June 25, 2012

So you want a seven-seat car that does better than 30 mpg

It's only reasonable: you have a large family to move. Or a family of musicians that play large and delicate instruments. Or you regularly have grandparents in the car, or a few friends. You end up with a minivan or an SUV / crossover: but those tend to eat fuel in a big way. Gas prices have been down fron their peak earlier this spring, but they're still high. I've heard so many moms say, with a sigh, that they would gladly give up their gas hog, if only they could find a gas sipper that offers enough space.

The good news: they are out there! I have spent much of this month looking into gas-sipping cars for larger families, and the exercise has been eye-opening. There are quite a few cars now that offer seats for seven passengers, and have fuel economy over 30 mpg. It's easy to find them.

The bad news: while it's easy enough to find them, it's hard to buy them. In the US, that is. For they are sold all over the planet, except in the US. So maybe it's time for us to start asking for those gas sipping family cars.

Photo by Robert Scoble via Wikipedia Commons

To whet your appetite:  how about a 7-seat Toyota Prius? The US version of the Prius v has five seats, but in Japan (where it's called the Prius-α) and in Europe (where it will be offered this summer as the Prius+), this wagon version of the familiar Prius comes with seven seats. It's outfitted with lithium ion batteries instead of the nickel-metal hydride batteries offered in the US, with a similar fuel efficiency: 44 mpg.

The Toyota Sienna, a typical mommy van, gets about 22 mpg. But the Toyota Estima Hybrid minivan gets a quoted 42 mpg. But hybrid is not the only road to increased fuel efficiency.

The Mazda 5 is popular in the US for its versatile seating configuration: it has six seats, and the ones in the back two rows can be folded down completely for cargo hauling. It does 21/28 mpg (cty/hwy). Japanese version: "6+One" seating, about 30 mpg est. Europe: "6+One" seating, 39 mpg from a diesel engine.

The Nissan Quest minivan is used by many moms (19/24 mpg cty/hwy). You can't buy it in Europe: there Nissan offers the NV200 Combi, which can give you anything from seven seats plus a bit of storage in the back (enough for a cello), to two seats and a cavernous cargo space. Its diesel engine gets a quoted 45 mpg.

Kia offers its Sorento crossover in both the US and the UK, but in the US it has a 2.4L gasoline engine (175HP, 23 mpg average) whereas in the UK it comes with a 2.2L diesel engine (194HP, 32 mpg average). Diesel engines pack power. But if 32 mpg is not high enough for you, you might buy the Kia Carens: it's just a bit smaller than the Sorento, but comes with a smaller, 1.6L diesel engine that does 41 mpg in real life.

The Volkswagen Routan is really made by Chrysler. Let us not speak of its V6 engine. The real gems are Volkswagen's Multivan, the direct descendant of the VW camper made (in)famous by the hippies (33 mpg). If you don't need a living room on wheels, you might opt for the Sharan (quoted at 43 mpg).

In case you've started thinking that the overseas carmakers are the only ones tossing us the largest and largest-engined models, I've compared seven-seat cars made by Ford, three for the US and three for the UK market. This side of the Atlantic, they're all longer than 5 meters (197in) and do less than 30mpg. On the UK side they're all less than 5 meters in length, and do either 32 mpg with a 1.6L Ecoboost gasoline engine or 35 mpg with a 1.6L diesel engine.

Are you mad yet? Don't get mad: get going and ask your friendly dealer to make his company's best sippers available to you. Gas sippers don't have to be more expensive than the models you're familiar with. It is possible to save at the purchase as well as at the pump.


Cross-posted at BlogHer



You may also like:
1. Have your Cake and Drive it Too: of Fuel Economy, Performance, and Moms
2. What's so clean about diesel?
3. Fitting Three Children on Your Car's Back Seat



  1. Oh I am going to have to have my husband read your post! We are looking into buying a Mini Van but wanted the best gas mileage we could get. Thanks so much for sharing your research!!

    1. My pleasure: it's nice to spread some good news.

      Good luck with your search! The longer you can wait with the actual purchase, the more gas sippers will come to the US, as the CAFE emission requirements get tightened over the years. But you might as well start talking to dealers now.

  2. This is another example of how our dollars have power. Manufacturers, dealers, etc. listen to what people want ... it's how they stay in business. Sure, there is plenty of advertising designed to convince us that we want what they make but in reality, if we tell them what we want and then follow that up with refusing to settle for less ... they'll get with the program fast. If a whole bunch of us keep asking for the same thing ... they'll accommodate us. We have the power! The trick is not to "cave in" when they tell us that "these" are our only options. Thanks for doing all the research for us ... part of successful negotiations is having the facts. :-)

  3. Wow CelloMom. Thanks! I am still a little mad though. Just another example of how the US is falling short - and most of the country has NO idea! I'm sending this link to my Dad. He was a Dodge dealer for over 30 years. Maybe he still has some friends he can pass this on to....

    1. Hey Kristina, thanks for giving me homework. After all, it was you who pointed out that I hadn't done much research for larger families' needs. So these are for a start.


  4. Wow!! Great post!!! As you might well imagine, breaking the 30-MPG barrier with a sport utility vehicle remains a rather exceptional accomplishment. So much so, only nine vehicles in the category return 30-MPG or better. I read your post and realized that this is the most useful post for us.



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