I Need A Big Family Car That Is Affordable And Eco-Friendly! What Car Should I Buy?

Tyler and his wife like cars with a small footprint both physically and environmentally, but their compacts aren’t cutting it now that they have had twins. They want a car that can handle the family but doesn’t require a big sacrifice on the eco-friendly front. What should they buy?

(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. Do you want us to help you find a car? Submit your story on our form.)

Here is the scenario –

Wife and I just had twins in May. We thought the wife’s Kia Soul would be sufficient to haul our crap around, but it barely fits the double stroller, and we wouldn’t be able to bring a passenger along for anything. Our other car is a Fiat 500, so not really an option. We need room for the twins and their stuff, room for groceries, and a passenger or two, and perhaps another kiddo sometime in a year or so.

We generally only use the car for getting to and from work, and for tooling around town. That being said, my job sometimes requires I drive out to rural counties, the roads are all paved and everything but it can mean long drives through the desert. The weather is pretty static here in southern Nevada, so the only important thing would be that the car should be able to cook in the sun and keep the passengers comfortable.

It would also be nice to think we could strap a few bikes to the new car and fill it with camping gear- or maybe even haul a trailer-if we got the sudden urge. I like uniquely styled cars, both the Soul and the Fiat are a little different. I realize that may be a tall order for this one. Our budget is up to $25,000

We are both socially/ecologically conscious to some degree and would love to have something big enough to carry us all but still be eco-friendlyish, is that even possible?

Quick Facts:

Budget: Up to $25,000

Daily Driver: Yes

Location: Las Vegas, Nevada

Wants: Big enough for two kids, gear, and preferably something unique

Doesn’t want: A gas guzzling beast

Expert 1: Tom McParland – Find Your Balance

While this might not be the most exciting topic for your typical car enthusiast, Tyler’s predicament is one more and more car buyers face when trying to reconcile their practical needs with their philosophical position about cars.

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when choosing a vehicle is that they focus on one aspect of that car, like fuel economy, without taking into consideration as to how that car will actually be used on a day to day basis.

Unfortunately, for you, Tyler, maximum space, and minimum environmental footprint are often in direct opposition due to simple physics. Larger vehicles that can hold a lot of people and stuff are heavy and therefore are going to use more fuel to move around. However, you can mitigate this conflict with something that gives you space but uses a hybrid powertrain to reduce your fuel consumption. Your best bet would be something along the lines of a Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid. It will provide three rows of seating which is plenty of room for two rear facing car seats and whatever other gear you need, but the supercharged four-cylinder motor combined with the electric motor will return a not too shabby 28 MPG highway.

Now finding these nearby isn’t going to be easy especially since Nissan discontinued the hybrid model after only one model year. However, if you don’t mind a quick trip to California, you can score a certified pre-owned 2014 Pathfinder Hybrid with less than 30,000 miles.

Expert 2: Erin Marquis – It’s In Your Stars

Subaru is the Japanese name for the Pleiades, a cluster of bright stars that the Greeks believed were the daughters of the Titan named Atlas. Now that you’re in the family way, a car bearing that open star cluster on its grille seems perfect. Twins! That means you’re lucky twice over. It also means that while you’d like something different, safety and ruggedness are going to be key.

Since it sounds like you’re outdoorsy as well as concerned about the environment, the first car that popped into my mind was the poster child of the crunchy West Coast; the Subaru Outback. Yes, it’s an obvious choice, but that doesn’t mean you should discount it. I’ll let our other experts find you something weird. Not only does the Outback have plenty of storage in its 35.5 cu-ft of space for camping gear and supersize strollers, but it has tons of available options for roof top and tailgate storage as well. You also get 8.7 inches ground clearance and all-wheel drive, making even a desert two-track a breeze. It certainly doesn’t look like your average CUV either. It’s more like a wagon with extra headroom. You’d also be hard pressed to find a safer vehicle. The National Highway Safety Traffic Administration and the Institute For Highway Safety gave the Outback top marks across the board.

As if all that weren’t enough you also get a 175 horsepower 2.5-liter engine that scores a respectable combined 28 MPG. If you spend any time in the mountains however, you may want to opt for the 3.6-liter engine with 256 hp. Even more good news, you can find a gently used 2017 Outback easily in your area for right around your budget. That’s what we call a win-win-win.

Expert 3: David Tracy – A Different Kind Of Eco-Friendly

This one’s a no-brainer, really. See that beautiful Buick Roadmaster wagon in the picture above? It’s for sale in your area for a paltry $2,500!

I know what you’re thinking: “How is that possible?” I don’t know, especially because this is the final model year, outfitted with a 260 horsepower 5.7-liter LT-1 V8 engine. Yes, that’s a Corvette engine in a wagon.

Lest you think this thing is a guzzler, I’ll have you know that the EPA rates it at 24 MPG highway, with many owners eclipsing that figure by an MPG or two.

Plus, if you think about it, buying a used car has its own benefits from an environmental standpoint. Instead of having Nissan or Subaru spend all that energy building you a new car, you can just pick up this used Buick.

On top of that, since the thing only costs $2,500, you can spend the $22,500 remaining in your budget on heavily-insulated windows, LED lightbulbs, and other eco-friendly energy-savers.

It’s big, it’s beautiful, it’s powerful, it’s built like a tank (body on frame, solid rear axle!) and it’s not that bad on gas. You need the Buick Roadmaster. We all do.

Expert 4: Jason Torchinsky – Eco-Friendly Can Mean Smelling And Looking Amazing

First, in an interesting 50 percent improvement from normal, David is half-right. There is a huge environmental advantage to buying a used car—all of the manufacturing, shipping, marketing, and whatever energy expenditures are already out of the way, and you’re literally recycling a vehicle. It’s the smart way to go.

What’s not smart is that big, thirsty, gas-guzzling V8 in the Roadmaster. In fact, if you’re really serious about being friendly to this big, muddy planet we call home, then you’ll avoid fossil fuels entirely and purchase this lovely 1982 Mercedes-Benz 300TD diesel wagon, with a biodiesel conversion kit added on.

This is absolutely your ideal car. These Benz wagons will have plenty of room for all those kids, bikes, and camping crap you want to haul around, and, importantly, you’ll look fantastic while doing so. This one is the turbodiesel, so it’ll only be pretty slow instead of painfully slow, but it’ll get you around just fine.

These diesel Mercedes are known for being absolutely bulletproof, and this one looks like it’s in great shape as it is. It’s an Arizona car, which is close to you and also means no rust.

It’s only $12,000, so there’s plenty of room in the budget for the biodiesel conversion kit (basically just some filters and a little heater to make sure your fuel doesn’t congeal) and once you have it ready to run on biodiesel, you can make a deal with a local restaurant to take their old french-fry oil!

Hell, you’re near Vegas, right? Those casinos probably produce enough fried-food oil in a day to last you a year!

Free, environmentally-friendly fuel, and your exhaust will smell like lunch! It’ll still run on normal diesel if you’re on a road trip or whatever, so there’s no need to hunt around behind a Denny’s looking to fill up. You can’t lose!

Plus, it’s red. There’s just something great about red wagons with lots of chrome.