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Though I had high hopes the United States would be blessed with the presence of the updated VW Microbus--we've been dissed!

By Novella Carpenter

As you know, this is Earth Day month for this column, but I have so many nonenvironmental things I want to write about. For instance, I went to see the movie Ghetto Fabulous, a documentary about some guys in east Oakland who love their Ford Falcons so much that their lives have changed--for the better. Or, I wanted to write about someone's recent observation that taggers--not the most polite members of society--respect cars enough not to spray paint or Sharpie them.

But the Earth calls like a wounded little chicken, and I will respond. In fact, the call came via email, from a man in Fort Collins, Colo., who wrote: "Here's the deal. My wife and I are tree huggers (recycle, compost, eat organic, registered in the Green Party) who like to travel. We had planned on having two children, thus not increasing the population. For better or worse, our 'second' child turned out to be spontaneous triplets, so we are a family of six! Almost all the green cars are too small for our family--the Prius, the Insight, even the five-seat Ford Escape. To make a long story short(er), what is the greenest possible car you know about that will seat six?"

I quickly dashed off that I would get a diesel Volkswagen Vanagon and run it on biodiesel. But then I remembered: Colorado is cold and steep, so a gutless VW probably wouldn't cut it. My second thought was the Honda Odyssey, which gets relatively good fuel mileage, but still is not very exciting. Later, I asked Billy what he would do if we had triplets. And so started our usual verbal sparring. "A Ford Fiesta towing a shopping cart with baby seats," he grinned. "Aren't babies what roof racks are for?" I counter. "Hey, you know what they say, if you love something, set it free." Billy smirked, "Just give one of those babies up!" "Yeah, you'll hardly notice it's missing," I added.

You see how bad we are--just terrible! But really, this is a problem that needs to be solved, and so I did a little research. Our friend in Colorado was right; it is tough to find a green car for big families, but here are my suggestions. Option One: Much as I hate to recommend an SUV (remember: Don't load these things down!), the Toyota Highlander hybrid is coming out this June. It can't be beat in terms of comfort, the two-wheel-drive version will get 33 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway, and the hybrid is considered a superultralow-emissions vehicle with 90 percent fewer emissions than most other cars. Although it is a little expensive at $33,000, the waiting list is still sure to be mammoth. Sign up early!

Option Two: Though I had high hopes the United States would be blessed with the presence of the updated VW Microbus--think the curvy form of the new Beetle, but in the shape of a van--we've been dissed! Citing a weaker economic environment here, the German manufacturer will only offer the Microbus in Europe.

This would have been the perfect Earth-family vehicle, with plenty of room, decent mileage and, of course, VW greener appeal. However, you could do better with a used VW Eurovan (used because they don't make them here anymore). These seat seven comfortably, are great for family trips and get fairly decent mileage: about 20 miles per. Further, by buying used, bear in mind that you are saving not only money (they cost, on average, $10,000), but also all that plastic and energy that goes toward making a new car.

Finally, Option Three is the old standby: a station wagon! Although they've been squeezed out by minivans and SUVs, according to Consumer Reports there are still 28 wagon models for sale in the United States. Unfortunately for our father of triplets, few of them seat more than five. Enter the Volvo XC70, a midsize wagon that averages 20 mpg, has plenty of storage space and seats up to seven because of a third row of seats in back. Just because it's a car, don't think it'll be cheaper: the XC70 starts at $35,000. Problem solved?

Send other ideas for our family of six to [email protected]

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From the April 13-20, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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