a ’47 FWD ( brand name; nickname FWeD) model HR (ex St Paul city snowplow) 4ton with Vplow, wing, and dump box. Out here, licenses are not expensive and minimum insurance on old stuff is quite cheap. My winter beater this year has been an ’89 Chevy Celebrity 2.8 wagon, as I haven’t needed 4wd very often. (207k miles, $430, flawless operation.)
    What I’m leading up to is don’t be afraid to get a 4wd for occasional use. You could pick up a nice turn of the century Yukon/Tahoe for a reasonable amount and drive it ’til the wheels fall off for a Get There Now family truckster. The mileage is not appreciably worse for the longer wheelbase Yukon XL or Suburban. This would give you a reason to retain the Marnier and replace it in kind later.
    Having said all this, TIRES are critical. The Celeb came with a set of Bridgestone Blizzaks already mounted and it never ceases to amaze me at the depth of snow it will charge through, or even stop and restart in again, depths that would have the rear drives thrashing around like a dinosaur in a tar pit. Lastly, the best thing I did to the Bravada was to install a set of Goodyear Wrangler Duratracs. Wow! (Both price and transformation) Those tires literally changed the ‘truck’ from “This isn’t going to be good” to ” Hit the gas, this’ll be fun!” Many times last winter those tires saved me or the wife from having to get out and shovel, something all too frequent with the old ‘city’ Michelin CrossTerrains. (sure they will.) Having an older, bigger truck with good tires around would be (relatively) cheap mobility insurance. Before I acquired the ’82 plow truck I used a ’75 GMC 3/4t awd to smash a path for the smaller 4wds. Greater ground clearance makes a difference. If you wanted, you could go with your own plow on the truck, as well. Sorry to run on, just what I’ve learned.

    SgtStu & the DRGNLDY

  28. Linoge says:

    We should be in-town (Knoxville, that is) around that time :). Your blogging engine will know how to drop me a line.

  29. David Starr says:

    Well, my Grand Marquis is running nicely. Less than 80K miles. We will see if it lasts longer than the Caddy Deville, which croaked at 148K miles. Being rear wheel drive, the Merc isn’t much of a snow car, but it gets me up Three Mile Hill every time.
    For a real family car, a Dodge Caravan is hard to beat. So good that over the years, I bought new, and drove til the motors fell out, three of them. The plain front wheel drive was plenty good enough to dash up I93 to Cannon Friday night in snow. The car felt steady as a rock doing 70 on unplowed passing lanes. Each child gets its own seat. It’s big enough to bring home plywood from the lumberyard and furniture from the auction. Or carry the kid’s bikes. The four banger has enough power for a barge that big, gets 23 mpg and lasts forever. All three of them exceeded 140K miles.
    They were cheap, $12K to $13K. Price didn’t change much over the span of 12 years. The first ones had a 5 speed manual, but that went away in ’93 and I had to suffer a slush box.
    If the children had not grown up, I’d still be driving them.

  30. Al T. says:

    Holler when you get your dates figured out. I’m always good for NC.

  31. If you’re coming through on a Thu, Fri, or Sat, I’d be delighted to join you – otherwise, I’ll send Calmer Half off to go have fun with y’all and head to work to pay for the beer.

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