Our First Family Car

Our First Family Car

We have bought one car as a family. A year after we got married, and six months before we bought our house in the suburbs, we bought a car to replace my wife's Honda Civic. We were looking for something that:

  1. It had an automatic transmission.

  2. Had enough space to fit the two of us and our golden retreiver

  3. Was safe

  4. Wouldn't need to be replaced when we added to our family

  5. Would be able to handle New England winters

Other than being able to handle New England weather and roads, this was an entirely new set of criteria, and we ended-up with an entirely new set of candidates. In addition, there were other explicit things to avoid, based upon her riding in my WRX; specifically, we preferred a smoother, naturally aspirated engine over a turbo engine.


Subaru OutbackSuzuki SX4Volvo XC70
Front Leg Room 41.9" 41.4" 43.0"
Rear Leg Room 37.8" 35.9" 34.6"
Cargo Volume (standard) 34.3 cu. ft 16.0 cu. ft 33.3 cu. ft
Cargo Volume(max) 71.3 cu. ft 54.0 cu. ft 72.1 cu. ft
Curb weight 3386 lbs 2844 lbs 4147 lbs
Wheelbase 107.9" 98.4" 110.0"
Length 188.2" 162.8" 190.5"
Width 71.7" 69.1" 73.3"
Height 65.7" 63.2" 63.1"
Clearance 8.7" 6.9" 8.3"
Engineflat-6 3.6L I4 2.0L I6 3.2L
EPA Fuel Economy (City/Highway) 18/25 23/29 19/23
Range (highway miles) 463 345 426
0-60 7.3s 8.3s 8.4s

Subaru Outback

I was currently driving a Subaru Impreza WRX, so I naturally wanted to re-use some of the research I'd done for that purchase. It turned out that the Outback met our goals (as much as I'd have preferred the smaller Impreza-based Outback Sport). It provided the most space of the three vehicles in terms of leg-room, and also in terms of cargo space with the second row available. It also had the strongest engine, fastest acceleration, and longest range. It was a strong contender.

Suzuki SX4

The Suzuki was the low-ball choice. Just like I tested the Civic Si when I bought my WRX, the Suzuki was the what can I get for less? option. It met the objective requirements of being all-wheel-drive and being at least as big as the Impreza and Civic, while providing even more space whith the third row dropped.

Volvo XC70

My wife had a history with Volvo, most recently a 1993 940 which immediately preceeded her Honda Civic. That Volvo had met a noble end, protecting her when a full-sized SUV decided to run a stop sign. By contrast, the Civic was easily repaired when a Jeep failed to yield intering a round-about and hooked the rear bumper, but left her with a tedious recovery.


Having selected three final candidates, after milling through dozens of options (What about a Maybach? No? What about a used SLR Mclaren?), our final selection process was pretty quick. The short version of it goes:

I've come-up with three finalists. The Subaru Outback, Suzuki SX4, and the Volvo XC70. The Volvo.

The long version:

I've come-up with three finalists. The Subaru Outback, Suzuki SX4, and the Volvo XC70. The Volvo. Don't you want to hear the trade-offs? Sure. Well, the Suzuki looks like the best value, but I don't know where the nearest dealer is. The Volvo is the nicest, and has a cool tech package, but with the tech package is twice as much as the Subaru; without the package it's still wice as much as the Suzuki. The Subaru is somewhat in the middle. Which is the safest? The Volvo. The Volvo.

Admittedly, I liked the XC70 the best as well. Volvo included its emergency auto-braking technology, City Safety as standard, and had pricey technology packages that included adaptive cruise-control and a pedestrian detection feature, that would detect people jumping in front of the car (a common occurance in the Boston area), as well as the easier to detect automobiles of the City Safety feature.

The XC70 came in a wagon format. It had more space than the SX4, and was bigger than a sedan, but was not to my eyes as ugly and hulking of the larger SUVs which just had no place on the highways. It had all-wheel-drive and looked like it could handle some light mud or unpaved paths. Its bias was towards softer steering, but the seats were soft and our golden retriever was equaly comfortable in the rear of the car in what was luxury compared to the back of a Civic. It was slower-to-sixty than the Impreza, but that wasn't important: with the naturally aspirated 3.2L inline-6, 240bhp would eventually get to highway speed with a smooth power curve.

In the end, we only got the base technology package and didn't get the lane-keeping package or adaptive cruise control. It turns out there weren't any of those in available inventory, and not only would it have been an expensive option, it would take a couple months to order: and that was a deal breaker. We found an otherwise perfect Flamenco Red model with a tan interior which matched our cream-colored golden retriever, and with integrated rear booster seats, completing our first car purchase as a family.

Fortunately, we didn't go with the Suzuki, as their US operation declared bankruptcy later that year.