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$40k minivan and Suburban squeeze

By Claes Bell ·
Monday, August 9, 2010
Posted: 3 pm ET

While doing some research on the Honda website for Bankrate's Fall Car Guide, I happened upon a plug for the Odyssey minivan. The van looked pretty sweet in the picture, with big 17-inch wheels, fog lights and all manner of electronic doohickeys. But being the skeptic that I am, I looked for the fine print at the bottom of the photo to see what the damage would be to actually buy it.

As you probably know, car makers love to picture their most expensive, coolest looking model in their advertising, right under inch-high lettering that tells you the low, low base price. I always look at the fine print to find out if the model that caught my eye is actually going to cost me twice as much.

Anyway, the fine print at the bottom of the Odyssey picture blew me away: "Touring model shown, starting at $40,755."

The over-$40,000 Honda Odyssey Touring

The over-$40,000 Honda Odyssey Touring

"$40,000 for a minivan?!" I thought. "That's crazy!"

But after some research, I found that not only can you option the Odyssey out to around $45,000, but that price isn't in any way beyond the pale for a topped-out minivan.

The all-new Toyota Sienna also goes up to nearly $47,000. The Chrysler Town and Country? $42,115.

True, these are for the tip-top-of-the-line, super deluxe limited models with all the bells and whistles. But come on -- nearly 50 grand for a minivan? For that price, it had better be "the Cadillac of minivans," as Chili Palmer memorably called a loaded Oldsmobile Silhouette in "Get Shorty."

Apart from being a reflection of how much some are willing to pay for top-shelf doodads, it also made me realize just how expensive it is to have a big family these days. My dad was one of eight kids, which is almost unheard of today. He learned to drive in the family Suburban, a car my grandmother purchased because it was the only one that could fit all the kids with seat belts plus their stuff.

I figured as the longest continually offered model in the U.S., the Suburban would be a good barometer of where family hauler prices are today,  so I tried to find out what the MSRP was for a base Suburban when my dad was a kid.

Unfortunately, the farthest back I could find was 1984, but even that number is pretty illuminating. Back then, a base Suburban would set you back $10,280, or $21,586 in 2010 dollars. Nowadays a Suburban starts at $40,635. Of course, I'm sure my dad would agree that even the base Suburbans of today are much more safe and comfortable than the Suburbans of yesteryear. And yes, you could probably find a late-model used Suburban for that price for around $22,000 today.

But you see what I'm getting at: It's not just minivans that are expensive; big family haulers of all stripes have gotten pricier, and those who do have big families are probably among the least well-equipped to pay those additional costs.

What do you think? Are modern family haulers too expensive?

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August 10, 2010 at 12:32 pm

This is par for the course. Isn't it usually the ones who can least afford, the ones that shoulder the majority of the responsibility? Hello "middle-class" taxpayers!!