Our picks for a reasonably priced family car
Spend My Money is one of the most popular segments of the long-running Autoblog Podcast. Listeners write in for car buying suggestions, and share their needs, wants and necessary information like their budget and timing. And, contrary to popular opinion, Miata is not always the answer.
This time we're doing things a little differently. One of our own staff members needs a new car, and he invited the rest of us to weigh in on his purchase decision. We decided it'd be fun to open it up and share all of our commentary here in this gallery.
Our buyer has a budget of $15,000 and needs room for two children in booster seats. So the number one need is space. His last car was a 2009 Ford Fusion with a five-speed manual transmission. He'd like something newer and with fewer miles, and has decided not to shift his own gears this time around. He's open to minivans, mentioned the Ford Flex as a possibility and maybe three-row SUVs, but does not want a compact crossover.
Let's get started. And if you want in on the fun, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Given the criteria presented and the fact that the buyer specifically mentioned it as a possibility, no vehicle got more love from the Autoblog staff than the recently discontinued Ford Flex.
West Coast Editor James Riswick said of the Flex, "It's ultra practical and seriously cool, which are two things that rarely go together. If you can swing one with the EcoBoost engine that'd be ideal but not necessary. Otherwise, try to find one with the middle captain's chairs — they reduce total seating capacity but also expand third row space."
Riswick added, "Don't be dissuaded by vehicles with MyFord Touch. It got an unfair rap. I recently used it in an older Escape, and it's more user friendly than many current infotainment systems."
The earned another hearty recommendation from our uniquely qualified contributing editor Joe Lorio. "As a Ford Flex owner, that is hands-down my first choice, but a lower-mileage example may be more than you want to spend," said Lorio, whose backup suggestion appears a little later in this list.
Consumer Editor Jeremy Korzeniewski and Managing Editor Greg Rasa also included Ford's boxy crossover among their suggestions. But even with all that support, the Flex wasn't the only family friendly vehicle suggested by our staffers. Click on the image above for more.
Consumer Editor Jeremy Korzeniewski had another idea that garnered support from our staff. "For family hauling duties, it's hard to beat the practicality and efficiency of a minivan," he said. "The Kia Sedona is a good bet. It doesn't have the reputation of the Toyota Sienna, but that means it's not as expensive on the used market. In this case, depreciation is your friend."
A few certified pre-owned Kia Sedona minivans show up in the appropriate ZIP codes with pricing at the high end of the buyer's budget, but still firmly in the ballpark. Kia's CPO warranty covers the powertrain for 10 years from the car's original sales date or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first. That's solid and comforting when shopping for used vehicles.
Other editors liked the Sedona suggestion, too. "I second Sedona as an alternative," said Riswick, who added that he likes its untraditional minivan design inside and out. Associate Editor Joel Stocksdale added his approval to the pick, saying, "Sedona has genuine style in the minivan segment. A solid choice all around."
Another vehicle that a couple of staffers mentioned as a possible pick for our buyer is the Mazda5. Smaller than a traditional minivan, the Mazda5 still boasts sliding doors and three rows of seats. It was canceled in the United States after the 2015 model year, and there aren't a whole lot of them floating around on the used market. But that just means a prospective buyer would have to look a little harder and maybe be willing to drive a little further to find the right one.
"Despite having three rows of spacious seating, the van is small. It’ll fit into tight spaces with ease, and it’s not particularly tall compared to huge minivans like the Pacifica or Odyssey. For two kids, I think it’s perfect," said Assistant Editor Zac Palmer. "I’m always a strong proponent of the minivan when utility calls, and this one just happens to be engaging to drive, too," he added.
Ford Transit Connect Wagon
"Since you're coming out of a manual Ford Fusion, and you're not a crossover person," suggested Stocksdale, "I want to suggest something that will offer loads of space, but still feel car like: the Ford Transit Connect, specifically the second-generation model.
"This mini minivan shares many of its bones with the Ford Focus, which means it's an easy-to-manage size and has nippy handling. But it has loads of space whether you go with the short-wheelbase version or the three-row long-wheelbase versions."
The Ford Transit Connect may be a tad outside the box, but's a fair suggestion, for reasons Stocksdale continued to elaborate.
"One thing the Transit Connect didn't share with the Focus is the transmission, so the van has a conventional automatic, rather than the troubled PowerShift dual-clutch transmission in the Focus," he said. "Finally, though the Transit Connect was primarily designed as a small commercial vehicle, high-trim models such as the Titanium come with pretty much all the comfort and infotainment features of its more conventional peers."
If the Ford Transit Connect is an outlier in the minivan segment, this suggestion from Editor-in-Chief Greg Migliore brings things back into the mainstream.
"I would take a look at a used Honda Odyssey," Migliore suggested. "It's a solid people-hauler: it's big, drives well and the Odyssey's minivan styling is timeless in a generic way. It was significantly redesigned for 2011, so look for something from then on. They're out there and you can find them for under six figures on the clock."
But what if our shopper decides it's not quite time for #vanlife? Click above for some more alternatives.
"You mention wanting more space for kid seats, which suggests to me that rear-seat room is a bigger issue than cargo space," says contributing editor Joe Lorio. "Might I suggest a full-size sedan?
"The current-gen Impala (2014 model year or newer) is a shockingly good car that no one cares about, which means it's been hit hard by depreciation."
But wait, there's more. "The Impala is also pretty mechanically simple," adds Joe, "which will be a plus as it ages."
Ford Escape Hybrid
Leave it to our green editor John Beltz Snyder to recommend a fuel-sipping option. "I'd suggest a 2011-2012 Ford Escape Hybrid," he said. "It's big enough for the fam, but livable if you need to park in the city. The hybrid powertrain will also be more efficient than a lot of the other vehicles you might be cross-shopping in the ute segments. The design is on the boxier side, which I think is appealing."
And it's also on the cheaper side of the buyer's budget. "If you need four-wheel drive, you can get something without too many miles on it for around $10,000," said Snyder. "And you can go a couple grand cheaper if front-drive will suffice."
There's one suggestion left. You didn't think a group of auto enthusiasts would create a list that didn't include at least one wagon, did you?
"If not a Ford Flex or a minivan, and if you don't want a crossover, then another natural choice would be a wagon," said Managing Editor Greg Rasa. "And as we know, pretty much every wagon sold these days is a Subaru."
We don't need to extoll the virtues of an all-wheel-drive wagon, but we will anyway. Says Rasa, "You need a family hauler, and an Outback will get the job done. There is room for kids and cargo, Subarus are pretty dependable, and if the early snow this year is a sign of things to come, you'll appreciate the all-wheel drive."
Best of all, there are a bunch of Outback models in the buyer's area that fall well into his budget.