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scardeal SuperDork
1/9/20 9:32 a.m.

Hi all,

We're looking at replacing our family hauler, since we've put 100k miles on it in the past 4-5 years and it's starting to have some expensive repairs.  It's a 2011 Durango, and we've liked it with the exception of it not fitting a 4x8 sheet of plywood.  Despite my hopes, I haven't had the opportunity to use its towing capacity to bring home an automotive project.  Our situation is a little different this time.  We have access to my Dad's truck if we need it, so the towing capacity isn't much of an issue.

So, we're looking for recommendations for a 3 row SUV or minivan (and arguments for my wife if it's a minivan).  We've got 3 kiddos, and I'll give it a 50/50 chance on a 4th in the next 4-5 years.  Some thoughts on specs/values we're looking at:

  • 4 years old or less
  • up to $30k or so
  • 3 rows with room for 3 kids and luggage
  • durable, both mechanically and interiorly
  • Good A/C
  • hauling 4x8 plywood a plus, but not 100% required (ideally with hatch closed)
  • yearly trips to wintry weather, but most of the time in the balmy South
  • Good at navigating flooded streets a big plus
  • AWD/4WD a plus but not necessary
  • Towing a plus but not necessary


mr2s2000elise Dork
1/9/20 9:34 a.m.

Sequoia or Sienna 

engiekev Reader
1/9/20 9:43 a.m.

Paging akylekoz , I think he is looking for a similar vehicle and checking out Armadas and QX56.  Armadas can be had under $30k now and can be fairly well appointed.

mtn MegaDork
1/9/20 9:51 a.m.

Minivan... your best bet for hauling 4x8 will be a Grand Caravan or T&C or Pacifica with stow'n'go. The GC's are also some of the best deals in new cars at the moment, if you shop for awhile. I don't think any of the minivans have AWD anymore, although the Sienna may. We did not like the Sienna, seemed like it was lagging far behind the other minivans or was overpriced if it wasn't.

I personally LOVE our Sedona, which is probably the most luxurious of all the minivans (but I'm biased). Also, people don't like paying big money for a Kia, so there is a lot of negotiating room. I know I can get a 4x4 sheet to lay flat with the rear seat down; I think I could get a 4x8 sheet in, but it would be vertical. 


If you don't go minivan, you'll want to forgo the minivan in SUV clothing - the Acadia, Traverse, Pilot, etc., and go straight for a real SUV to get the room and the extra capabilities - but even there, I think you'd have to go for the Suburban to get a 4x8 sheet in. If you relax that "nice to have" the Sequoia's and the off-lease/off-rental Armadas are some of the better values out there.

mtn MegaDork
1/9/20 9:53 a.m.

Oh, with 3 kids and possibly 4, and at least 1 in a carseat? I wouldn't consider anything without sliding doors, hard stop. YMMV.

Brake_L8 Reader
1/9/20 9:58 a.m.

Minivan, first and foremost. The Sedonas are swanky and more unique vs a Caravan or Sienna. Newer Odysseys have some big infotainment bugs that require a USB keyboard and Ctrl-Alt-Del sequence (really) to reboot, Honda hasn't figured that out yet.

If you don't want one or to be seen in one or whatever... IDK, most three-row crossovers have crap for useful third-row space. I really like the Telluride/Palisade twins. Haven't spent time in a new Explorer but they are sharp. I do know the Mazda CX-9 is gorgeous and has a very useless third-row.

The three-row BOF SUVs (Expedition, Tahoe, Sequoia, Armada + siblings) are all fine, though they drive like trucks and you really need the extended versions if you want three rows and cargo space at the same time, which means Expedition EL or Suburban. Newer Suburban/Tahoe (most recent gen, 2015+) have poor space utilization of the cargo area with a high floor and giant rear pillars. Expedition will have a lower rear floor and more third-row seat legroom due to IRS. The K2xx generation of GM SUVs was also prone to inducing headaches based on some buffeting/resonance problems.

I reviewed a new Sequoia over the summer and it was fine, although it feels old and is priced sky-high given what else you could buy that's more modern in every way.

My other half's parents picked up a 2017 Expedition EL recently and I got to drive it over the holidays. It's pretty good for what it is.

Duke MegaDork
1/9/20 10:03 a.m.

