I LOVE Subarus, but they are tiny inside. If you decide to look further into that route, test the install first.
We have a 1998 Chevy Venture, and frankly the problems have been very few and far between. We bought it exactly 3 years ago this week (after I totaled our old Plymouth van by spinning out on ice and crashing into a hillside) and the cost was $3800 and it was at 84,000 miles. The starter went bad in the first week, but that might have been a reflection of how long it was on the lot, or the fact that I made key copies at Walmart because I did not realize that Chevys have a special starter that requires a chip in the key. It was not an expensive fix, and since then there have been no large repairs out side of wreck damage paid for by insurance, though several small ones.
It's now going on 140,000 miles, and has been in 3 fender benders, 2 with big trucks (but has never spun out on ice like the Plymouth did). One was strong enough to have bent in our entire back hatch, and another was strong enough to smash in the whole corner of the van and destroy the light. The kids were in the vehicle in each and were fine, though transported to the ER in an ambulance in one case because the crash LOOKED so ugly. It has duel sliding doors so I can pick which side to get out of, and plenty of room. I have the duel bench version (center captains chairs are the other option), and each bench is split into two parts, unlike other vans of that age that have one giant bench to take out in each location. This gives me a LOT of leeway in seat arrangement (which is good because we have the short wheel base van with less storage in the back hatch). Each side of each bench can be removed separately, and when the seats are left in the van, each side can fold down independently, and there are cup holders on the back of the seat, so the kid sitting next to the folded seat has a table and cup holders.
The biggest annoyances are that the front windows seem prone to getting stuck, requiring us to open the door at drive-throughs until it's fixed, though the jarring of the car wrecks surely didn't help that. Ventures are also prone to the rocker panels rusting out, which is a big issue here where we have lots of snow and road salt, but could have been prevented with attention from the start. The key issue also requires that you buy keys directly from Chevy for 40 bucks each, but as long as you don't lose them constantly, it's not such a big deal. I LOVE that it has daytime running lights that turn off an on automatically, because we have many tunnels here that require lights and I never have to remember to turn them on and off. Plus I never have to worry about draining my battery by forgetting to turn them off when I leave the van.
After so many wrecks, and with some of the rust damage we let get out of control, we're going to start looking for a new Venture this spring when we get our tax return, but plan on running our current one into the ground as a back up vehicle so we can use it for parts when it's finally done. According to our inspection last year, the guts are strong...we just don't want to be stuck scrambling later in the year if that assessment is wrong because the mileage IS getting up there. We'll be getting the long wheel-base version to fit more stuff on long road trips, and will be paying more attention to rust proofing the rocker panels. For the 4,000 range you should have no problem whatsoever finding a lower mileage Venture with all the features you talked about, though for us it took a few days of looking around (3 years ago). The vans that come up on auto-trader are priced higher, but we took down the info of vans with no pictures that were priced more cheaply and went lot to lot until we found ours. We did the Craigslist thing and found one that LOOKED great under the hood, but thank god we had it put up on a lift because the whole bottom was rust as if the people kept it parked in a yard or something. We'll probably try both methods again this time, but I wouldn't dare buy off of craigslist without getting a carfax and having the car inspected in the air.
I do love Ventures now though...at this point we wouldn't go with anything else
Edited by Kreeblim - 12/9/10 at 1:01pm