What's the right car for Jody and her Westies? Tom and Ray discuss the options, in today's letter to Car Talk.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Aug 01, 2006

Dear Tom and Ray:

I am beginning to look for a new car, a minivan. I currently drive a 1999 Jeep Cherokee Sport, which I love, but I need something bigger (I do a lot of things with my Westies, and I need more space to be able to stack the dog crates in the back, plus have room for my stuff). I like having four-wheel drive, since I often travel in lousy weather or have to drive through muddy fields at various dog events. Should I get a van with all-wheel drive? Someone told me that all-wheel drive on a minivan really doesn't matter because the body of the car sits low on the wheelbase (unlike SUVs, which sit high), and a van with front-wheel drive is all I really need. What do you think? Also, do you have a recommendation for a minivan? I'm leaning toward a Toyota Sienna right now. Thanks guys! -- Jody

RAY: Well, I'm glad you're looking at the Sienna, Jody, because that's the only all-wheel-drive minivan on the market these days.

TOM: It also happens to be a very nice one, so you can't go wrong with a Sienna.

RAY: But when you see the sticker price (the all-wheel-drive version starts around 33 grand), you might want to have a few other options on the table.

TOM: One option might be a front-wheel-drive minivan. In moderately bad weather, minivans do quite well, as your friend suggests. They're heavy and have the engine right over the front wheels, and they have enough ground clearance to get you through a modest amount of snow with no problem. So if bad weather is just an occasional problem for you, front-wheel drive might be enough. Especially if you invest in four good snow tires.

RAY: But if you HAVE TO drive frequently in unplowed snow, or -- as you say -- onto muddy fields, then you really do need all-wheel drive. And in that case, a good backup option might be something like a Ford Freestyle.

TOM: That's sort of the Barry Bonds of station wagons, with optional all-wheel drive. It seats six or, with the seats folded down, carries a boatload of cargo. It starts at about five grand less than an all-wheel-drive Sienna, and gets slightly better mileage. Put that on your list, too, Jody.

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