Ford's and Chevy's seemed to be our only options. The safety options were less than desirable. No head rests to help prevent whiplash in children who were taller than the seat. No air bags for those in the back. Another issue is cargo room. In a 12 passenger there is VERY LITTLE cargo room behind the last row. Many families I have talked to recommend getting the 15 passenger and taking out the last row. Other cons...these vans are loud and hard to work on without taking into a shop. And, let's be honest, they are not the most attractive vehicle on the road! Not that important in the grand scheme of things, I know, but a fact none the less.
Fast forward to just before Thanksgiving. I am browsing Craigslist for vans in our area. Since we live in a high tourist state, 12 and 15 passenger vans are pretty easy to find. During my browsing session I came across an odd looking vehicle claiming to be a 12 passenger van. As I googled this vehicle, I was very impressed. Click here and check it out! When my husband came home I showed him what I had found. He was just as impressed.
Let the research begin!
The safety standards on this vehicle are top notch. Each seat has a head rest and its own seat belt. The curtain side air bags run the full length of the van. These are unparalleled in a vehicle of this class.
To top it off, it is kind of cool looking too!
Let's talk cargo. There is definitely more space in the back than it's competitors.
Yesterday I bought about $100 in groceries and they fit fine in the back with room to spare. Now I don't plan to use this vehicle when I do a large grocery store run. I will take the little van for that since I can fold the seats down. But I was happy with the amount I could get back here. I just stood the stroller up. There is quite a bit of clearance under those seats! Oh, and these back doors unlatch and swing all the way open to the side. They are held there by a magnet!
The really awesome thing about these vehicles is that the seats can be configured 324 ways!!! Crazy!!! You see the split in those back seats? Each row has that split so you can take out, rearrange, whatever suits you. We like taking road trips and plan to do plenty once we are back on the mainland. When we do that we will be taking out half of the back row. That still gives us 8 seats in the back for 6 kids. And it will give us plenty of cargo room for our stuff.
Now, we didn't get all crazy and get the top of the line model they show on the website. We have the 3500 SV with the V6 engine. We discussed the V8 because we do plan to pull a camper at some point. After some research we feel the V6 will perform just fine and save us on gas. The seats are cloth, not leather, but they are not the type of cloth you see in a "regular" vehicle. These seem very easy to wipe down and I get the idea that they wouldn't stain easy. Haven't tested that theory out yet but I am sure I will in the future. We did get the tech package. I definitely recommend this. My biggest fear with a large van was backing up. With the tech package you get a back up camera. LOVE THIS!
As you can see above, we chose to take out the head rests in the middle. This will be where the car seats go so they are not necessary at this time. (Side note: there are 5 seats with the tethering system for car seats. The middle seats have the anchor on the back of the seat and the anchors on each side of the seat.) With the head rests in there is zero visibility out of the rear window. Now, the side mirrors more than compensate for this but I am a creature of habit and I like to use my rear view mirror.
Love that each seat has it's own seat belt rather than stretching from the roof across to the seat. Also, the two seats you see in the above picture are "single" seats and can be removed to make a bigger isle.
Tons of space up front. Since the engine is all out front there is more leg room and the cabin area stays cooler. That center console you see...it is HUGE. I am pretty sure my 2 year old could sit in there!
I also recommend checking out this blog. She gives a great review and pictures of the inside with lots of car seats.
Overall, I feel this van doesn't even compare to the Ford and Chevy. It seems to be in a class of its own. I highly recommend this for large families...at least those who don't need more than 12 seats! :-)