The Family Car Blog

A Dad’s quest to find the perfect family car

Note to Car Dealers: The Internet is about relationships, not just marketing

I have been amazed at how poorly the car dealerships manage the role of the Internet as part of their customer contact programs. Granted I’m a bit more technically savvy than your average customer, but I suspect most consumers would get pretty frustrated by the lack of response. I have experienced some major disconnects.

The best car company online in my experience has been Honda. While their Web site isn’t as robust as some of the other car companies, they follow through on the requests that flow through their Web site. Honda was the only company to actually deliver a real estimate via email. The dealership we contacted, Bay Ridge Honda, did a great job following up on our visit via email and telephone. They really cared. At least they put in the effort to seem like a company that cares.

The folks at Life Quality Volkswagen were horrible. They got all of our requests mixed up. I won’t even begin to go there. In fact, if you’re buying a car in Brooklyn, don’t bother going there either. Find another VW dealer, seriously.

Toyota hasn’t been very good either. The Bay Ridge Toyota dealer that reached out to us, two months later keeps sending us emails as if we haven’t connected. I spoke with the dealer a while ago and had a good chat. He then sent an initial follow-up email to which I replied with several questions. A week later there was no response, but another email was received. I replied again reiterating the questions. No response. This has gone on for five or six weeks. A week ago I left a message at the dealership to reconnect but the call has not been returned. So, we’ve given up on Toyota too.

In an era when car dealers struggle to move vehicles off the lot, you would expect that they’d invest in effective customer service and efficient technology that makes it easier to manage contact and relationships. It’s too bad the destiny of many of these companies is in the hands of such delusional sales people.

Based on all of this, I have to say that we’re really leaning towards the 2009 Honda Odyssey. Now if only the prices will drop a bit, we’ll be in business.

Honda Odyssey screen shot

Honda Odyssey screen shot

November 17, 2008 Posted by | Candidates | , , | Leave a comment

Top Minivans for 2009

I came across this post on Cars for Girls that includes copy from a NADA Guides news release indicating that top 5 vans for 2009. Here’s the copy from the release. I’ve only had a chance to drive the Odyssey and Routan. The Odyssey is band on. It’s a smooth ride and well appointed. But the Routan. Sure, the interior is a step up from its Chrysler-born siblings, but it drives like a stodgy old van. The Odyssey Touring model was a far more luxurious ride.

1. 2009 Honda Odyssey

NADAguides says the 2009 Honda Odyssey is “one of the best all-around minivans on the market,” and they like it because it comes with 244-hp V6, seating for up to eight passengers, a smooth ride and “quality fit and finish.” They also note the Odyssey is safe too, with side-curtain airbags for all three rows, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control and traction control.

2. 2009 Toyota Sienna

NADAguides says the 2009 Toyota Sienna is quiet on the road and offers a “beautiful ride in a spacious and well-equipped cabin.”  The optional AWD Toyota Sienna also made the list.  NADAguides likes the powerful 266 horsepower 3.5-liter V6, sleek exterior styling and list of optional equipment, including navigation, a back-up camera and rear seat DVD entertainment.

3. 2009 Volkswagen Routan

A Volkswagen and Chrysler pair-up created the 2009 Volkswagen Routan, a seven-passenger minivan with VW-inspired styling.  The Routan made the NADAguides list because they love the amenities, including a power lift gate and two power sliding side doors, rear DVD entertainment with screens for the second and third rows, touch screen navigation and more cup holders than you’ll know what to do with.

4. 2009 Mazda MAZDA5

The smallest van on the list, the 2009 Mazda MAZDA5 still comes with six-passenger seating, a nice size cargo area and second and third-row folding seats. The MAZDA5 also includes such safety features as side-curtain airbags on all three rows.

5. 2009 Chrysler Town and Country

The 2009 Chrysler Town and Country features optional Swivel ‘n Go seating and a Stow ‘n Go system with folding second and third rows, which are great features for people who enjoy or need flexible seating and cargo space.

November 2, 2008 Posted by | Candidates, Research | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Test Drive Day: Honda 1, VW 0

As a loyal VW driver, this is not the post I was expecting to write. We have just spent an afternoon in Bay Ridge where many of the Brooklyn car dealers are located. If we were to have bought a car today, it would have been the Honda Odyssey, hands down. Why? Service.

