New (to me) vehicle needed- smaller than minivan?

The current vehicle is rapidly reaching the point where fixing it is more expensive than it’s worth, so I’m considering buying a new one. For the past several years, we have had a minivan. We have two kids and we frequently carry large loads of stuff to weekend events. With everything, we filled a minivan. Now, the kids are no longer a factor, but we still have all the stuff to deal with.
I am wondering if there’s a smaller vehicle that may suit us. Something with the cargo capacity of the back of a minivan, but with better gas mileage.
Alternately, I’ve considered getting a trailer to keep all the stuff in, so I don’t have to either pack and unpack every week or haul everything around with me everywhere I go. What is the smallest vehicle that could pull a smallish trailer? I"m thinking the sort that’s just a platform with sides.

You want to look into hatchbacks. It’s amazing how much can fit into any kind of hatchback–even sporty ones.

My husband drives a Pontiac Vibe. It’s discontinued but there are plenty out there, and his is a 2008 so they’re at least that new.

Did you stop reading when I typed “Pontiac”? Start reading again. It’s actually a Toyota Matrix. The engine compartment is plastered with Japanese characters and “Toyota”. Except because it’s a Pontiac, you can get it cheap.

Mazda 5 or Honda Fit?

The Mazda 5 is a small van, meaning smaller than a minivan with a 4 cylinder engine and the wheelbase of a compact car but still has sliding doors. The Kia Rondo is another similar vehicle, although I think it just has conventional doors. The Mazda5 is an OK vehicle in most respects, other than being pretty slow, especially when equipped with an automatic transmission, just because it’s a relatively large vehicle with a small engine.

Your biggest problem is that these kinds of vehicles are not popular and thus are quite rare on the used market, and it will be harder to find a good deal for them. The thing about used car shopping is that you can talk all day about how some car is theoretically perfect for you on paper, but if they never sold any of the things to begin with, there won’t be any used ones for you to buy.

People these days want SUVs, so you’re probably better off looking at some small SUVs, just because they are more common. A compact SUV without 4WD is essentially going to fit your purposes well enough, I think.

How much money do you have? I can give you a few recommendations based on that.

I drive a Honda Fit, and if the back seats are folded down, you can carry quite a lot of stuff. But the OP mentions the idea of a trailer, and the manual for the Fit specifically says that you can’t tow one without violating the warranty. I don’t know if the Mazda 5 can tow a trailer. As for a used vehicle, small cars are in short supply right now, so the prices are on the rise. (In fact one-year-old Honda Fits like mine seem to be selling for about the same as a new one, according to the Kelly Blue Book website.)

Another smaller-than-a-van quasi-SUV thing is the Honda Element - loads of room in there with the rear seats swung out of the way. The downside (for some) is the look of the thing.

Subaru Foresters also do pretty well and can pull small trailers. In my wife’s, we averaged 27MPG on a cross-country road trip a few years ago, at slightly extralegal speeds and the AC on full time. Less cargo room than a van, but they still do hold a surprising amount. If you live anywhere with real weather, the all-wheel drive can be a nice benefit.

I adore my Subaru Legacy Outback station wagon. I admit the mpg isn’t the best because it’s AWD, but it handles beautifully loaded or unloaded. Lots of glass, so very few blind spots. DRLs and (big!) fog lights. Dome light over rear seats, map lights, lighted vanity mirrors for both front seats, dome light in cargo area.

The back seats are split 60/40 and the bench flips forward so the seats can lie flat. The middle-seat shoulder belt can be retracted into the ceiling so it doesn’t interfere with cargo. I can fit an X-large Vari-Kennel in the back and still have room for gear.

Drawbacks: no HVAC vents for the cargo area, so I have to make sure the dog crate has plenty of room for air to circulate around it. Steering wheel column tilts, but does not telescope. Taller drivers have complained about the positioning of the cup-holders relative to the parking brake, but I’m shorter than average, so it hasn’t been a problem for me. Road noise filtering into the “cabin” is a common complaint about this model. I notice it only occasionally because I prefer to drive with the windows open.

ETA: The SLOSW can haul a trailer, but I haven’t really looked into the specifications and limitations for that.

I’m gonna second this one. I loved my Pontiac Vibe. It’s small enough to make sharp turns into tiny parking spots, but it was remarkably spacious. I was usually the driver for all my friends because I could comfortably up to four passengers and put all their stuff in the back.

And for reasons I can’t describe, it’s a fun car. It feels like a space capsule or something.

Lots of good suggestions upstream!

For what it’s worth - we never found our Dodge Caravan to have all that much room for stuff, unless we took out the back seat. So when we swapped that for our Honda CR/V, we gained in usable cargo space.

I think mine could be fitted to tow a small trailer, though it hasn’t been an issue for us. In general, a small SUV might fit your needs quite well.

Mileage: not extraordinary, but a bit better than the Caravan. I think we averaged 22-23 mpg with that overall; with the CR/V it’s more like 23ish for regular driving and up to 27ish on highway driving. I checked my iPod history; been tracking since March, and overall it’s 25.05 mpg (that includes a lot of around-town driving plus a 2K mile round trip on highways).

As to the budget… um… not much. I’m in CT and I don’t want to spend more than 10,000.

I would look into a used Scion xB. The newer body style (2008 and up I think) has a ton of room and gets about 30 mpg. A quick search pulled up a few for sale at about 8k. The problem might be finding one nearby.

We bought a Mazda3 hatchback a month or so back and absolutely love it. I’m amazed by how much we have been able to haul in the back, especially with the seats down.

So, for $10k, I would suggest you look into:

2006-2008 Saturn VUE V6: These are part of GM’s small SUV family, the difference is that the V6 engine in the Saturn is a Honda J-series engine and the transmission is a Honda unit as well, both are well regarded for being efficient, powerful and reliable. The rest of the vehicle is decently reliable as well. You do have to watch the timing belt change interval though. The Chevrolet Equinox and Pontiac Torrent are similar vehicles, although during the same period these only came with GM’s 3.4l OHV engine that is much less powerful and less efficient to boot. Go for the FWD instead of the AWD to minimize repair and maintenance costs.

~2007 Ford Escape/Mazda Tribute: Ford’s compact SUV (the Mazda is exactly the same car, built on the same assembly line). These are somewhat dated vehicles that are due to be replaced next year, so they were quite cheap new and thus quite cheap used. Decently reliable and efficient especially if you stick to the 4 cylinder engine and FWD, not particularly luxurious or exciting to drive but that’s why they are cheap.

~2007 Dodge Magnum: Distinctive looks. The base model 2.7l V6 and 4 speed auto is pretty anemic for such a heavy car without getting particularly good fuel economy, and both the engine and transmission have a history of being problematic if improperly maintained. The upper level trims come with a Mercedes 5 speed auto which is better, but the bigger engines will mean worse fuel economy. Worth a look IMO but definitely one of those either you like it or hate it sort of things.
Stuff like the Toyota Matrix/Vibe and Scion XB, there’s nothing particularly bad about them but they are much smaller cars than the one’s I’ve mentioned, with much less carrying capacity and usually fewer features and amenities too. On the used market they are not much cheaper, especially right now when people are afraid of fuel costs. They do get slightly better fuel economy but the difference isn’t really worth the reduced utility. Overall they just aren’t very good value for the money - that’s usually the case if you buy the absolute cheapest version of anything really. One reason the resale value on these is high - not many people buy them new for precisely the reasons I stated. They are really cars designed for European and Asian markets where the price differential between a small and a large car is much greater, and fuel costs are much higher.

Thank you all!