Europe 2014 – A Recap – Part Three

As we went from dealer to dealer looking at potential cars to purchase and ship over, we established some guiding principles to help keep us on track during the process, as it is very easy to get caught up in the excitement of car buying and end up with a vehicle that while nice, is more car than you need. One important grounding point is that we tend to keep our cars for over ten years, so it has to stand the test of time. Our principles were:

  • The new vehicle replaces a workhorse, our 1998 Expedition. We need a comfortable, capable hauler that can carry all of our gear as we travel far and wide. As we also own a 3 Series BMW (335), the replacement doesn’t need to be sporty.
  • Reliability is key and an extensive dealer network important, as we need to be able to service the vehicle wherever we travel.
  • Size; it doesn’t have to be as big as the Expedition (118 Cubic Feet of storage with rear seats down) but should be large enough for us to travel in for extended periods of time.
  • Good gas mileage, or at least better than the Expedition
  • We have to really like it

We had a general idea about which makes and models of vehicles we might buy to replace the Expedition. In no particular order of preference these would be a Chevrolet Traverse (Buick Enclave or GMC Acadia), Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander or any others of that ilk. A mini-van would also have been ideal for our needs, but a mid-sized SUV seemed to fit our personalities best and we wanted some all-wheel or four-wheel drive capability, usually found lacking in vans.

Knowing we’d be driving it in Europe for many months, it would be prudent to ship a car that could be serviced there, so I spent some time at the European websites for the major brands to determine if any of the cars we might send had similar models for sale there. This is most often not the case, as anything larger than a Rav-4, CRV or Equinox is generally not sold there.

So repairs might or might not be an issue, but we figured that a service department at a branded dealership would be able to take care of any issues that might arise. One downside of shipping is that your factory warranty is only good in the United States, although if you did require a warrantable repair, you could pay out of pocket there and then submit a claim upon your return that would likely be honored.

And so, we made a trip or two to local dealers, looking at cars with potential, even venturing a bit outside of the mid-size SUV standard we’d set, wondering if some of the sedan based hatchbacks (Honda Crosstour, Toyota Venza) might not work for us. As with our test-drive trips to Volvo, we took some of the luggage we would be packing to gauge how much space various vehicles offered.

This proved of value as it convinced us that the smaller non-SUV options would not be viable. It was during one of the trips that the kernel of our course of action became clearer to me. We’d stopped first at Honda of Concord to check out the Pilot, Crosstour, and CRV, then went next door to view the offerings at the Toyota dealership to see the RAV-4, Venza, and Highlander.

Honda Crosstour

Honda Crosstour

Toyota Venza

Toyota Venza

We determined that the CRV and the RAV-4 were also too small for us, both a shade bigger than the Volvo XC70 at 73 cubic feet apiece.

Honda CRV

Honda CRV

Toyota RAV-4

Toyota RAV-4

Joanna was not a fan of the appearance of the Pilot, pretty much eliminating it from consideration, which left us with the Highlander as an option.

Honda Pilot

Honda Pilot

I’ve been a big fan of this vehicle, particularly the Hybrid option, since its introduction a number of years ago. It’s size (at 95 cubic feet it is has quite a bit more than either of the Volvo’s we considered) and Toyota’s reputation for quality makes it a strong contender as a car you could keep for a long time.

Highlander's Cargo Area Behind the Rear Passenger Seats

Highlander’s Cargo Area Behind the Rear Passenger Seats

Although still undecided at this time about our eventual course of action, I mentioned to Joanna that if I were just buying a car without the trip to Europe involved, I’d be buying the Highlander Hybrid. One point about the Hybrid though is that financially, the money you save on gas due to its superior mileage compared to the conventional gas engine is pretty much erased by the initial cost differential between the two. But buying a Hybrid appeared to be the better choice for us.

Highlander's Rear Passenger Seats

Highlander’s Rear Passenger Seats

Not long after that visit, it all began to jell for us. I performed a comparison of cost between the Volvos and the Highlander Hybrid, combining total gas cost over the vehicle’s lifetime along with the trip cost to see which might be the best way for us to go. I assumed:

  • We’d drive the car a total of 200,000 miles over its lifetime
  • That the mpg averages would be 20 and 28 for the Volvo and the Highlander, respectively
  • The Volvo would require premium gas while the Highlander would run on regular
  • The purchase price of the cars would be roughly equivalent.
  • Add the cost of shipping the luggage to the Volvo; add the cost of shipping the car to the Highlander. Insurance cost for both in Europe roughly equivalent.

The results of that analysis were:

Volvo Highlander
Miles Driven 200,000 200,000
Average MPG 20 28
Gallons Lifetime 10,000 7,143
Fuel per Gallon 3.11 2.71
Fuel Cost Lifetime 31,100 19,357
Shipping Cost 6,000
Luggage Cost 3,600
Airfare 2,500
Total Cost of Car 34,700 27,857

Once it appeared that we could financially justify shipping a Highlander Hybrid instead of buying a Volvo in Europe, the rest fell into place. It satisfied our initial criteria, meant we could take more gear that we could easily transport back and forth, and outfit the car ahead of time (bike racks, pre-pack for space, navigation, etc.). And the final deciding point? We really liked it.

Highlander Outfitted and in Camp in Cognac

Highlander Outfitted and in Camp in Cognac


Chevrolet Europe:

Ford Europe:

Honda Crosstour:

Toyota Venza:

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