PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- It's not quite summer yet and the kids aren't out of school, but Memorial Day weekend is when the line of minivans headed toward family vacations starts forming.
It's tough to knock the minivan for being good at its job. It's spacious enough to hold the entire family and its gear, comfortable enough to keep everyone sedate for hours on end and has enough power under the hood to slide through lanes of vacation traffic like a sleeker car half its size.
The downside: It's a minivan. When you've resigned yourself to one, you've dropped the veil of illusion. Families weren't driven to SUVs in the 1990s and 2000s because they were more convenient. They were roped in because they weren't an immediate signal to those around you that you had a family, children in the back, potentially a mortgage payment waiting for you when you get home and nothing more exciting than a trip to the theme park ahead.
The SUVs and all their commercials featuring vehicles climbing rocky terrain and winding their way up coastal cliffs implied an escape that never was. Maybe you were mom or dad inside, but on the outside you were an intrepid explorer ready to pull offroad at any moment and send the prairie dogs ducking for cover.
It didn't help that carmakers began abandoning minivans altogether and ceding ground to the SUVs. The broad minivan market of the 1980s became a three-van race between
Sienna and Dodge's Caravan. Plenty of families will still proudly trot out those vehicles for their Memorial Day trips, but for those drivers whose fragile little feelings simply won't put up with the implications of practicality, the folks at
offer 10 vehicles that put up a sporty, urban and not-at-all parental facade:
10. Volvo XC60
Volvo killed off the last of its trademark wagons a few years back, which is why it started affixing that XC label to everything remotely wagonlike. The XC60 is Volvo's base crossover and comes with all the safety features parents love, including a five-star crash safety rating, low-speed collision avoidance system, pedestrian detection and a driver-attention monitor that issues a warning if the driver appears to be drowsy at the wheel. But knowing you aren't the average mom or dad -- just a free-living cosmopolitan urbanite riding out the next 18 years until you can renew your theater membership and drinking engagements -- Volvo has thrown in
satellite radio, HD Radio, Bluetooth hands-free communications and other fun little toys as distractions. The good times haven't ended: They're just on an inconvenient break.
9. Toyota Prius V
Even the Prius V's website declares the inevitable:
. That cute little Prius you used to rent from
for weekend road trips and grocery outings back when you lived in the city has followed you out to the 'burbs and transformed into a wagon. So what if its combined 42 miles per gallon now lag behind the 50 of the original Prius. The V's 67.3 cubic feet of cargo space is considerably larger than the original-recipe Prius' 39.6 cubic feet and is closer to that of compact SUVs such as Toyota's RAV4. No, you're probably not going to be parallel parking this one as much, but those grocery runs are getting a lot bigger now that there are more mouths to feed. Besides, it's still the most fuel efficient vehicle on this list. That has to count for something, even if it's not quite as sexy as the smaller model you remember.
8. Subaru Outback
The Outback has been comfortable with its role as the upper-middle family ride of choice since it was a glorified Legacy wagon. Now it's an almost full-size crossover with roughly nine inches of ground clearance, 70 cubic feet of maximum cargo space and combined 27 miles per gallon that's practically in CR-V/RAV4/Sorento territory. Though it isn't always a must for summer vacation driving, the Outback's standard all-wheel drive is still the dealmaker for families who have to brave tougher conditions for the rest of the year. For cold-weather lacrosse parents, this basically
7. Porsche Cayenne
This beast gets 22 miles per gallon on the highway. It gets a whopping 300 horsepower and tops out at 142 miles per hour in its base model. It comes with toys including the Porsche Communications Management system to link your various media and electronics, a rearview camera and
surround sound speakers. As much as the 24 cubic feet of rear space and 63 cubic feet of combined cargo space want to make the argument for this vehicle as a family hauler, it's a more of a midlife crisis with a motor. So why buy one as a family car? Because you're far from alone. The Cayenne is Porsche's best-selling car in the U.S. by far. That's a lot of parents who want to truck the family around, but still cling desperately to their sports-car dreams.
6. Kia Soul
It's billed as an "urban crossover" and has its own iPad app. So how did it go from commercials featuring beat-bumping hamsters to life as the family grocery getter? Well, it just turned out to be more practical than its youthful exterior implied. Last year, Kia gave the Soul an overdue overhaul that streamlined its front and rear body, kicked its output up to 138 horsepower and improved its efficiency to a combined 31 miles per gallon. The nine-color palate, mix-and-match accent plates and audio and sunroof upgrades remain, but it's the Soul's versatile 60/40 rear seating and 23.7 cubic feet of cargo space (53.4 with the rear seats down) that make it just as likely to head to the family beach vacation as it is to go on a solo surf weekend.
5. Kia Optima
We're still not sure how a family sedan is any cooler or less utilitarian than a minivan, but it's certainly a whole lot smaller, shorter and less versatile. Kia's Optima, for example, has only about 15 cubic feet of trunk space and a combined 30 miles per gallon of efficiency. Still, for image-conscious parents, the available turbo package, panoramic sunroof and vented front seats mesh with LED running lights and chrome wheels that look like they'd be more at home at a car show than at a piano recital. It's a whole lot of compromise, but that's what it takes to look cool and still have a reasonable amount of space for the kids.
The Acadia has touchscreen navigation and radio as well as rearview cameras, but its single most important feature is space and lots of it. There's room for seven to eight passengers, fold-flat third-row seats that give it 68.9 cubic feet behind the second row and underfloor storage beneath the third row. The second row of seats even slides to let passengers out the side or through the middle. It's minivan size with a crossover look that doesn't scream "youth soccer coach taking a Sunday off."
The giant, boxy
Cooper clone continues to get no love from consumers who favor less funky looking utility vehicles. Its sales dropped by nearly a quarter after Ford revamped the Explorer SUV, but the Flex's room for seven, 44 inches of legroom in the second row and a power folding mechanisms for getting into the third row make it easy to transport a large crew or throw some gear in the back and take a long trip. Options such as sliding second-row captain's seats,
Sync phone, entertainment and navigation systems in its MyFord Touchscreen, DVD entertainment center for the back, a multipanel sunroof and second-row fridge console for road sodas compensate somewhat for its roughly 22 combined miles per gallon. Consumers are passing on the Flex because it looks weird, but that standout frame and spacious 80 cubic feet of cargo room may be the only vehicle more family-friendly than a minivan.
Ford brought in a redesigned Escape for 2013 with a 1.6-liter engine with 28-miles-per-gallon mileage similar to the 2012's hybrid version and the MyFord Touch entertainment and communications system. Combined with 34 cubic feet of space in the back, 68 cubic feet with the seats down, available intelligent four-wheel drive and tech throw-ins including a foot-activated lift gate, parking assist, blind-spot sensors and other perks, the Escape offers a lot of peace of mind before families hit the open road.
1. BMW X3
Because nobody's buying a BMW for seating or cargo capacity, let's get right down to it: This is a comfortable, connected rolling office with child seating. The trunk has a 12-volt power outlet. The navigation system is cloud-connected so you can plot out a trip before you even get into the car. A 9-inch touchscreen controls the navigation and music once you're inside, while a Mobile Office function enables text-to-speech readings of email, calendar entries and notes. Throw in 240 horsepower under the hood, 80 gigabytes of hard drive space for family entertainment and brakes that charge the battery when you pump them and you have one of the best features a working parent can ask for: The ability to work from wherever.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.