"We have not yet fully accepted the fact that we need a new car. Some call it denial. But we do need one."
That's how our friend Gordon Platt began a note asking our advice on what cars he should consider as he sets out to replace the family's aging 2003 Toyota Sienna minivan.
"What are your suggestions for a car with a lot of space (need not be a mini van), good mileage (ideally, "greenish") and relatively affordable?"
The first step was to ask Gordon a few standard questions about how the family really uses their car, plus any likes or dislikes.
Our questions are in bold, his responses are in italic.
(1) Any preference or requirement for (or against) sedan / hatchback / station wagon / crossover-SUV ??
We have 3 boys and a dog, so we need a fair amount of space. We would also prefer that they not sit on top of each other like they do in our Volvo. So, I think that means an SUV or mini-van.
(2) What's "good mileage" to you?
(Bear in mind that because gas mileage is not a linear scale, you will save twice as much gasoline--and hence twice the $$$--going from 14 to 20 mpg as you do from 25 to 33 mpg, for instance.)
We take trips in the car, but much of the driving is done around town.
(3) Any constraints on price range?
We're pretty open.
(4) New, used, or indifferent?
(5) Any must-haves? Won't-haves? Brands you like / abhor?
We're pretty open.
We told Gordon that we thought his family, with three boys plus a dog, really needed a seven-seat vehicle. A few station wagons offer third rows, but they're mostly imported and expensive.
So it's either a minivan or a limited number of crossovers. We sent him our list of the six top-rated vehicles with third-row seats, as well as our list of the best five vehicles with third-row seats that cost less than $25K.
2011 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
We also pointed out that if the bulk of the Platt family driving is around town, a hybrid is a better bet. They're mostly designed for stop-and-go urban traffic, whereas diesels do best on long road trips.
At the moment, the sole hybrid vehicle that offers a third-row seat is the 2011 Toyota Highlander Hybrid. Sadly, the 2012 Toyota Prius V station wagon isn't offered in the States with a third row, as it is in Europe.
Finally, we noted, you can get clean-diesel versions of both the Mercedes-Benz R-Class and GL-Class, but they're on the pricey side.
So here's where you come in. We got such useful advice last week, when we crowd-sourced our friend Sarah's similar question about replacing her Subaru wagon, that we figured we'd do it again.
So, read Gordon's answers to the questions we asked him, then tell us what you'd suggest.
Leave your advice to Gordon in the Comments below.