So you’ve arrived at that point in your life where a minivan makes total sense. Yes, it’s the worst.
But fear not, because auto manufacturers have you covered. There are cars, SUVs and (gasp) minivans on the market that will do the things you need to do, while still preserving a bit of your independence.
There are lots of lists around with suggested cars for people who have responsibilities but still like driving, and every one seems to include cars like the Dodge Charger Hellcat and the BMW M3.
If you’re new to parental or home ownership duties, you’re probably also new to having not much more than the value of a Happy Meal in your checking account, too, so we’ll try to keep this list below $30k at least to start.
Price Range: $19,960 to $26,240
Maybe the nice people at the hospital have just inexplicably sent you home with a brand new human for the first time. But the idea of a CUV fills you with dread. They’re the kind of vehicle your mom would drive.
While the Mazda CX-3 has the basic profile of a CUV, it has a much more expressive design that shares a family resemblance with cars like the Mazda Miata. The CX-3 is also basically a Mazda3 with a lift kit and all-wheel drive, which is good for people who enjoy driving. The Mazda3 is a blast on the back roads and even on the race track, and the CX-3 is surprisingly fun to drive, too. Almost every other CUV feels like it was designed specifically to extract the fun from driving, but the CX-3 puts it all back.
MINI Cooper Clubman
Price Range: $24,100 to $27,650
We’ve always liked the MINI Cooper Clubman. You could squint a little bit and try to suggest that it was a wise choice for small families because it had those hatches behind the doors, but in reality, unless you were parents to kids the size of a small stuffed animal, they were going to be uncomfortable in the back seat.
The current issue of the MINI Cooper Clubman is much, much bigger than the original car was. It’s not “big” by any stretch of the imagination, but it does allow a rear seat that’s appropriate for smaller kids. You’ll have to check whether a rear-facing car seat will fit with two adults up front if you’ve got tiny ones on board, but with a forward-facing car seat or booster, there’s plenty of room back there. The MINI Cooper Clubman even in standard trim is a blast to drive, and has decent room for luggage, too.
Price Range: $17,995 to $26,496
The CX-3 is our choice for road-going CUVs, but if you have any plans to get dirty at all, take a serious look at the Jeep Renegade. We were not sold on the looks at first, but it’s grown on us a lot over the last year, unlike the still-homely Jeep Cherokee. And we’ve had a chance to sample its capabilities off-road, where we found it to be surprisingly capable.
But do yourself a favor by bypassing all the lower trims and heading right for the Trailhawk. At $26,496, it’s a relatively inexpensive vehicle, but it includes tow hooks, skid plates, Hill Descent Control and a much nicer interior.
Volkswagen Golf SportWagen
Price Range: $21,580 to $29,970
If you’ve considered a CUV, then you’re trying to fool everyone around you that you’re still hip and cool and living an outdoorsy lifestyle.
Maybe it’s time to quit the act and buy what you really need: a station wagon.
The Volkswagen Golf SportWagen isn’t the kind of wood-sided Pontiac Grand Safari your mom had (though by all means, if one of those interests you, knock yourself out). It’s a sporty, fun to drive vehicle with a little extra of that cargo room that you’re looking for.
The price is right, too, especially if you stay with the S trim, which is still pretty well equipped. It’s also the only trim that allows a manual transmission, which makes it a lot more fun than your average dadmobile.
Price Range: $24,120 to $40,760
There are a bewildering 32 different trim levels for the Toyota Tacoma, ranging from the relatively stripped (though still very well equipped) 4×2 SR Access Cab, all the way up to the full-blown TRD Pro Double Cab that completely blows our $30k top end.
You can still buy a really nicely equipped Tacoma with room for you, the kids and all your outdoor and home improvement gear within our budget, though. The SR trim level isn’t going to have tons of creature comforts, but at $27,195 for a four-wheel drive double cab, it’s still a sensible option for family folks without the dough to blow on one of the more expensive trucks.
Price Range: $21,240 to $24,770
Yes, Mazda killed off the Mazda5 in 2015. Yet, amazingly, there are still new Mazda5s on dealer lots around the country, meaning that you can enjoy the driving fun of one of these minivan/sedan/hatchback/wagon hybrids and enjoy a serious price cut in the process.
The Mazda5 was the only “minivan” available in the US with a manual transmission, though finding a new one now will be a challenge. For minivan shoppers, a Mazda5 costs about two-thirds what a full-scale minivan from Toyota, Chrysler or Honda does, yet still seats five and offers plenty of cargo room.