Unicorn Hunting: Comfy wagon/SUV with great mileage

Greetings! I'm shopping for a car that may not exist. My requirements list isn't long, but it's hard to find them on the same car.
1) Absurdly comfortable front seats. I'm 6'2" and get back pain
whenever I drive any of my current cars for more than 30-60 minutes. I "only" weigh 190, but have long legs for someone by height.
2) Good winter traction. We live in rural New England and have a 400- foot sloped gravel driveway. 4WD isn't a requirement (our FWD Passat is adequate for example), but better ground clearance would be great (our current cars frequently scrape on the dirt roads around here -- including one recent event that broke TWO catalytic converters).
3) Great gas mileage. As you can tell from the fact that one of our cars runs on waste vegetable oil (see below), we care a lot about reducing emissions. This is actually more important, to us, than fuel savings. That is, we don't mind paying $5,000 extra for a car that will save us only $3,000 in gas costs over the life of the vehicle.
3a) Manual transmission. I have never owned an automatic and I don't like them. They have worse mileage and I don't enjoy them as much (I also like how manuals force me to pay attention to my driving -- neither my wife nor I have ever had an accident in over 30 combined years driving 5-speeds).
I've heard that the Prius has surprisingly good leg-room, but all our driving is rural -- so a hybrid doesn't seem like the right technology. I also hate automatics.
I have a friend with a 5-cylinder Volvo wagon -- she says she gets 35 MPG highway. I haven't tried driving it, but perhaps this is the best combo of the above choices.
I'm also looking at SUV options (Ford? Honda?), because I notice my back hurts a lot less in vehicles (like our pickup truck) with an 'upright' seating position.
I sat in my stepmother's Subara Forester for a few minutes and I'm pretty sure the front seat is too cramped. Same with the few minutes I spent in a Toyota Highlander Hybrid.
For reference, these are our current/recent cars, and what we liked and didn't like:
a) 1987 Nissan Sentra (2-door). My first car, but I soon realized that driving it was like jabbing an ice pick in my lower back. My father-in- law was a mechanic so we ripped out the front seat and drilled some more holes in the seat frame so that it could go farther back (to the point that no one could fit in the back seat). This was a great solution, but not one that makes sense for me any more.
b) 1996 VW Golf. Another great car. Suprisingly comfortable front seats.
c) 1999 Nissan Frontier Pickup Truck. Great reliable pickup truck, but somewhat cramped seating, and not a good all-around vehicle for a 3- person family.
d) 1999 VW Jetta Diesel, with a "GreaseCar" kit to run on waste vegetable oil. Starting to show it's age -- less reliable than the Japanese cars I've owned. Horrible winter traction, and less comfortable than the Golf.
e) 2000 VW Passat 6-cylinder. The weight helps gives this car much better snow traction than the Jetta, but it's mileage is poor, and the front seat is the LEAST comfortable of any car I've ever owned. Alas, I didn't notice this in the 20-minute test drive.
I would love feedback from other people like me, who've had trouble finding a comfortable car. I really wish the dealers would let me test- drive a car for a day (or a week) so I could truly assess whether the car was suitable for long drives.
Thanks in advance for any help!
Clay
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Clay wrote:

This reference lists every vehicle made for 2008 MY: http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/FEG2008.pdf
And http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/FEG2007.pdf for the 2007 MY.
They group vehicles by type and list the engine, transmission, and mileage.
You can do a comprehensive search and narrow your search easily.
I drove a Saturn Vue (available with 2WD and 4-cyl) and liked it. The Ford Escape and Tribute might meet your needs. I would also look at the Hyundai, Suzuki, MiniCooper, Fonda Fit, Ford Edge, Pontiac Vibe. As far as what is comfortable for you, sorry, but I have a different back than you.
You might or might not be surprised how big the Fit and Mini Cooper are.
Jeff
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you and the seats fit together) it would probably handle your height. The ground clearance and traction requirements are deal breakers, though. All Prius models have relatively little ground clearance - around five inches - and too much vulnerable stuff under the car. The hatchback models have a tactic of shutting down power to the wheels once slippage starts and is only overridden (partially, at that) with full throttle. The hybrid system doesn't have an actual automatic transmission so much as a power delivery system. I am also partial to manual trannies and occasionally really frustrated with automatics but I really like the way the hybrid power train works. Still - no way where you drive.
The Ford Escape Hybrid may overcome the ground clearance problem, but I've heard bad things (maybe outdated) about the usable traction. That's something somebody with direct experience would know be able to tell you about.
Mike
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Hmmm. performance and reliability are not on your list of desired traits? Lots of leg room tends to come with larger vehicles, which tend to be less fuel efficient and environmentally friendly than a smaller vehicle.
Look at the Scion xB, which has a surprising amount of interior room, good fuel economy, FWD, and available manual transmission. Check out the Ford Escape, Toyota Rav4, Honda CRV & Element, and new Highlander.
--