$30k will buy you the nicest, lowest-miles, most loaded last-generation Town&Country Limited you can find.  They are excellent at hauling families.  I know experiences vary, but for the 28 years I've had a family, I've also had a Mopar minivan, and I've never had issues with any of them beyond normal maintenance.  But there are plenty of other excellent candidates in the minivan world.

My suggestion for convincing your partner is to have her get herself into and out of the third row seats of a minivan, and also of the candidate SUVs.  Show her how much space is still available behind the 3rd row when they're occupied.

That alone sells me on minivans over SUVs.  I find most SUV third-row seating to be more of a marketing ploy than a functional seating area.

If you get the T&C Limited it will have stow-n-go for the 2nd row, and power stow-n-go for the 3rd row, which is another awesome feature to show her.


Toyman01 GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/9/20 10:20 a.m.


Yukon XL

volvoclearinghouse PowerDork
1/9/20 10:34 a.m.

We love our Suburbans, but the newer they go the less cargo space they seem to have.  We sold our '91 last year and upgraded to a low miles, pristine '99, and its a nicer vehicle in every way, but it's narrower and fits less stuff.  It's still freaking cavernous, just slightly less so than our '91.  

I don't get it.  People who buy 'Burbans do so because they have a crap ton of stuff to haul.  Why make the cargo area _smaller_?  Of course, I also lament the death of the 8' long bed in 1/2 ton trucks.  


Driven5 UltraDork
1/9/20 12:05 p.m.

Minivan. It's simply the best tool made for the noted job in most (but not all) situations. Arguments for for someone caught up on form over function are going to be highlighting the functions. 

Sliding doors are awesome.

Easier ingress/egress to 2nd/3rd row seats in confined parking situations with sliding doors.

Larger access window to 2nd/3rd row seat/cargo area with sliding doors.

No dinging doors when kids get themselves in/out with to sliding doors.

Even more useful with multiple littles than sliding doors...Remote power sliding doors.

Lower floor height makes for easier and more comfortable ingress/egress and loading/unloading.

More accommodating and accessible rear seat space for kids to get themselves in.

More accommodating and accessible rear seat space for one or more adults helping kids get buckled in.

More accommodating and accessible rear seat space for sitting and feeding an infant on the go.

More accommodating and accessible rear seat space for changing a diaper out of the elements while on the go.

More accommodating and accessible rear seat space for having an impromptu picnic.

Large continuous low flat floor space allows toddler and young elementary age dance parties while feeding an infant, changing a diaper, or even just waiting for the other parent to get back from making a quick trip into the store without the kids making it take forever.

Large and accessible enough rear space to quickly get everybody in the rear of the car, including a parent, before buckling everybody up. Standing in the rain not required.

Carries more cargo behind the third row than all CUV's and most SUV's.

Drives better, stops shorter, avoidance maneuvers faster, rides better, parks easier, and gets better fuel economy than any 3 row SUV of similar (or less) interior space.

Does pretty much everything we might use it for, except climb steep snow covered roads and tow, as good or better than a 3 row CUV or SUV.

I'm sure there's more, but it's at least the beginning of a list. As noted, take her to look at both SUV's and minivants, and don't just spend time in the front seats and doing a walk around. Really take your time and spend significant time crawling around and using the all of the rear space/features the way you would have (be able) to day in and day out in real life and then go try to do all of the same things in an SUV.

My wife was dead set against minivans too...Right up until I finally convinced her to actually take a serious look at one. She was almost immediately won over. If she spends some real time around one and still doesn't change her mind, then nothing will.  Speaking of which, what really sealed the deal for us was renting one...Even if literally just so that you can experience it in your day to day activities for a weekend or a week, it's probably well worth the cost of knowing.

We went with a lightly used CPO Sedona, and it has been great. The way the 2nd row seats tuck up against the front seats, is considerably faster/easier to use than the Dodge/Chrysler stow-n-go, but cuts into the cargo space in such a way I don't think a 4x8 could be inserted regardless of orientation. Speaking of the stow-n-go seats, the Pacifica's 2nd gen versions are significantly more comfortable for anybody not in a car-seat, in addition to adding a car-seat-safe 2nd row tilting feature for even easier (direct) access to the 3rd row with a car seat secured in the second row. Depending on how you and your wife feel, the Pacifica has a decade newer engineering with improved crash safety and headlight performance over the Caravan.

