Toyota HighlanderBy Suzanne Kane
Finding a car that fits what a growing family needs can be a tough proposition - especially if you're also looking for something that's a little bit more hip than the average minivan.
Minivans have a stigma, best outlined in the truly funny viral "swagger wagon" ads promoting the new 2011 Toyota Sienna. Minivans just aren't cool--even if they make these suburban parents (read: actors) break out in freestyle rhyme.
Its a difficult balance. Hardworking moms need a useful, practical car -- but we want a little bit of cool.
We combed through car reviews on our site, and wouldn't you know it, moms are checking out a number of cars that get outside the proverbial minivan box. So we took this information and made a list of some of these cool cars moms are checking into, ran them by our editorial team and devised these recommendations -- just for moms. These five family-friendly vehicles may not have sliding side doors, but they're just as flexible, as entertaining, and as safe as the best minivans on the market today. Lets give our list a spin.
This is one square-jawed crossover that's about as family-friendly as you can get. With seating for seven in three rows, strong safety scores, good fuel economy (17 mpg city/24 mpg highway base, 16/23 mpg with all-wheel drive), and infotainment options galore, the Ford Flex provides a lot for the money. Even the base Flex offers superior handling, but opting for the 3.5-liter EcoBoost twin-turbocharged V-6 version (available on Limited and Titanium) gets you 355 horsepower and all-wheel drive.
Besides plenty of standard features, options include SYNC, Sirius TravelLink with real-time traffic, weather, sports and movie listings, Sony sound systems, DVD entertainment system, a second-row refrigerator, HD radio, and more. TheCarConnection gives the 2011 Ford Flex an overall 8.7 (out of 10) rating, its top score among utility vehicles, and it's a Top Safety Pick, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The 2012 Ford Flex is available in four models: SE, SEL, Limited and Titanium. Starting price for the base SE is $29,355.
2011 Dodge Journey
Dodge has taken the the 2011 Journey crossover wagon up a notch this year, thanks to a new interior and a better automatic transmission. With seating for up to seven, the Journey also has some of the most extensive entertainment offerings in its class. Aside from a standard USB port for your iPod, options include Sirius satellite radio with TravelLink traffic info and Backseat TV (offering three channels of kid-friendly entertainment); a DVD entertainment system; and a premium audio system.
A standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with a four-speed automatic transmission is just okay: we recommend the new 283-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 engine, which is paired with a six-speed automatic and has an all-wheel-drive option. The V-6 earns an EPA-rated 17/25 mpg with front-wheel drive, and 16/24 mpg with all-wheel drive; it's also an IIHS Top Safety Pick. The base starting price for the 2011 Dodge Journey Express is $22,245.
2011 Chevrolet Equinox LTZ
Families that don't require a third-row seat can get a lot of mileage out of the 2011 Chevrolet Equinox - in family-friendly style. Two engines are offered: a standard 182-horsepower 2.4-liter gasoline direct-injected four-cylinder sporting a 32-mpg EPA highway gas mileage rating, or a 264-horsepower 3.0-liter V-6.
Notable options cued for families include a rear-seat entertainment system, navigation system, heated seats, steering-wheel audio/phone controls, sunroof, and a rearview camera, which we strongly recommend. .
2011 Toyota Highlander
The Toyota Highlander is a good family vehicle for several reasons: it offers seating for up to seven passengers, offers a choice of four-cylinder, V-6 or hybrid power, and can be fitted with lots of standard and available family-friendly features.
Related: Read our recall notice on the 2008 Highlander
The Highlander offers a quiet ride, a clever hideaway feature for the second-row seat, and a roomy interior, although the third-row seat is basically for kids only. It's also an IIHS Top Safety Pick. The base front-wheel-drive version with a four-cylinder engine gets an EPA-estimated 20/25 mpg, while the all-wheel-drive hybrid model achieves 28/28 mpg.
Options on various models include a navigation system, a rearview camera, and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system. The Highlander's current base price is $28,090.
2011 Kia Sorento
New for 2011, the Kia Sorento crossover is a family-friendly car that really delivers on all fronts and seats up to seven, depending on configuration. Not only is the Sorento an IIHS Top Safety Pick, it's also good-looking, gets frugal fuel economy, and offers a choice of four-cylinder or V-6 power.
The four-cylinder earns an EPA-rated 21/29 mpg in its most efficient versions, but we'd stick with the new 273-horsepower V-6 and six-speed automatic for gas mileage that's almost as good--and power that's much, much better.
The Sorento has plenty of standard features, including USB ports and Bluetooth, plus the availability of all-wheel drive, rear-seat DVD players, a navigation system with rear-camera display, an Infinity surround audio system, and leather seating. It's also priced very well, from $23,150.
This post, Five Family-Friendly Cars That Aren't Minivans originally appeared on Family Car Guide. Family Car Guide is the Web's leading resource for family friendly car reviews, news and tips. Family Car Guide is edited by automotive journalists with over 50 years of combined experience covering the automotive industry.
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