The sales rep we met at Bay Ridge Honda was great. He was personable and understanding.

The Honda Odyssey Touring Edition drove beautifully

The Honda Odyssey Touring Edition drove beautifully

The VW sales rep at Life Quality Volkswagen on the other hand was perhaps the least helpful sales rep we’ve ever met and on the verge of being confrontational. In fact, I can pretty confidently say the we will not be visiting Life Quality VW again. The experience was so bad, we ended slamming them (like many others it seems) on CitySearch.

The folks at Life Quality Volkswagen have forgotten why they’re in business; because of the customer. All they wanted from our visit was a quick sale. It didn’t matter that we were doing research and loyal VW owners for the last 15 years. They didn’t care that we are about to have a third baby and that it was our only chance to get out for a test drive before our new arrival. The fact that we were there several months before our planned purchase really put them out. I can understand that they’d want a sale before the year is out (it’s not been a great year for car sales), but at the detriment of losing a sale for next year? Come on. It was a horrible experience that will quite possibly turn us away from VW for our next purchase.

What happened to Volkswagen?

Who stole VW's soul? The bad car salesperson.

We had an opportunity to drive the Routan SE, a less equipped model than we want. It was a terrible drive, but I’m not sure if it was the overall experience or the fact that it simply drove very poorly. There was no comparison to the Odyssey Touring model I drove. So for now, the Routan is off the list. It could have been such an easy decision for us.

So the research continues.

November 2, 2008 Posted by | Candidates, Research, test drive | , , , , , | 1 Comment

MPG and ULEV

So we’re coming to terms with the fact that practically every car maker does not have a really fuel efficient option in the minivan of SUV category. The mpg ratings of the cars are better, but really not where they should be for the conscious consumer. So we’ve switched part of our analysis from mpg efficiency to emissions and we’re looking at ULEV II (ultra low emission vehicle) ratings. The good news is many of the vehicles we’re looking at, including the VW Routan, Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna all have ULEV II ratings.

The 2009 VW Routan is now our top pick

The 2009 VW Routan was our top pick, but the SE model didn't drive well

In our research, we admire the efficiency of clean diesel cars in Europe. Even the VW Jetta TDI gets 40-50 mpg and has ultra low emissions. Future concept cars like the Renault Ondelios look… well… futuristic, but efficient with “fuel consumption at a frugal 4.5 litres/100km and CO2 emissions at a lowly 120g/km.” This is equivalent to slightly more than 52 miles per gallon. Wow. And it seats six passengers. Why aren’t we there yet? The cars we’re stuck looking at today only get half this efficiency at best.

We have been thinking that one solution is to down size our car seats. This would allow us to fit into the Jetta TDI. As former Jetta Wagon owners, we’d be happy to go back. But we’d only be able to transport ourselves. There’s no room for grandparents, other parents or kids. A family car would help us get others around. In fact this raises an interesting point. One article I read suggested that minivans get 144 passenger miles per gallon making them more efficient if you’re travelling with many people.

Still lots to think about…

October 19, 2008 Posted by | Candidates, Research | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is there a family-sized car for the eco-conscious?

We started this blog because we really want a vehicle that will accommodate three car seats. As an environmentally conscious bunch, minivans really don’t have the fuel efficiency we want. Sedans and station wagons are often too small, as are many smaller SUVs.

In our past posts, we’ve explored the Toyota Highlander Hybrid as our best option, but having learned that this vehicle is not manufactured in North America (yet) means that a great deal of energy and effort must go into shipping it overseas for sale here. We’re also in a unique circumstance where whichever car we purchase while living in the U.S. will eventually move back with us to Canada. This adds some considerations.

When a car is imported to and registered in Canada, owners must pay tax (PST and GST) on the value of the car, and duty (6.1% of the value) on any car manufactured outside of North America. So ideally we’d purchase a North American manufactured vehicle. This rules out the Highlander Hybrid if we want to save the duty fees. We’ll see.

October 13, 2008 Posted by | Candidates, Research | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Still a major price difference between Canadian and US car dealers

My father-in-law keeps encouraging us to buy a car in the U.S. because the prices are so much better. He’s right. I just priced out the Highlander Hybrid Limited in Canada (through a friend’s dealership) to compare against the U.S. version I posted yesterday. The price difference is about $10,000. That’s substantial. Here’s a screen shot from the Toyota Canada site.

