So, I have decided that I need a car that will be comfortable for all of us on our long road trips, get better fuel economy than my Explorer, and still fit all three children, 2 of whom are in car seats in the back. Plus, it would be nice to have a car around for when I get around to stripping my Explorer to change engines and do a little other work with it.
So far, I have been leaning towards Pontiac Bonnevilles, around 2000-2002 because I don't really want to spend too much on a second vehicle and they look much better than their Buick/Oldsmobile counterparts. I have been considering a Taurus as well, but they are a slightly smaller car than a Bonneville with worse fuel economy. Honestly, I would like to keep it around the $3000 mark, since spending much more than that will really defeat the purpose of picking up something when I am just trying to save money on fuel. Even at that price, it will take a couple years to be worth it. I'd think about spending more, but it would have to be for something that I would just really like.
Anywho, I am fishing for any ideas you guys may have. I would prefer something that gets near or better than 30mpg (according to the EPA, we all know we can do better than the EPA), but it also has to be a large enough car that three children can sit in the back seat, one of whom is still using a booster seat, and the other is in a forward facing car seat. My Explorer's rear seat is barely big enough, a Taurus is generally big enough, and a Bonneville puts a couple inches between each.
Other good large cars to look at are Ford Cown Victorias/Mercury Grand Marquis'. Very reliable, comfortable, inexpensive, plenty of room and pretty efficient for their size . My 2 cents
all the best L&S
Bonnevilles are really nice looking cars, but beware the interior. The interior layout may not be comfortable for long road trips. The materials may be too hard. The controls may feel like Fisher Price toys. Those are some of the complaints I had about my 1997 Grand Am and the Bonnevilles were similar.
I second L&S's CV/MGM suggestion. They are efficient highway cruisers when even more modern smaller cars aren't. They are tough as nails. You could tow a decent trailer with one if you needed to, too. They're inexpensive.
I had considered them, given that they are going to be roomier than just about anything I could buy, and I do quite enjoy the Crown Vic/Grand Marquis as a highway cruiser. I even thought of looking for a Marauder, since they aren't any worse than a Crown Vic as long as you aren't too hard on the noise pedal, despite the fact that I would be spending FAR more on that then I stated I would like to spend. But hey, they are really cool.
But, I don't really need something capable of towing, since I already have an Explorer, plus, the fuel economy is going to be slightly lower than the Bonneville or Taurus, and honestly not a whole lot better than I get out of my Explorer. Of course, then the Taurus and Bonneville have the advantage of FWD, but the reliability and durability of the Crown Vic weighs heavily against them. The biggest problem with them is that in this area, they are a little pricey. I can find the old fleet or cop cars for amazing prices, but they are usually a little more beat up than I would like to get into. Though, a P71 is still tempting, despite the fact that fuel economy is worse still, just cause I have always had a soft spot for that Police Interceptor badge.
I had a 94 Bonneville a long while back, so I am somewhat familiar with the cheap toy like controls. I was actually hoping that the 00 up models were a little more robust, but, given my sister's Grand Am, that is probably not the case. But I did like the layout in my old Bonneville for long drives, though I agree the leather was a bit tough. A couple of my friends have similar vehicles with the split bench front, or the front without the large center console, and I don't find them nearly as comfortable.
I'll probably take the time to look at one. I was thinking about looking at a Continental that I saw for a decent price as well, though I don't like the idea of having to fill up on premium, even if it does get a couple MPG more. But, I had a Continental before it got destroyed by flooding last year, and I did like it.
My wife has a 2001 Sable with the 24v Duratec. The times I've driven it, without scanguage aid, I got around 28 to 29mpg. That includes my commute and a road trip, which returned about the same as the HHR do to better aerodynamics. Under the revised EPA ratings, it and the Bonneville are closer in economy. One mpg difference in combined and 2 on the highway.
The transmission(this is the floor mounted shifter) seems designed for pulse and coasting. DFCO isn't aggressive. It's more so than the HHR which needs to be downshifted for it, but it doesn't kick in right away on the Sable. The transmission drag in OD, though, feels as light as having it in neutral. The only noticable difference between the 2 gears while coasting is when DFCO kicks in and engine braking increases with OD. I have to shift to N in the HHR to get the same distance of coast, but it can be safely EOCed.
Before hypermiling, I had a 1996 Taurus with the 12v Vulcan. While it has less power(I never felt a lack), it is a little less thirsty than the Duratec. I remember getting 23mpg on the commute and 27mpg once on a trip, but I think I can do as well as the Sable with it now. Being a long used design, parts are cheaper for the Vulcan.
The Taurus/Sable was is available as a wagon, if trunk space will be tight.
For largish sedans there seems to be few others to look at during those years, and most of the few will be higher in price. The Avalon and diesel Passat are the only ones I think I'd look at.
A Passat is a bit too small. It gets pretty hard to fit all three in the back seat when you have 1 using a car seat and another in a booster. Haven't seen any Avalons for sale, but it is something to look for. My parent's neighbors have owned a couple Avalons, and I know they love them, plus, they claim to get around 32mpg out of theirs.
Just some thoughts. How much do you spend on insurance, tax, repairs and service on your cars in the US? Even if we have alot higher gas-prices here in europe it still doesn't pay off to have several cars for different needs because of other costs.
When will you use the explorer when car no.2 arrives? Two bigger cars might not be the optimal way to go from an economic point of view if you aren't making lots of trips with the family to the summer house every weekend or so. Getting the usage up on a single car might save money compared to having two while one of them just sits ticking money.
I've tried that myself but while my fiance takes the bus to work the other car just freezes stuck to the parking space and doesn't do any good while still costing money and time.
My sister bought an -04 passat because it was the roomiest car they could find with two small children (lots of baby-stuff fits in the back) and still room to squeeze in a 5:th passanger in the back seat row but I think they only looked at cars common here and not the stationwagons and big sedans you have. On the negative it does use alot of fuel with the automatic trans even though it's a small turbo engine which should be pretty efficient.
Another roomy car is the ford mondeo (don't know if it's available in the US). Lots of leg room and headspace in the back seat and a big trunk. Quite on the road. Pretty decent FE too with the 4-cyl. 2.0-engine and low second hand prices. A friend has one and the long wheelbase makes for a very easy back seat entrance.
Some other suggestions:
Audi A6, Volvo V70/S80, Saab 9-5
Repairs on older domestic (US) vehicles are usually not that expensive as parts are cheap and easy to obtain. People who drove older cars also usually do their own maintenance. Insurance and registration fees vary by state, but are generally low on older domestic vehicles as well. We have a 1 ton van that we only drive about 500 miles/year but since insurance and registration are cheap we can afford to keep it.