Ray O
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I'll second Ray's suggestion - I am 6' even and have an 08 Highlander Limited _do not have the seat near the rearmost it will go - the steering column telescopes and wheel tilts
I just sold a house, the agent used part of the commission to by an xB - he is 65 and says its plenty roomy (I've not been in it to see)
Ron in Ca
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Why does rural driving rule out a hybrid?
As for the transmission....if you're truly interested in using less fuel and reducing emissions, you should take a close look at the Prius. True, you can't shift it yourself--but if you look very closely at the technology, you'll be amazed at what Toyota has done. It doesn't have a conventional transmission, or even a conventional belt-driven CVT, at all. The geniuses at Toyota figured out how to do a hybrid drivetrain, and determined how the power should be managed, and the result is amazing.
Like it or not, the Toyota method is the wave of the future for passenger cars.
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Alas, much as we love our Prius for its consistent 50 MPG, it has the LEAST comfortable and least adjustable seats of any car I've ever ridden in since the elementary school bus.
Sorry it doesn't exist, but what you need (and I'd buy one too) is a 40 MPG Volvo V70 Hybrid.
--
-RL


"Elmo P. Shagnasty" < snipped-for-privacy@nastydesigns.com> wrote in message
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Hybrids are for wimps. I hate getting stuck behind those putt putt priuse
wrote:

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snipped-for-privacy@backpacker.com wrote:

It's not the tool, it's the operator.
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Elmo P. Shagnasty wrote:

I, too, take it nice and gently. I like to save gas and not wear out my equipment. The only difference is that I am not rushing to stop at the next red light, rather, I sail through it when it is green.
Jeff
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There's only one choice for you- try a Subaru Outback. My 04 got 29 mpg fully loaded driving cross country and the AWD will handle anything you would attempt in a stock vehicle and be 100% reliable for a long time. Try it. The 4 cyl is plenty powerful and a manual is available.

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my crown vic gets 30+mpg on the highway with the cruise set at 65, and 22 mpg in town if i keep my foot out of it. if the kids drive it, it gets 12 in town, and 15 onthe highway, cause they like to hit the speed limiter. thats why i don't let them have the keys anymore..

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A Volvo XC90 will be roomy, have good winter traction and get passable milage. A Subaru Outback will be somewhat smaller, get marginally better milage, have a manual gearbox and be passably roomy.
Unfortunately the combination of large roomy vehicle with a manual transmission, all wheel drive that gets very high milage does not exist.

I doubt that you will find a 4WD passenger vehicle. More likely will be AWD.

AWD vehicles typically do not get great milage.

Very few passenger vehicles have manual transmissions. The only one I can think of that couples a manual gearbox and AWD is the Subaru Outback. It was quite comfortable when I drove one and I'm 6'.

If it is an AWD vehicle I doubt that it gets 35mpg. Indeed the standard front wheel drive non-turbo car would likely get 28 to 30 mpg on the highway.
Given that you apparently have back problems that should be the first criteria for you. Develop a list of cars that fit your frame and can accomodate a sore back. Beyond providing a list of cars with roomy front seating tt is literally impossible for someone on the internet to guess which car will fit you properly.
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Try an SE Camry. Excellent front drivers seat. Great mileage for a larger car. Good handling. I personally like the black upholstery with the chrome accents. Seventeen inch alloy wheels. The car has a lot going for it. Ron
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Mazda 5, Subaru WRX/Legacy/Forester wagons
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I've got two suggestions, both not yet available:
1. Volkswagon Tiguan Diesel (May 2008 in USA ?) http://www.tiguan.nl/ http://www.casanovacars.com/volkswagen/2008_volkswagen_tiguan_diesel.php http://www.vwvortex.com/artman/publish/volkswagen_news/article_2032.shtml 140 hp 2.0L diesel, 35/45 mpg ?
2. Honda CRV Diesel (August 2009 in USA ???) already available in the UK since 2001 ? http://www.channel4.com/4car/di/honda/cr-v/1022/1 150 hp 2.2L diesel, 35/45 mpg
Lynn
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Clay wrote:

You can get the Volvo V70 wagon with a manual transmission. It is one of the very few vehicles which hits your requirements.
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