Highlander cost estimate from Toyota Canada

Highlander cost estimate from Toyota Canada

October 7, 2008 Posted by | Candidates, Research | , , , , | Leave a comment

Toyota Highlander Hybrid on “severe back order”

Building our black and tan 2009 Toyota Higlander Hybrid

Building our "black and tan" 2009 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

A couple of days ago, I built a 2009 Toyota Highlander Hybrid online and decided, “What the heck, I’ll request a quote.” Our local dealership was quick to respond via email and telephone.

Allen contacted me to see if we could get out for a test drive. The hybrids are in such demand that there aren’t any on the lot and there’s a “severe back order”, so we probably won’t be able to get behind the wheel of a hybrid. That’s too bad. We’ll aim to get out there at the end of the month to see what we can test. I was informed that there is a 4-6 month delayin receiving a vehicle once it is ordered. This is actually a good time frame for us since we won’t need the car until Spring 2009. We’d need to put 10% down.

Allen also indicated that there is a four cylinder Highlanderin the works but he wasn’t sure if the Hybrid would be available with this more efficient engine. The Highlander Hybrid is currently a V6. I can’t imagine this would be the case, but you never know. It’s amazing how fast all of this changes.

We’re also going to visit the VW dealershipclose by on our test drive day to check out the Passat Wagon and the new Routan minivan. We’re not as keep on the Routan since it’s actually made by Chrysler and simply tricked out with VW aesthetics. Chrysler is the master of the minivan though so it could be a decent marriage. What’s that saying though, “You can put lipstick on a pig…”?

October 6, 2008 Posted by | Candidates, Research | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

2009 Family Car Fuel Efficiency

Buying a family car requires a bit of compromise for the eco-conscious family. If we were just buying any car our options for finding a fuel efficient vehicle would be easier.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that we need a car that can accommodate three car seats. This either means we need a wider car that can fit the car seats or a larger car like an SUV or minivan that has a third row of seating.

When we consider fuel efficiency, the choice becomes pretty obvious. Here’s a chart I pulled together with the city and highway miles per gallon for some of the models in consideration and others mentioned to us as we’ve begun our research.

2009 Model Year Fuel Efficiency
Make Model City Highway
Chrysler Town & Country LX 17 24
Ford Explorer 14 20
Honda Odyssey EX-L 17 25
Toyota Highlander Hybrid 27 25
Toyota Sienna 17 23
Volkswagen Passat Wagon Turbo 23 32
Volkswagen Routan SEL 17 25
Volvo XC90 3.2L 14 20

The VW Passat Wagon is quite efficient with 23 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway. We’re going to be doing more city driving thought which may make the Toyota Highlander Hybrid the best choice with 27 mpg in the city and a respectable 25 mpg on the highway.

When we get out for our test drives, we’ll see how we’re swayed. That should happen towards the end of October 2008.

October 4, 2008 Posted by | Candidates, Other Cars, Research | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Facebook reveals Honda fans

I got a great response from friends on Facebook regarding my inquiry on finding a great family car that can accommodate three car seats. There seem to be many Honda Odyssey fans out there. I was kind of surprised by that. I’m still in the minivan resistance stage. They seem so 1997.

And my eco-friendly car inquiry? Not so much of a response there. That’s a huge consideration for us. A high mpg (miles per gallon) rating is important, but more because of reduced emissions. The potential cost savings on fuel is a perk.

Making a responsible purchase is going to become a theme on this blog. We’re proud not to have a car right now. From an automotive point of view, our footprint is very light. We don’t want to suffocate the environment with our new car.

Later this month, we hope to get out for some test drives. In the meantime, research continues.

October 2, 2008 Posted by | Other Cars, Research | , , , | Leave a comment

Finding the perfect car takes time

We’re just starting our research into the next great car we own. The purchase will probably happen in early 2009, so if you’re interested in how we proceed and want to offer advice or simply follow the adventure, stay tuned.

Here’s a starter question. What’s your most valuable tool the influences your car buying decision? Why?

October 1, 2008 Posted by | Research | , | Leave a comment

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.