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10 Best Cars for Heading Back to School

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) – If your family just sputtered its way through the last school year in a broken-down gas guzzler, put a car dealership on the back-to-school shopping itinerary.

According to Polk, the average U.S. car has been on the road for more than a decade. The recession didn't help matters, as families held on to their vehicles for years longer than they envisioned. With the National Retail Federation estimating that U.S. families will spend roughly $74 billion on back to school shopping this year alone, putting a little of that toward a new vehicle isn't out of the question.

With used car inventories and prices still not quite recovered from the recession and options such as leases making a comeback, new cars aren't completely out of the question. Sure, there will still be older high schoolers scanning used car lots for bargains, but not nearly as many as in years past. The share of new cars being bought by Americans between 18 and 34 is down 30% in the past five years, according to auto pricing site Edmunds.com, while Pew Research Center study notes that people under 35 bought 12% fewer cars than they did in 2010.

With the Department of Transportation noting that just 28% of 16-year-olds and 45% of 17-year-olds have drivers licenses -- down from 50% and 66% respectively in 1978 -- the burden falls largely on parents to haul kids and their stuff around.

To that end, we've tried to put together a list of family cars with enough room for that first morning in the dropoff zone, but with a price that won't preclude the kids from going to college. Some of these picks may seem a little pricey, but newcomers to practices and parent-teacher conferences may consider spending a little more for the long haul.

The following 10 vehicles will get your family and its stuff to school, softball and sleepovers without sending parents to the poorhouse:

10. Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen diesel
Starting price: $26,565

Behold one of the most endangered cars on U.S. roads: The station wagon.

Not a crossover, not a small SUV, but an actual station wagon that's basically a car with an extended cargo area. You know, like the Subaru Legacy wagon that morphed into the outback or the Toyota Camry wagon that became the Venza?

The modern versions of those vehicles now look nothing like the cars that came before them and, other than a platform that you'd have to dig deep to find, bear little resemblance to the midsized vehicles that were their ancestors. The Vista Cruisers and Volvos alike are gone, leaving the Jetta Sportwagen to turn out the lights on an entire era.With roomy seating for five, 33 cubic feet of cargo capacity with the rear seats up and 67 cubic feet of room with the seats flat, this is the family wagon for those who can't bear the thought of a minivan, never bought into SUVs and don't want to spend on Audi or Mercedes wagons. The quiet cabin and smattering of Volkswagen tech throw-ins are a nice touch as well, but it's the turbocharged 2.0-liter diesel engine that gets nearly 42 miles per gallon on the highway that helps a budget-conscious family spend a little more on other back to school items. Throw in a nearly 13-square-foot panoramic sunroof, touchscreen navigation and a rearview camera, and you have perhaps the last great update to this venerable family favorite.

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