Nightmares come in many forms. Coca-Cola Classic being discontinued. The iPhone rendered useless due to a virus. Obamacare being implemented. Makeup artists buying Miatas in droves. Sarah Palin being elected president.
Well, for automakers, it's the advent of one-car families. Which unfortunately is an all-too-real prospect due to mobile phone bills that rival car payments, high insurance rates and gas prices, and the song currently topping the Billboard charts calling out pop stars on their materialism.
Having lived in Berkeley with its many grad students, I consider myself an expert on single car households, much like I see myself as an authority on hippies. (What you need to know: Single car households think cars a necessary evil, while hippies consider them flat-out evil, perhaps because they put out the wrong sort of smoke.)
As a result, I've ventured into actual, constructive consumer advice, making recommendations of perfect family vehicles under $30K because let's face it, young families don't have much to spend, even if they are buying brand-new.
Author's Note: The criteria for this list involved a family of four. Yes, I know the average American household barely has three people in it, but a list needed to be made this week and this seemed as close to actual, original consumer advice as I could get.
Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen TDI
Why: A perpetual Jalopnik favorite, something I realized after writing this, the Jetta wagon is the only diesel manual station wagon on the market. But with either transmission, getting over 40 mpg is easier than upgrading to Windows 8.1 (now there's another nightmare). The amount of torque means you can haul an entire family and their stuff. It also holds its value surprisingly well.
Perfect For: Those parents who want to be more European (don't tell them the Sportwagen's manufactured in Mexico), i.e. the type who buy all their furniture from IKEA and wear Crocs. Anyone with a long commute without traffic. Going on cycling trips. Looking smug at Outback owners, since your car is genuinely a station wagon.
Why: Having a third row works wonders. There's seating for when that annoying couple without kids visits. A place for the kids to buckle in their stuffed animals. It's also the reason why the Sorento made this list. Otherwise, it's just another normal crossover. And getting both a third seat and all-wheel-drive (with lockable center differential) for under $30K is a good deal.
Perfect For: Minimizing trips to IKEA (and saving money) thanks to the third seat taking up cargo space. Making your parents question your judgment because you bought a Kia instead of a Toyota. Showing those Spirit Airlines and Ryanair passengers what uncomfortable really feels like. Having the confidence for a Tahoe trip.
Why: Standard all-wheel-drive and the interior dimensions are close to, or the same, as the Outback. They're reliable, available with a manual, and they get good fuel mileage. Think of it as the crossover that can actually perform as advertised, especially in the snow. With the notable exception of your dog being capable of driving it.
Perfect For: Northeast and northwest families who need all-wheel-drive and feel the need to blend in. Owning for the next 15 years until the next round of sentimental Subaru commercials get to you. Also, people who don't want an Outback, since it's a car that's actually an SUV attempting to be a station wagon.
Why: It can seat six people comfortably, and gets very good mileage. It also has a manual option, though the color choices are pitiful. A Prius V or Ford C-Max Hybrid, which you'd consider, are more expensive and don't seat six people. You won't have to worry about a battery or any extra maintenance associated with hybrids as well.
Perfect For: The parents coming out of a Miata or Mazda3 who'll be accustomed to the slow acceleration but excellent handling of the thing. Differing from all the other minivans in the school pick-up line. Even taking to an autocross as long as you remove all the baby stuff. Don't expect to win either, like you did in your Miata.
Why: I love minivans. I took my driving test in one. I'm less likely to be pulled over when driving one. You can fit six cases of beer, two ice chests, a 42-inch TV with a Playstation 3, and four backpacks with four people seated comfortably while using the onboard electrical outlets for the laptops. Try doing any of that in an X5 or Tahoe.
Now, readers may note that only base versions of minivans can be had under $30K. This generally means giving up plenty of creature comforts like a power sliding doors, an upgraded stereo, and a navigation system.However, I grew up in an Odyssey LX and turned out just fine. In fact, my mom still drives hers all the time (despite having gone through 2 transmissions).
Perfect For: Everything. Picking up girls. Stretching on road trips. Moving to apartments. Seating 7 to 8 people. Beer runs. Camping. Transporting 2x4s, bags of cement, flowers, and elm trees from Home Depot. Demonstrating that your reproductive organs work. I can't stress the "Do anything except the Rubicon!" theme enough.
This post originally appeared on my Kinja blog BecauseCAR.
All images courtesy respective manufacturers.