NEW YORK (MainStreet) – The annual Thanksgiving drive is the family car's time to shine.
Throughout the year, the family car takes nothing but abuse. It's filled with discarded snacks, awful smells and ceaseless whining during long family vacations. It teems with equipment, teammates and horrendous postgame odor during school-and-sports season.
Thanksgiving? It's a one-day or, at worst, weekend excursion that starts with anticipation and the scent of pie, stuffing or some other contribution to a larger feast and ends with sated family members either sleeping or enjoying the tryptophan-induced silence of the ride home. It. Is. Glorious.
It's also a big part of the reason 38.9 million drivers took so eagerly to the road last year. It was a 1.6% decline from the year before, but still better than the 25% post-recession dip in 2009. Also, the average distance covered by Thanksgiving travelers jumped from 588 miles in 2012 to 601 last year as gas prices dipped below $3. Thanksgiving travelers this year find themselves in a similar position, with AAA putting the national average gas price below $2.80.
With all of that driving ahead and some families still seeking out vehicles before the holiday season, we've taken a look at some of the best family cars auto pricing sites Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book, TrueCar and Cars.com had to offer. Among them, we found five that best represent the traditional U.S. family car and its evolution during the past few decades or so:
5. 2014 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen diesel
Starting price: $26,565
Let's take a moment to appreciate the endangered 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 midsize 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.
A minivan isn't fun unless you're one of the passengers in back watching a movie. It isn't fuel-efficient at a combined 24 miles per gallo, but 28 miles per gallon on the highway isn't bad for the class. It's comfortable and roomy, and that's all you need to get you through a long school year.
Before vain parents became preoccupied with how cool they looked trucking kids to school, the minivan was the ride of choice. It's never stopped being less practical or comfortable and, in fact, has only tacked on more amenities. In the Odyssey's case, its versatile cabin seats up to eight, with second-row seats that can be configured to fit three child seats. The Odyssey's removable center console offers a useful flip-up trash-bag holder, and there's a "cool box" beverage cooler to accommodate chilled refreshments. Available features include a blind-spot warning system and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with a 16-inch screen capable of displaying two program sources simultaneously.
Best of all, an in-cabin vacuum is an available option for parents who just know that a healthy percentage of that trip's road snacks are going to end up on the floor. It also comes in handy for a vehicle that can carry up to eight people with enough room behind them for a small grill. More importantly, it can carry five family members, collapse the third row and have 93.1 cubic feet for more storage.
All of the little cube-shaped party boxes that were released a few years ago to entice young people into the road trips of yesteryear failed spectacularly for one big reason: They didn't have enough room to appeal to families, older buyers and other folks who actually spend money on new cars.
The Flex has no such issue. Basically a minivan in a crossover's body, the Flex has room for seven, 44 inches of legroom in the second row and a power folding mechanism for getting into the third row. A surprising amount of headroom make easy to transport a large crew or throw some gear in the back and take a long trip all while giving them enough room to maneuver regardless of height.
Options such as sliding second-row captain's seats, Microsoft Sync phone, entertainment and navigation systems in its MyFord Touch screen, DVD entertainment center for the back, a multipanel sunroof and second-row fridge console for road sodas compensate somewhat for its roughly 20 combined miles per gallon. It used to look like a giant Mini Cooper, but a standout frame and spacious 80 cubic feet of cargo room make it basically a minivan in disguise.
2. 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport
Starting price: $23,795
Mitsubishi doesn't sell many cars in the U.S. compared with its competitors, but it sells a whole bunch of this one.
The Outlander Sport is just a step above the base model and comes with dual-zone climate control, a rearview camera with 6-inch screen, keyless entry, push-button start, three rows of seating, 34 cubic feet of storage behind the second row and 63 behind the first. Combined with the multi-information display, heated front seats, HD Radio, Bluetooth and leather steering wheel — and combined 27 miles per gallon — the Outlander Sport is Mitsubishi at its best.
1. 2014 Subaru Forester
Starting price: $21,995
It's tough to ask for a better investment for a family on the go.
A 10-year-old Forester still has more than 25% of its original value. The newer models have ever reverted to the boxy wagon look of their predecessors, while retaining the standard all-wheel-drive for Bohemian Bourgeois parents trying to balance shuttle runs to lacrosse practice with trips to Whole Foods or Trader Joe's.
The Forester's combined 28 miles per gallon aren't are a vast improvement over the 2013 model's 24 mpg and its 34 cubic feet of cargo space is on the low end, but its interior is bigger than the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape. Subaru's added Bluetooth connectivity to all its models and beefed up the options on its pricier trims, which means rearview cameras, power liftgate, voice-activated GPS and X-Mode engine control that provides additional traction on inclines and wet roads.
— By Jason Notte for MainStreet
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