The Oddy's were nice, but also too new for used and value proposition wasn't there for us new. We did not care for the Sienna. It felt a bit long in the tooth, lacked adaptable 2nd row seating without fully removing the seats, and had a stepped rear floor to accommodate the bulk of the available AWD system.

We really liked the Pacifica, but between being too new for CPO or deep discounting at the time and Chrysler not having figured out why people were having their van completely shut down when making left turns in traffic with no resolution in sight, we had to write it off.  But both of those having been resolved, I would be strongly considering one (in addition to Sedona) if I were buying today.

chrispy HalfDork
1/9/20 12:07 p.m.

Came to recommend minivan, see just about everything has been covered.  I've had 2, a 2003 Mazda MPV and currently have a 2011 Town and Country. 

bobzilla MegaDork
1/9/20 12:36 p.m.
frenchyd PowerDork
1/9/20 12:39 p.m.

In reply to scardeal :

How long will you want it to last?

 Another 4-5 years then get something different?  
Until your circumstances change?  
The rest of your life?  

Working backwards from that point will start your answer.  

What do you typically do as far as work on a vehicle?

 Nothing I have it done.  

oil change,  maybe tire rotation. 

most Maintenance. Water pumps alternators. Suspension,  exhaust, 

Everything. Body work, welding, transmission rebuilding. Etc. 



STM317 UltraDork
1/9/20 12:40 p.m.

When you exceed 2 kids, the answer is "go straight to van (if you haven't already), do not waste time on anything else". It's not trendy or stylish, but it's the right tool for the job. Everybody has already suggested minivans, which are generally very good, but we shouldn't overlook full size vans if you can find one.

Full size vans seem like slow sellers these days, which makes them hard to come by, but also means you can likely get a nice deal when you find one. My BIL tried hard to convince his wife that they needed a conversion van instead of a Suburban. She didn't take the bait, so they spent more on a 'Burban and she has to traverse an obstacle course every time they load/unload their herd. Two years later, he was tired of the hassles of the SUV and bought a full size van too, because it's more convenient than "her" big SUV, while still doing the dirty work they occasionally need (self employed contractor).

This is basically a Suburban in more spacious, practical clothes:

volvoclearinghouse PowerDork
1/9/20 1:17 p.m.

In reply to STM317 :

The other option is something like the Ford Transit connect, essentially a giant box on wheels.  I've seen them used for very large families (like 5+ kids) and they seem ideal, if not quite as civilized as a regular minivan.  I think the prices reflect that, too.  

John Welsh
John Welsh Mod Squad
1/9/20 1:19 p.m.

In reply to scardeal :

How old are the kids?  

Lets imagine 4 kids in your current SUV (Durango)

As you have come to understand, the 3rd row is not good for infant, baby bucket type seats.  The 3rd row is also not good for rear-facing car seats.  This then generally means that the 3rd row of an SUV is only good for front facing seats and kids who can buckle themselves and this means about 4.5yrs old kids and higher.  Then, these seats are a little more cramped so if you have a 13yr old boy he might exceed the alloted space.  So, my point is cramped SUV style 3rd rows are only for kids ages 5-13-ish.  

Then, how many car seats do you have in the second row?  If the second row is a bench and you have a car seat at each outward position then you loose the ability to do the "flip and fold" method for the kid entering the 3rd row.  To enter the 3rd row, the kid then has to enter past a car seat and then climb over the bench of the 2nd seat to get to the 3rd row.  Or, the 3rd row enters from the rear hatch every time (another door to open.)  If you have 3 car seats across the 2nd row bench then the 4th kid will likely have to enter via the rear hatch.  

In a real minivan with captains chairs in the second row, you have room for the kids (and adults) to walk between the chairs to enter the 3rd row.  This 3rd row is large enough to hold kids bigger than 13 yrs old and the space available means that an adult can get back there too to aid buckling up a kid less than 5 yrls old.  A minivan 3rd row is not limited to kids 5-13 yrs old.  

So, with all this written, how do your vehicle choices fare with the ages of your kids?   

mtn MegaDork
1/9/20 1:57 p.m.

