5 Full-Size Family Haulers With Personality
Family-friendly rides that hit that sweet spot where price, space and style meet.
What started with a romantic table-for-two dinner has evolved into a clan of five or more. Perpetually on the go, this five-headed, 10-legged family monster often devours hundreds of miles a day in its seemingly insatiable quest for takeout food, soccer field supremacy and warehouse-club bargains. Mom's Accord has prematurely aged under the load of the growing brood. And dad's Mustang — once a source of pride and a symbol of his virility — now serves as a mobile depository for errant Cheerios and as a halfway house for wayward toys. Both vehicles bear the scars left behind by years of booster seats, hockey skates and ill-advised landscaping projects. There's also the not-so-small matter that as the kids get older, they get larger. Who knew? Clearly, the time is nigh for updating the family fleet.
So where does the modern family turn for vehicular fulfillment? Minivan? Full-size SUV? Crossover? Does anyone even make a traditional station wagon anymore? Each family member has priorities, but the whole gang can agree on the following key areas: space, price (initial cost and mileage), safety, entertainment to keep the kids happy and, to help keep up appearances in the ultracompetitive world of the preschool parking lot, a smidgen of style and status.
True, there are big SUVs and luxurious sedans that meet these criteria, but our mission here is to find the sweet spot where price, interior space and individuality intersect. Given the number of family vehicles that are competitive in terms of cost, safety and interior volume, it isn't easy to narrow the field down. Simply compiling a list of current minivans or small crossovers that can fit five in a pinch would be a cop-out. With that in mind, we've come up with a sampling of family-friendly rides with personalities as diverse as the people who drive them.
Ford calls the Flex a crossover, but we think of it as a spiritual descendent of the Ford Country Squire station wagon of the 1970s: big, boxy, functional and kind of funky, but in a good way. Listing for a competitive $29,355, the Flex combines seating for seven and a comparatively low ride height. It has no pretensions of off-road prowess, but all-wheel drive is available for those who can't wait for the plows to clear the roads in winter. Because it has an overall length of 201 inches and a 40-foot turning radius, parents will want to plan before executing any deft parking-lot drop-off maneuvers, lest they embarrass the kids in front of their classmates.
The standard 3.5-liter engine delivers 262 horsepower and returns a middling city/highway combined mileage rating of 19 mpg for the two-wheel-drive trims and 18 mpg for all-wheel drive. Opt for the much-ballyhooed 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 engine and you'll up the horsepower ante by 93 to 355; the kids will never be late for school again. In addition to Ford's AdvanceTrac with roll stability and traction control, the Flex has dual-stage airbags in front and side-curtain airbags throughout the cabin to protect the noggins of all your progeny, even when their helmets are removed. As with most Ford vehicles, potential owners can option their way to a state of infotainment nirvana by upgrading the standard audio system with Ford Sync voice-activated connectivity, a Sony 12-speaker system and headrest video monitors positioned optimally for the lucky kids in the middle row.
Priced within a few dollars of the Ford Explorer and nearly $4,000 less than a GMC Acadia, the $28,995 Durango arguably retains more sport-utility DNA than any other entry in its class. Fully redesigned for 2011, it gives up a few cubic feet of interior space to the Explorer — 141 versus 152 — but even parents of the bulkiest gridiron warriors will find plenty of room for the team and their gear. A standard complement of airbags — even for the third-row passengers — a year of free Sirius radio for the standard 6-speaker audio system and Dodge's 5-year/ 100,000-mile powertrain warranty add to the Durango's value.
Despite having one fewer forward gear than its 6-speed competitors, the Durango manages to post a reasonable combined city/highway mileage rating of 19 mpg. But the key attribute that no other competitor in its class can match is its towing capacity: Rated at 5,000 pounds with the standard 290-horsepower V6 engine, the 2-wheel-drive Durango more than doubles the towing capacity of the base Explorer and Chevrolet Traverse. Need to tow even more? Specify the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 towing package and you can to hitch up to 7,400 pounds of trailer to your family transport. If you have toys to tug but are wary or cash-shy of using a hard-core tow vehicle like a pickup or Suburban-class SUV as your daily driver, the Durango should be at the top of your list.
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We went from a Chevy HHR to Ford Flex recently. The Chevy was OK, but just to small inside. I will admit I was pleasantly surprised as all my previous experience with Chevy was bad.
The Flex is an excellent family vehicle, The best feature is that it is so square. Unlike most cars of that type, it is not made to look like a spaceship. So the interior is huge, and with folding seats that form a single deck, it is great for hauling stuff.
We also like the accommodations....everyone has air, light and storage....
Hey folks...let me add my thoughts, if I may...
I've read through the comments for and against the Flex on here and as the owner of a 2011 Ford Flex Limited, let me tell you, you just can't do much better.
I, like some of you, thought the thing looked like Ol' Mother Hubbard's shoe when I first looked at it. My wife test drove one in 2009 and has been after me to look at them since that day. I couldn't. They were just too ugly, in my opinion.
I had no desire to buy one, own one or ride in one for that matter. She persisted and so, on her 40th BD, we went to look at one.
It was ugly until I test drove it, folks. The ride is nothing short of European sedan...the expensive ones. The quality is astounding, the car feels solid and heavy, but drives like a Mercedes. Ford nailed it with this one. I have owned several high end sedans, but this thing is just fantastic. The leather seats are unbelievably comfortable.The road feel is what is the most surprising. It's an SUV sized vehicle that feels like a sports sedan.
Bottom line...I just don't care what it looks like.
I'll drive it, ride in it...and love it.
The Flex is the Cream of the Crop on this list.
According to the U.S. Government's fuel economy website, both the Flex and Traverse get the exact same mileage, both fwd and awd, and yet you call the Ford's fuel economy "middling" and the Chevy is "respectable"
I actually drive a Flex since August 2009, and I LOVE IT. It is roomy, confortable for all,driver, passengers front and rear. It is very good for long drives as well. Not a gas guzzler as people think.
The sound is amazing and the voice activated telephone and music control make it very safe.
Many of these family haulers mpg is not very good at best. And if you decide to add awd their mpg drops down further,
I've been researching awd compact and mid size crossovers / suv's over the past weeks and it is difficult to find a vehicle that offers a nice mix of good mpg,, option available choices and under $35000.00 price tag.