The search for a family car

By Nathan Gogoll, 24 Nov 2015 Car Opinions

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The search for a family car

With a growing family, Nathan discovered the trials and tribulations of upgrading the family car to a seven-seater. Masculinity optional.

The plan was simple: “I’ll organise the finance, it’s your job to buy the car,” my wife told me.

In theory, it sounded like a great scheme. I could do the ‘manly’ thing of selecting the new car but the job was to find something that could deal with school drop-offs; handle Saturday morning sport shuttling with extra teammates along for the ride; have room to include the Labrador for beach trips without him sitting on top of the kids; and enough space for longer road trips to visit far-flung relatives.

I needed to find a car my wife could drive daily, and I would get to share it on weekends. So, it turns out I wasn’t really looking for something that would reinforce my manliness after all.

We’ve got three kids and we’re not planning on adding to the mob (I’ve had my first consult for the procedure that will make sure of that). So while we’re not growing in number, our kids are starting to grow up. At eight, nearly six and four, it won’t be long before all three will be at school full time; surely the day they stop spilling everything all over the car will arrive soon as well?

In the meantime, a dark leather interior trim was a high priority – wiping up spills seems more practical than rubbing it in.

Seven Seat SUV black interior

I was also keen on good fuel economy but wasn’t really excited by the ‘drives like a diesel truck’ experience. The need for seven seats was clear, but minivans and serious four wheel drives weren’t in the mix.

I also decided I didn’t want the same car my father-in-law has in his driveway, so that was one popular diesel SUV ruled out straight away (hence my ‘drives like a diesel truck’ comment). I probably could have tested something petrol, but that didn’t combat the appearance. It was out.

My wife also had one request. No minivans.

It seems Fiat understood my pain. “It’s the family car for those who don’t want to be just like everyone else” was the line that caught my attention for the Freemont, and I was interested. A mate had already bought one and bragged about the space and clever storage options. But then I tuned in to a Facebook conversation from a car-nut friend with a different opinion, and suddenly confusion set in. If you spend too long looking at the opinions offered via social media, it’s pretty easy to get lost in the to-and-fro of positives and negatives. Apparently, everything is complete rubbish and truly awesome at the same time. Slowly, one by one, I was ticking SUVs off the list.

Fiat Freemont Front

Next came the second-guessing. Kia seemed to get good reviews, but was the Sorento big enough? What was Mitsubishi doing again? And still hanging around in the background was the Ford Territory (perhaps even the diesel model to satisfy my desire for some semblance of fuel economy).

But was there anything else I should have been looking at? For a week or two I tried to convince myself something more compact would work, so the Nissan X-Trail with a seven seat option got a look in.

But the boot space with the third-row seats up just didn’t cut it. I was getting desperate and started to think outside the box... what about an old Mercedes E-Class wagon? Reality check: service costs and settling for a much older model meant a quick budget blow-out. Next.

A bit of online research (on WhichCar of course), and a flick through a few comparisons and car reviews finally lead to a refined wish list: easy transition between a huge boot and a third row of seats; leather trim; a responsive and enjoyable driving experience; and decent fuel economy (with complete understanding we’re not comparing it with a Toyota Yaris).

Two cars ticked all the boxes – Toyota Kluger and Nissan Pathfinder.

Toyota Kluger front

The only box that wasn’t ticked was price. The budget had been stretched out from my extremely optimistic $30,000, to a still-short-of-buying-a-new-version-of-either-option $45,000 (which also hoped for a $1000 trade-in for a Ford Focus my wife bought brand new when she finished uni more than 10 years ago).

The base models we could afford didn’t come with the leather interior we were hoping for. At this point I did what any husband would do. I gave up.

Only joking. It was time to talk to the local dealers.

I went to Nissan first. It was a good experience. I took a mid-range Pathfinder for a drive, one with the desired leather trim. I took the car home to make sure it would fit into our garage and was surprised with the result – the car clearly felt a lot bigger inside that it actually was. It was fractionally wider than the large sedan we already had, but not noticeably longer.

Nissan Pathfinder

I returned the Pathfinder to the dealership and opened up about my budget. There were options for low-kilometer, mid-range models that could be doable if we waited for the right one to arrive. I tried hard not to show any emotion and drove down the road to a Toyota dealer to check out the Kluger. Pretty quickly the current model with leather trim was ruled out on price. There were options of a previous model Grande (top model with all the bells and whistles) but those in the price range were older and had a lot more kays on the clock than I really wanted.

So, the path to finding the right car for us took us back to Nissan. In mid-November the old Ford Focus was traded for a silver Nissan Pathfinder ST-L that had done 16,000km. I got a great deal on a tow-bar and we still came in below our budget. We’re all happy with it – our eldest even gave it 10-out-of-10.

I’m really happy with the way it drives, both in and out of the supermarkets car park, through the school ‘kiss and drop’ and out on the highway. It’s still too clean for me to even think about loading the Labrador in the back for a trip to the beach. But the three kids will have that problem sorted out soon, no doubt.