Looks like we'll be buying a new (to us) car! We've scoured every possible option for 6-7 passenger vehicles, from importing a Chevy Orlando (can't be done because it's missing a knee airbag somewhere), to bringing something over from Europe (great idea, but we don't have time to look for a car overseas right now), to investigating other possibilities like a Kia Sorento with 3rd row seats. We started our search with a Mazda5 in mind, and that's ultimately what we'll end up buying.
For a while we were really excited to buy a 2011 or newer Sorento (2 wheel drive, 4 cyl). Their mileage is as good or better than a Mazda5, they seat 7 people instead of 6, and they have more space. But it turns out that the manual transmissions do not come with 3rd row seats. And the automatic Sorentos are lots more expensive, enough to put them out of the running. We called several dealerships and the Kia corporate headquarters to find out if we could install 3rd row seats in a 5-speed Sorento. We got just about every possible answer, from "definitely no" to "definitely yes" to "we have no idea." But ultimately the answer seems to be no.
So for now, we'll be driving a zippy 2010 Mazda5 5-speed. We put a deposit on it and will be picking it up--if I don't go into labor--on Saturday. It's at a dealership a few hours away. It has just 26,000 miles and is priced really competitively. It looks like this:
Biggest downside: we'll have less storage space than our VW Golf. Even a larger grocery trip will mean putting bags on the front seats and under the kids' feet. (Mazda has added an additional foot of trunk space in the past year or two, so newer models do have more cargo space.)
But our long-term car plan is awesome:
We'll be living in France from summer 2014 - summer 2015 during Eric's sabbatical year. We'll shop around for our dream car (6-7 passenger, compact, manual transmission, diesel) and import it at the end of our stay. Import/shipping fees seem to be around $1500. Definitely worth it if we buy, say, a gently used VW Touran with BlueMotion technology. The Touran gets 51 US mpg combined (42 city / 57 highway). And isn't it cute?
ps--I received a few inquiries from people interested in buying our 2003 VW Golf. As soon as we purchase this new car, we'll be ready to sell the Golf. I just need to give it a good cleaning so I can take photos!