Hi Jeremy/Michael: I own a 2008 Honda Element AWD, and I'm a fan of Honda, as I previously owned an Acura Integra coupe. I'm looking to replace the car, but I need the ability to transform the car into a van – as I use it for my business. Fuel efficiency is a plus. What do you think? – Cindy in Vancouver
Vaughan: I'm confused, Cynthia. You want to transform your car into a van for business – but does that mean you want a van with three rows of seats for clients or does that mean you want a van with no seats so you can lug around equipment?
Cato: Nice of you to seek clarification, Vaughan, though I think she wants a passenger van that can double as a cargo van, and with ease. We're seeing more of this sort of thing – the formerly employed becoming the self-employed. And that means a business opportunity for car companies.
They're responding and have been for a while. Take the Ford Transit Connect. Get it as a pure cargo van or a five-passenger wagon. Get it with that thrifty 136-horsepower four-banger. I love this little rig and you may, too, Cindy. Ford has upgraded the latest version for 2014. This new one is better, but the 2013 is a deal with thousands in discounts in play.
Vaughan: The Transit Connect is more the size of your now-extinct Element and it's a good size for parking. As Cato says, you can get it with seats or shelves. Starts at around $27,600 before you start adding goodies. As long as you don't get a white one, you will drive around looking like a progressive business woman, and not a plumber or an electrician or courier driver. As Cato said, there's big business in little vans and Nissan has an offering, too.
Cato: Ah, ha! Look out on the car lot – it's a little cargo van, a taxicab. It's not Superman – though Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn is a comic book hero in Japan – but the entirely new Nissan NV200. Nissan has a deal with New York City to sell 10,000 or more of these as taxis. And for Canadians, the NV200 has just gone on sale for $22,000 as a cargo van.
Under Ghosn, Nissan is all about offering what the competition sells, but for less and with better fuel economy. The 131-hp four-cylinder here sips fuel because it has a continuously variable transmission and the NV200 has more cargo room than the Transit Connect.
Vaughan: It's a little longer than the Transit, too, and you may love or hate its looks. It has a swoopy nose that is supposed to look modern. It has sliding doors on the side and barn doors on the rear. What it doesn't have in the rear is a seat.
Nope, this one has two seats up front and a large empty space behind with attachments for shelves and stuff. However, again as Cato notes, a version of the NV200 is New York City's Taxi of Tomorrow, so expect to see a more passenger-friendly version coming to Nissan dealers soon.
Cato: Yes, yes, yes. You know, Nissan has been juggling with the launch of this little van. I expected more fanfare because the country, I mean all of North America, is stuffed with Cindys looking to combine business with, well, pleasure.
And they're all looking to save not a nickel, but big bucks. Which brings me to the Dodge Grand Caravan. Cindy can get a nicely done, stretched one – three rows of seating – for less than $20,000. I know, I know, that's not the sticker price, but with all the Chrysler Canada discounts, that's the real price. This is the best deal in a minivan, bar none, and will do everything you need it to do, Cindy.
Vaughan: Yes, a good business woman should be all about saving her money while meeting her business's needs. There's a reason Chrysler sold millions of Caravans; they are tremendous value for the money and extremely versatile. The Stow-'N-Go seats disappear into the floor with a simple pull on a strap. They're not that much harder to pull out of the floor.
Yes, it's the dreaded soccer mom's van of choice, but don't let that scare you off. Choose a fancy colour and it's a good-looking vehicle.
One thing I have noticed, having bought a number of them over the years for business – shop around. I discovered a huge difference in what various Dodge dealers were charging for the same vehicle.
Cato: I got a note from a reader the other day, one who combines being a mom with a renovation business. She drives a minivan because, as she told me, right now it's filled with "old juice boxes, three cartons of tiles, a toilet, a faucet and three bags of dimmer switches. And I am constantly driving kids ..."
Cindy, maybe the Grand Caravan is for you.
HOW THEY COMPARE
|2013 Ford Transit Connect XLT Wagon||2013 Nissan NV200 compact cargo van||2013 Dodge Grand Caravan SE/SXT|
Track, front (mm)
|2.0-litre four-cylinder||2.0-litre four-cylinder||3.6-litre V-6|
|136/128 lb-ft||131/139 lb-ft||283/260 lb-ft|
|Front-wheel drive||Front-wheel drive||Front-wheel drive|
|Four-speed automatic||CVT||six-speed automatic|
Curb weight (kg)
Fuel economy (litres/100 km)
|9.6 city/7.4 highway||N/A||12.2 city/7.9 highway|
Base price (MSRP)
Source: car manufacturers
Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on CTV.