My 66 year old, 6’ tall with a gimpy leg sat in the 3rd row of our Sedona on a 20 minute trip. He needed help operating the slide function of the captains seat in front of him to get in and out, but only because he didn’t know how to do it. Otherwise he said he was fine back there. 


A full grown adult wouldn’t want to take a 2+hour trip back there,  but if they did they’d be fine. 

akylekoz SuperDork
1/9/20 2:05 p.m.

In reply to STM317 :

This is what I came here to say, I drove one of these for ten years.  Here I am now two years later and my kids want it back.  

On a side note my Pathfinder is up for sale, currently another GRMer has dibs on it.

bobzilla MegaDork
1/9/20 2:15 p.m.

In reply to mtn :

Fun fact, 2 years ago when the BIL got married again and the wife stayed an extra week, she WANTED the third row in her parents Sorento. She had it to herself and was too far away to be drug into the conversations. 

Hoondavan Reader
1/9/20 2:17 p.m.

Live the minivan life.  The only thing I can add would be to consider depreciation into the equation.  The Oddy & Sienna may be more expensive now, but they'll also hold their value better than some of the alternatives.    

When I was shopping for a replacement van this fall I was considering a Ford Transit Connect.  Used passenger vans were pretty scarce and I didn't get to test drive one before I pulled the trigger on a much cheaper '08 Odyssey.  

You can buy a fully loaded new one for <$30k.  Some of the used prices seemed a little high for the year/mileage.  I'm guessing that 4-Cyl can be noisy, but I do think their fuel economy is pretty good.  Just a thought.



Driven5 UltraDork
1/9/20 2:19 p.m.

In reply to bobzilla :

Is she very small and/or flexible?...Or did you mean Sedona?

KyAllroad (Jeremy)
KyAllroad (Jeremy) UltimaDork
1/9/20 2:21 p.m.

Have you driven a Ford Flex?  In AWD Ecoboost trim it's stupid fun and way better to drive than you'd think given it's heft.  

bobzilla MegaDork
1/9/20 2:31 p.m.
Driven5 said:

In reply to bobzilla :

Is she very small and/or flexible?...Or did you mean Sedona?

5'6" and not small. Definitely not flexible. Her parents Sorento is a 14. 

eastsideTim UberDork
1/9/20 2:37 p.m.

At three, I’d still lean towards a minivan over an SUV, but the peer pressure is strong there, so good luck in that fight.  Once you’re up to 4 kids, I’d agree it may be time to consider a full size van.  The Ford Transit (not Connect) comes in a variety of wheelbases and heights.

Stefan GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/9/20 2:53 p.m.

My wife hated the idea of getting a minivan.  Seriously, I didn't think I'd ever convince her otherwise, even after we had two rear facing car seats in her Highlander.

What did it was going to the local Autoshow to look at ALL of the 3rd SUVs and the minivans.  She quickly realized that unless you go stupidly big, nothing had usable 3rd row seats like a minivan.  Nothing.

The Pacifica Hybrid Limited "S" we bought came with about $10K in energy rebates.  The electric motor combined with the 3.6L and the CVT makes for one Smooooth driving rig and after driving a 2020 Sienna for a week I was really happy to not have a jarringly huge gap between 1st and 2nd to deal with while accelerating like the Sienna had (seriously, it fell on its nose on each shift whether the wheels were turned and at various throttle levels, terrible just terrible).

She of course got pulled over for doing 99mph in it while it was fully loaded (XL roof box, 4 adults, 2 kids in car seats plus luggage) on our road trip through Cali and managed to get out of the ticket.  Damned thing didn't break a sweat or horrible noises at that speed.  It just happily hummed along and it had plenty more in it. 

Our little girl has used it as an emergency potty many, many times (we have a portable loo she can sit on) making potty training much less painless.  Changing my son's diapers is also much, much easier if there's no available changing table.

The autopark and outside camera features have been God sends, plus parking in close-in charge spots is pretty handy at times, it also helps overall mileage.  The rest of the luxury features are just icing, the expansive moonroof, heated seats, back seat entertainment, plus the blacked out "S" trim gives it a better look (even if that isn't the color I wanted, but it is her car so she got what she wanted) than the flashy chrome trim many come with.

Eventually I'll probably lower it a little and up the wheel size as the stock tires are a bit better for economy than the wet weather we get here.

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